to know when this web site is updated, new resources are launched, etc.
fan-based online groups use the
to make a difference
This information was published originally on July 5, 1999; some of the URLs are no longer functional. You can still find the information though -- simply type in the URL that isn't working into archive.org.
If you are interested in fan-based volunteering beyond what is compiled here, check out Transformative Works and Cultures, an online journal launched in 2009 that looks at various aspects of fan fiction (fan-created fiction inspired by their favorite movies, TV shows and books), comic book fandom, movie fandom, video game fandom, comic and fan conventions, and more. Specifically, see The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor," a 2014 paper by Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles, which uses data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012.
There are thousands of online communities for people who want to to share information and excitement about a particular television show, movie, sports team, celebrity, hobby or literary genre. And just as offline communities and groups will often "pass the hat" at their gatherings for a good cause, these Internet-based fan groups often come together online or in person to improve their communities, promote a cause or generate funds for a nonprofit organization. Often, these fans engage in philanthropy with no prompting from any charity or formal organization.
The following are examples of such groups, with comments from members about their online philanthropic activities and what makes them successful:
Cynthia Schmidt maintains the GAWS site and says the key to engaging volunteers in online philanthropy is "keeping it simple."
"The less people have to go through to participate, the better. Make it clear and easy for people to take part." Schmidt handles most of the volunteer work for the auction -- soliciting and accepting the donated items, creating the necessary Web pages, tracking and posting bidding information, mailing out the items, etc. -- but other volunteers help by donating items and promoting the event and Neurofibromatosis, Inc. via their own fan-based networks and the Internet.
Schmidt started the auction in 1997, establishing a relationship with Neurofibromatosis, Inc. and using various e-mail lists, online discussion groups and bulletin boards to announce the event and solicit auction items from fans. "We got in print too. People would send our information to their local newspapers and other places. The Internet is great, but people shouldn't forget about print." The GAWS Web site allows people to make bids on items during the auction, and provides links to the Neurofibromatosis, Inc. Web site for more information about the disease (Schmidt designed this web site as well).
"People should keep in mind that these kind of events start off slow. You shouldn't try to start huge. Let support build. Let the word get out. It will get bigger every year."
The GAWS group has organized other online philanthropic activities as well, such as a December "Non-Event Party," where participants paid $5 to not show up at an onsite party; instead, donors attended by interacting on a special mailing list at a particular time and date.
To keep from becoming overwhelmed during the auction, Schmidt takes frequent breaks from her computer during the event. "In the corner of the auction screen was a line that said, 'Next update will be at...' whatever (date and time). I set that time so I could walk away from my computer and out of my house and go to a movie or something. Then I come back, and everything is still waiting for me." She says another way to keep from becoming overwhelmed by an online event is to make it short. "Don't let it drag on forever. Set a start date and an end date and that's that."
Schmidt scoffs at the idea that the Internet is making people more isolated. "It brings people together. I've met people I would never have met otherwise. And I still go out. I go out all the time. But now I get even more friends. Online, you can even be more selective of who you hang with."
"She and I had many things in common and often spoke in e-mail about our respective children," Aalderink said. "When she died suddenly, it left a large void, not only in my life but in many lives. Many of us cried on each other's shoulders, via the Internet.When I learned that Stacey's family had chosen a charity (Lifepath Hospice) to recieve memorial contributions, I offered, through a post to atxf, to gather donations together, consolidate the information and pass the information and contributions along to Lifepath Hospice, forwarding a letter to Stacey's family as well. Once I had recieved all donations, I catalogued them in a letter to Lifepath Hospice. I then notified all contributors, via e-mail, that I had recieved their contribution, and totaled the donation, letting them know how much we donated as a group. 14 people participated. I also received approximately 30 e-mails thanking me for organizing this but saying that they prefered to donate separately. I'm certain more donations than that were made because atxf is a very large group. This was done strictly via newsgroups and e-mail. In fact, e-mail didn't really enter into the picture until the donations started coming in."
