2022-01-26 11:54:51

You’ve seen it in your newsfeed. Your nieces and nephews spend hours immersed in it every day. Mark Zuckerberg believes it’s the future of the internet.

We’re talking, of course, about the metaverse.

In the past year—and in particular since Zuckerberg’s October 2021 announcement that Facebook would be transforming itself from a social media company into a “metaverse company”—discussions around this formerly niche topic have exploded into the mainstream. Depending on who you ask, the metaverse could be a golden opportunity for people to enjoy previously unattainable experiences, develop exciting new industries, and reduce consumption of real-world resources—or it could devolve into a hyper-capitalist hellscape that will make Silicon Valley’s worst privacy abuses seem cute by comparison.

Promised land, dystopia, or (more likely) something in between, it seems like the metaverse is here to stay. But what exactly is the metaverse? And why should you, as a nonprofit marketer, give a darn about whatever it is tech billionaires are getting up to beneath those silly goggles?

Dean Pelton GIF - Dean Pelton Craig GIFs

While it's true that current metaverse technologies are primarily used for gaming and entertainment, the metaverse is poised to become something much bigger and more pervasive in our daily lives. As we’ll explore in this post, the metaverse presents nonprofit marketers with a new set of challenges—and big, unprecedented opportunities.

The Metaverse and You

In his 9-part “Metaverse Primer” series, venture capitalist and early metaverse theorist Matthew Ball argues that “The Metaverse is best understood as ‘a quasi-successor state to the mobile internet’. This is because the Metaverse will not fundamentally replace the internet, but instead build upon and iteratively transform it.”

In other words, just as smartphones greatly expanded our understanding of what the internet could do, without replacing the existing infrastructure of the web, metaverse technologies will most likely build on what has come before, adding to a growing range of possibilities—but without eliminating traditional or mobile internet use.

Standalone virtual reality (VR) headsets, augmented reality (AR) software available through smartphones, and other pieces of consumer hardware will gradually become more affordable and less bulky. Combined with improvements in latency, these updates will make it easier for a growing number of users to spend time in fully or partially virtual environments. Eventually, applications will expand from gaming and entertainment to include healthcare, education, and business in general. 

Ultimately, these technologies could become as commonplace and indispensable as smartphones are now, with the majority of people spending at least some time, energy, and money in fully realized virtual worlds every day.

While a number of for-profit organizations have already jumped into the metaverse—with fashion brands such as Gucci and Vans scoring a few early wins—so far, there is practically no nonprofit activity in the space. If that trend continues, it could contribute to some pretty big problems down the road.

In an article published in Nonprofit Tech for Good, founder and editor-in-chief Heather Mansfield argues that “Without altruism and advocacy being consistently present in these early days of its formation, racism and sexism are already revealing themselves in the metaverse [...] the good people of our community are needed now to explore and be a part of the conversation around the planning and experience of the metaverse.” 

In support of this claim, she cites the experiences of writers Parmy Olson and Breighda Adeyemo, who have already documented instances of harassment in a handful of existing metaverse platforms.

As in the physical world, the presence of nonprofits, activism, and philanthropy in the metaverse will be a critical counterweight to the greed, bigotry, and inequality that can be exacerbated by new, relatively untested technologies. On a more practical level, the metaverse offers nonprofit marketers exciting new ways to promote the causes they care about—and powerful, largely untapped methods for fundraising.

A Marketer's Sandbox

Wacky, wild, and untested, the metaverse is, at least for now, an enormous sandbox where marketers have the opportunity to test radical new ideas and push the boundaries of what’s possible. As Geri Mileva puts it in a recent article for Influencer Marketing Hub: “Best practices have yet to be properly established, and paradigms have yet to be fully and comprehensively created. This gives marketers plenty of room to try to be unique and experimental in their approaches.”

Whereas traditional digital marketing strategy has been pretty well defined over the last two decades, no one is really sure yet what’s going to work in the metaverse, from a marketing standpoint. Just as it took a few years for SEO, content marketing, and other web-enabled marketing approaches to get up and running, it’ll be a little while before the best tools and techniques for metaverse marketing are discovered, refined, and systematized.

In other words, it’s a great time to try something new.

How can the ability to invite audience members into virtual spaces improve your organization’s ability to tell its story? What experiences can you offer in the metaverse that can’t be realized with existing media, or in the physical world? How will you use these new technologies to inspire and reward giving?

While the (virtual) sky’s the limit, here are a few options to consider, courtesy of a recent article from Campaign Asia: 

  • Branded characters or real estate in games
    • Can your organization provide a virtual space where like-minded people can gather to learn about and discuss the issues that are important to them? Alternatively, can you send representatives out into the wider metaverse to raise awareness for your cause?
  • Collectables, NFTs, and digital possessions
    • Many nonprofit organizations recognize the importance of physical swag. Tote bags, mugs, t-shirts, and other branded materials let donors show off their participation in the causes that matter to them, and have the added bonus of raising awareness in people who see them. What digital goods can you offer donors in exchange for their generosity? How can you help them show their pride in a virtual environment? 
  • Massive interactive live events (MILEs)
    • Entertainers like Lil Nas X and Travis Scott have successfully staged massive concerts in virtual space. With the pandemic making large, in-person gatherings risky for the foreseeable future, it is likely that events like these will continue to have appeal for audiences craving excitement and interaction. How can you use virtual events to connect with your donors? What would your next fundraising dinner look like, if it could look like anything?

And speaking of fundraising…

Giving in the Metaverse

Now, all of these fancy new marketing techniques are only as good as the funds they help you to raise. And just as nonprofits have had to adapt to the advent of online payments, they may soon have to get ready to receive new kinds of donations made possible by the metaverse.

You’ve probably heard that certain NFT artworks sold for millions of dollars during the last year, and that even more modest sales are generating significant amounts of money for owners. What you might not have realized is that the income generated by these sales is taxable—meaning that there is a growing crowd of artists and investors looking for ways to offset their tax burdens through giving.

As cryptocurrency fundraising platform The Giving Block explains on its website: “Donations of property (like stocks, cryptocurrencies, and art) are typically tax-deductible in many countries like the US and UK. The best part? When donating appreciated property, the donor does not have to pay capital gains taxes and gets a fair market value deduction on their tax return. And as long as you’re donating to a registered charity [...] the charity doesn’t pay any taxes either.”

Accordingly, increasing numbers of creators are prepared to donate proceeds from NFT sales to worthy nonprofit organizations (like yours!). There’s just one problem: NFT sales are made with cryptocurrency, which many nonprofits don’t know how to accept.

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The more ways your organization has to accept gifts, the less friction people will experience as they attempt to make donations. Just as you may have adapted over the years to accept donations via PayPal, Stripe, and other online platforms, you can give your organization an edge in the near future by making it easy for donors to contribute using new technologies and currencies.

Organizations like The Giving Block, Every.org, and Engiven can help nonprofits process cryptocurrency payments, giving them the ability to treat them as investments or turn them into cash. For those who’d like to own their nonprofit’s crypto donation process more directly, TechSoup.com outlines a number of ways to set your organization up for this kind of giving.

Getting Ready

While we’re still a ways away from fully immersive, Tron-style metaverses, simpler experiences aren’t too far in the future—and neither are the risks and opportunities they’ll bring.

By strategizing and experimenting today, you’ll put your organization in a good position to make the most of the metaverse tomorrow…and fulfill its mission of helping people, in whatever worlds may come.