Humane Society is in There

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With the launch today of a storefront in the virtual world There.com, The Humane Society of the United States becomes the latest nonprofit trying to reach young consumers in these environments.

"What attracted us to There.com was the demographics," said Steven McVeigh, who heads up business development for the Washington, DC-based HSUS. "Generally, we reach people older than 45 through our online efforts and direct mail."

There.com's average user is 22 years of age. By bringing HSUS to There.com, "we're going into their community," and finding "potential constituents that we are not talking to today," McVeigh said.

Recently, a growing number of nonprofits, many of which are faced with an aging constituency base, have turned to virtual worlds like Second Life and There.com because of the younger people these sites reach. The American Cancer Society, for example, has held a virtual version of its Relay for Life for several years. Also, The World Wildlife Fund has an island in Second Life where residents live in harmony with the wild animal population.

However, the HSUS is taking a different approach from some of these efforts.

"Those models involved creating their own brand identity in the virtual world and a considerable investment," McVeigh said. By simply creating a storefront, the HSUS is hoping to communicate its message without a large commitment of resources and money "for something that may or may not work," he continued.

Visitors to the There.com HSUS store will have the chance to purchase virtual replicas of real world HSUS t-shirts and hoodies. In addition, a link will direct them to the HSUS Web site, where they can purchase the actual product for themselves. All proceeds from the sale of virtual merchandise will be donated to the HSUS by Makena Technologies Inc., the parent company of There.com.

The HSUS is planning to hold several live in-world events next year to help promote its presence. There.com will do its part by promote the storefront via its list of daily events and its blog.

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