Aalderink recommends that any fan-based philanthropic group have a lead person or official chairperson who is well-recognized within the online community to lead online philanthropic activities. "USENET users can be suspicious people, with reason. Scams, spam and trolls abound. It is very important to *know* and be known by the group or groups that you will solicite. Soliciting for memorial contributions for Stacey on a newsgroup like alt.tv.x-files worked because Stacey was known on that group and I'm known on that group. I could have solicited on other groups that Stacey posted to but I wouldn't have expected any response, as *I* became the unknown in that equation."
Aalderink also emphasized that reporting back to the group is vital, and that a personal thank you and summary should also be sent to each person who contributes. "Sending out a mass notification (sending to one person with 'carbon copies' to everyone else) is just plain rude. It takes a little more time to write individual e-mails but you are more likely to get a repeat donation the next time around."
She added: "It is important to have a recognized spokesperson or a rallying point. For the OBSSE and GAWS auctions and donations, Gillian Anderson is the 'spokesperson.' For my project, Stacey was the rallying point, a sort of spokesperson. She was much loved and is still missed. Having a recognized spokesperson or rallying point will inspire more people to participate. I still wear my 'For Stacey' button around town and to sci-fi events. I know that one of the X-Files writers is using Stacey's name in an upcoming episode. It's this sort of pride and loyalty that a good or appropriate spokesperson can inspire."
"If you are looking at soliciting funds or volunteers from a newsgroup, lurk on that group for a while, learn who the regulars are and then approach one of them in e-mail. This will give you the endorsement of a regular without the commitment of years of lurking and reading. The endorsement of a regular will boost the 'respectability' of your project and make it more likely to succeed."
"It was a huge success," notes the Web site. "Not only did we
raise a very respectable amount for NF, Inc (Neurofibromatosis)
and several other international NF organizations, but we got to
meet, face-to-face, in a non-virtual way
some of the nicest, and coolest people around. And we had lots of
fun... lots and lots of fun!"
These fans "work to better the lives of people in their own communities through donations and volunteerism." In 1998, various chapters of the group raised almost $40,000 for the Rainforest Preservation Foundation, the Arizona AIDS Walk, the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (USA), Invest In Kids Foundation (Canada), Working Wardrobes for a New Start, Gilda's Club Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, among MANY others. To date, Sword and Staff activities have resulted in more than $91,000 being donated to charitable organizations around the world, and many more online and offline philanthropic activities are planned for the rest of 1999.
Debbie Cassetta, President of Sword and Staff, says profits from local fan festivals are also donated to charities. "They keep us informed of their activities, and supply us with copies of acknowledgment letters from the charities they support. "
"We also use the Internet to request that fans send donations of items that we will use in charity auctions. Without the type of access to fans that the Internet provides, most of what we do would be impossible. It's always a pleasant surprise to open the mail and find autographed items that fans generously contribute. Our auctions are possible because cast, fans and fan clubs donate merchandise to Sword and Staff. I am currently conducting approximately 12 online auctions a year, and each auction has between 15 and 40 items. Each of those items is donated by someone in the 'Xenaverse.'"
Cassetta says fans take up charitable activities based on their own interest and availability. "One summer, a fan from Denver took it upon herself to organize a fund drive in her home city to raise money to help financially disadvantaged families buy school supplies for their children. Last September, 21 Sword and Staff members worked to clean up a 2-1/2 mile stretch of shoreline in Queens, New York as part of the International Coastal Cleanup. Another Sword and Staff member volunteers her time the 'turtle patrol' which helps to assure that newly hatched turtles make it to the ocean so they have a chance at survival. The Dutch fans are donating money to support an injured seal. The fans in Great Britain have adopted two children's hospitals, and direct their charitable activities to supporting them. "
Cassetta volunteers to handle all administrative business for Sword and Staff, as well as maintain its web site and conduct the auctions (which are done via e-mail). There are six international liaisons who work with her and coordinate events in their own countries. They are from the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand (2) and Great Britain (2).
