Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What 2016 holds for Relayers in Second Life

Disclaimer: When I post about negative experiences it is rarely if ever out of any smug satisfaction.  There are no winners.  It is a "buyer beware" as I stumble through the metaverse.  This post definitely serves this purpose.  You have an opportunity to learn from any mistakes I've made and spot warning signs in advance.  Those who know these people and find me relating a story: take it for what it is; there's no glory in it for me. I am sure to lose several from my contact list.  I always blog with the expectation that someone is going to find out, whether there are tattlers or not. This is The Internet.  Just keep in mind that my opinions may not be that of the Hearts & Souls Relay For Life team, and taking anything out on the team or creating difficulties getting the team resources or preventing them from representation or fundraising is an attack on innocent people - both from the team and American Cancer Society - who have nothing to do with this post or me. 

The First Relay Rap Gathering of 2016
Relayers waited.

Word got around that many left critical feedback as a result of the 2015 RFL season; a popular sentiment was to see what the new Relay For Life of Second Life committee would be like before resuming participation.

Many like me sat out the Xmas Expo while others made it their final involvement for the calendar year.   For the first time in four years  I didn't sign up for the Sci-Fi Convention.   No gig at Merciless Ming's.  Not until I saw true change with Relay For Life of Second Life and a committee who saw to our needs and acted on our behalf with the American Cancer Society in both words AND actions, and respected each and every one of us toward a collective goal.

The Relay committee had their first Relay Rap of the year in January and word was they would announce some changes.  Following their show would be a Q&A at a Town Hall on ACS' sim.

The Inbred Committee

As we filed in, my RL jaw dropped.  The committee was positively inbred, dominated by active members of Harmony From Hell and the Relay Rockers with little else, including both of their captains.  T.S. Darrow was once again in charge of the Survivors/Caregivers Honor Lap project.  Anybody who volunteered a service out of the goodness of their hearts in the past became a committee member.  I wonder if the minutiae of titles offered them each a tax or expense write-off?  Didn't think that's why we had a committee but you really have to wonder when you see what we saw that evening. 

The changes themselves were also the last thing any of us expected.  Looks like someone upstairs wasn't pleased with the sharp decline in donations, but rather than recognize their role in this, the committee was going to take it out of our asses.  Amazing but true: they did the math and based their 2016 objective on whomever hadn't left and our doing the same as last year.  As if.

Their platform was one of a stern drive to acquire donations. Gone was the philosophy that every little bit helped the cause. Forget FUNdraising; it was  now all about FUNDraising.  They came up with all sorts of lingo with the word "fund" in it to drive home their point. 

Were they kidding?

They added that fundraising levels and incentives were rewarded at higher numbers; teams raising less than US$300 would not only be eligible for a campsite on Relay Weekend, but not be listed on the website's totals page either.  Bronze level goal went from US$40 to US$300.  We wouldn't count for contributing to the breakdown before raising that.  They were punishing us!

What a disconnect.

They created a category called Rising Star for those raising US$100-$299.99. You still didn't rate a listing in the team totals or a campsite at the track but could get a booth for your team on some designer sim for Relay Weekend.  Tent city for the impoverished - for raising ONLY a couple hundred dollars.

They made new positions for fundraising tutors, among whom is the captain of Harmony From Hell (what she gonna teach: how to steal other Relayers' ideas for FUND and profit? LOL).  Basically more committee members from the same teams give or take a token outsider or two; I guess they added them to throw us off a painfully obviously configuration.

No more mentors/coaches assigned teams.  You've seen one team you've seen them all, right?

The only good news was the return of the inworld event boards. (UPDATE: Talk and no walk; there is only the prototype in use at RFL headquarters)

Flanked by ACTs' Bain and Cure Chasers' Sienna. Several Skype
and group chats were afire over the committee's initial decrees.

The town hall was packed. Some attendees were there because they were new, but the vast majority were pissed off veterans.  The committee responded in voice to our typed feedback and questions. They took a good look at us - slowly peering out through the filmy wall of their bubble for the first time - the faithful who cared enough to show up and who were being taken advantage of. Maybe the downward trend wasn't a natural turn or failure on our parts (ya think? Btw since the previous post a few who've read it say I was spot on.  They have a choice to remain anonymous and discrete, but someone had to say these things and it was me).  Their 2016 goal was not realistic under their imposed conditions.  About time they had that revelation.