The individual international liaisons will coordinate fan activity around a charitable event. They'll select the charity to benefit, making sure that it is a legitimate entity. They will then work to organize the event (usually a fest, auction, or raffle) and then assure that the checks get to the appropriate charity.
"Individual fans have arranged for specific auctions or other events. One recent one was an audio fan fiction auction to benefit the Rainforest Preservation Foundation that raised approximately $4,600. The time, tapes, and voice of a fan, combined with the writing talent of the Xenaverse 'bards' made that possible. One of the amazing things about Xena fandom is the talent of it's 'bards', writers who produce quality fan fiction that has taken hold of the imagination of fans like nothing I've seen in the past. A recent call for donations of stories by these bards, met with a great response, and the resulting auction raised nearly $5,000 to help combat child abuse."
Sword and Staff was started in May of 1997, shortly after the first New York City Xenafest. "The NYC Fest Committee raised $4,500 for charity. We intended to donate it to a NYC-based charity that states it mission as providing care for abandoned children afflicted with AIDS. When I approached the charity representative, I was told in no uncertain terms that they would not accept our money. Thinking they misunderstood what I was saying, I stated plainly, 'I don't think you understand. I want to donate money to your organization.' The response I received was, 'You don't understand me. We don't want your money.' He didn't want to be associated with a bunch of 'Amazons'."
"I found that by using the Internet to discuss the rejection of the donation and the often negative image that XWP fans had, I was able to channel fan energy, as well as my own, to positive pursuits. The result of that is that in two years S&S has evolved into a very positive organization. It has and continues to help a growing number of worthwhile charities, and in the process has given fans bound by a common set of ideals a focus for their energies. We took a bad situation (refusal of a donation) and turned it into a very positive force in the Xenaverse and the world at large. The generosity of Xena fans is unparalleled in my experience. It's a pleasure to be associated with them."
When asked what would be the one or two most important pieces of advice she would offer to someone who wanted to organize a group like hers, Cassetta replied, "Visit a psychiatrist and stock up on Zantac or Rolaids. (grin). Seriously, my advice would be to love what you're doing. Know also that it will consume a large portion of your free time, so be aware of your other life commitments before you take on such an activity. It takes a lot of organizing and patience, and often an inordinate amount of time. There will always be someone who thinks they can do it better, so be prepared for some negative criticism. It comes with the territory. Keep your goals in mind, be open to suggestions and constructive criticism, accept help when you need it, but don't let someone else's agenda distract you from your organization's goals. And finally, if you're doing this for recognition for yourself or as a means to be recognized by someone else, then find something else to get involved in. This is not what this is about.
There are approximately 70 Local Barry Manilow Fan Clubs around the world recognized and sanctioned by the official Barry Manilow International Fan Club (BMIFC). One of the primary guidelines imposed by the BMIFC is that each local club conduct one or more charity events a year to raise money for the organization of their choice, and promote awareness for what the charity does. "The BarryNet is used to help promote activities and events sponsored by the BMIFC and local fan clubs," says BarryNet Webmaster Gary Oye. Many individual chapters also use the Internet to sign up volunteers for events, and to keep members up-to-date on volunteer orientations and news.
28 local Barry Manilow fan clubs (there are more than 70 total) and their charitable activities are listed on BarryNet, with additional information about their volunteer and fund-raising activities on individual club Web sites. These chapters raise thousands of dollars each year, and donate a great deal of time to various nonprofit organizations. Some of the charities who have benefited from these fans' activities: Walk for Hunger, Make a Wish Foundation, National Music Foundation, Toys for Tots, Ronald McDonald House, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, World Wildlife Fund and Children's Miracle Network.
"The fans who participate in the activities do so through the inspiration of Barry's music, i.e., they give to others what Barry gives to them," says Oye. "It is an amazing phenomenon. Certainly one that most people don't associate with Barry Manilow."
If you know of any online fan-based group that has used the Internet to engage in philanthropy, or if you have a suggestion for an essay on the positive side of online culture, please contact us.
These resources were developed originally for The Virtual Volunteering Project and were written and compiled by Jayne Cravens, unless noted otherwise.
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