The totals page would only display in dollars.  Many had a thing to say about that one.  I pointed out that half of my team's mid-2000s total in 2015 was raised in Lindens. Also with international participation this made it difficult for those whose common point of reference WAS the Linden Dollar.  Very user-unfriendly.

They took down all our points and would notify us of a follow up town hall.

I had made up my mind not to raise money for or donate to Relay For Life of Second Life this year.  For the first time I called RFL's hotline to get a better understanding of how the Relay structure worked and what direction to take for my team.

How being a Relay Team works

RFL of SL follows the Relay For Life model pretty closely.  First there is a scheduled Relay event such as a Relay Weekend, be it local, regional, organizational, etc.  Teams  sign up for that event and their fundraising efforts leading up to it get added to the event's grand total.

Relay Weekend is a ritual which serves to honor the survivors and caregivers, as well as a collective gesture to defy cancer's devastating impact. It is a time of celebrating victories, remembering losses, and looking to the future. Of course trinkets and stuff are offered for donations towards the event's total.  To make it clear this isn't a flea market or a swap meet.  This is about those who have fought, win or lose and celebrate moving closer to a cure.

The bottom line here is that a team cannot just exist in its own universe but must associate with a Relay event. Everything culminates towards that. You have to point to an event when you create your team for the year.  It's part of the application.

The Decision and Hearts & Souls' Objectives in 2016

There was only one other online Relay event -  the hotline representative said there was once a generic online event people could latch on to but that was gone.  So I signed us up to Relay For Life of InWorldz.  With a history of committee chairs such as Bain and OldeSoul, there was no question of their level of integrity. Our offgrid fundraising would contribute towards what was felt to be a far more deserving operation.

I crafted a notecard to my teammates, having sheltered them from most of the hipocrisy and grief of the past two years, and subsequently discussed in group chat which direction we should take for inworld fundraising.  They had two choices:

1 - Join another team with a healthy recommendation to ACTS, or
2 - Hearts & Souls would continue in Second Life exclusively for inworld fundraising and not be linked to convio, with custom posters and objects linking to our external RL team site for CC and PayPal donations. 

Their main concern was whether the committee was skimming off funds in any way.  I didn't believe so.  Also Stingray Raymaker served as ACS liaison for both Second Life and InWorldz.

The team decided to continue its presence this year.  I would provide all their tools and info, see to spots for them at major events for their vendors etc, and serve faithfully as our captain.  I would not personally post kiosks or vendors but do everything else.

My only exceptions for personal contributions would be to purchase any worthwhile offering from SF Design during Fashion For Life (done) and DJ for Fantasy Faire. Also rezzing a kiosk for placement at said major events. 

They Finally Saw the Light

At the follow-up meeting there was a great deal of backpedaling in our favor: 

- Every team with funds raised would appear on the totals page
- The totals page would display as it always had, breaking down dollars and Lindens
- Teams with a history of participation would get a campsite for Relay Weekend, even if they fell short of the Bronze (we will most likely fall into this category unless they choose to punish my teammates - predominantly caregivers & survivors - as a misdirected vendetta against these posts).

Their explanation for restricting campsites is understandable:  In previous years Teams who earned US$5 would get a large campsite (about a quarter of a sim). Others would apply and be noshows, prompting staff to fill the gaps with impromptu builds and landscapes.  Take these away and you save on sim costs reducing the size of the track.

Personally I would have offered an incentive with an option for a large campsite to Gold and higher, with the majority as smaller campsites for those who raise US$50 or higher, an obvious exception being when such a team sponsors a sim.  IMHO this should have been the policy since Day One.

There's one little question: why are they griping over the cost of sims when each one is sponsored?  It has been understood that sponsoring sims (and last year they added lap theme sponsors) covered the cost of the track, already deeply discounted. 

- Having realized we could not be held accountable for any goals they set and failed to meet, they threw out their FUND agenda and renewed their vows to respect the Linden.

Their changes on the whole were far more reasonable, and many who had planned to leave following the rap resolved to register a team.

A pity extricating T S Darrow never happened.  I'll unmute him long enough to get information for my teammates to sign up for the Honour Lap, but I'm certainly not going to run it, and he otherwise does not exist to me. 

I'd question the numbers assigned to us as team designations.  They should be on a first come first serve basis.  The first teams took days to get their confirmations, and clearly those favored got lower numbers regardless of chronology.  I was among the first to register, and landed in the 50s.  At least we're in good company!