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Groups are getting together on the web: reducing costs, carbon footprint spur events going online.

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Meredeth Winter manages people across the country as the leader of The Nature Conservancy's Fundraising System Specialists team. The 17-person team usually meets for retreats that incorporate team-building exercises with educational components twice a year for two to four days each retreat.

Winter said travel costs can get expensive fast with team members across the country, from the organization's headquarters in Arlington, Va., to Seattle, Wash., and budget cuts led the team to brainstorm about how to meet while cutting traveling costs.

The answer ended up being right in front of their faces--the computer. The team conducted a virtual retreat this past May that saved the organization nearly $15,000, in addition to cutting 13 tons of carbon, which was also important to the environmentally conscious group. And in a feedback survey, 70 percent of the team said the virtual retreat "improved their ability and knowledge base as well as an in-person retreat."

Winter said the team "threw out every idea we could think of" about different technologies they could use during the retreat. Winter said they eventually agreed that the retreat would include different parts--video conferencing, instant messaging Exchanging text messages in real time between two or more people logged into a particular instant messaging (IM) service. Instant messaging is more interactive than e-mail because messages are sent immediately, whereas e-mail messages can be queued up in a mail server for seconds or , and phone calls because the team was "trying to mix it up with the way we are interacting so people don't fall asleep at their desks."

The education components mixed in icebreakers and group sessions. Team members started out by introducing themselves to the group and even using Web cams See Webcam.  to tours of their office space. Some 78 percent reported the format helped the individual feel part of the out even meeting.

Concerns the participants did have were the nuances that come with meeting in person, such as snatches of conversations walking around and getting away from the computer screen. "You can't replace the in-between session chatting in the hallway," said Winter. Even without the spontaneous conversations, Winter said, "it went better than I could have possibly imagined."

With organizational and personal budgets still tightening, some organizations are testing out the virtual world to maintain connections while sneaking in some cost savings.

Continuous news about the economy prompted The American Red Cross American Red Cross: see Red Cross.  of Northern New Jersey (ARCNNJ) to rethink a glitzy glitz   Informal
n.
Ostentatious showiness; flashiness: "a garish barrage of show-biz glitz" Peter G. Davis.

tr.v.
 event for its Touch of Red gala. And the chapter was hard pressed to find a central location to hold its gala since the chapter encompasses six New Jersey counties with more than 3.5 million residents.

"The thought came down to, how can we best reach the majority of people in our audience as well as be sensitive to the economic times," said Ray Shepherd, CEO (1) (Chief Executive Officer) The highest individual in command of an organization. Typically the president of the company, the CEO reports to the Chairman of the Board.  of ARCNNJ, headquartered in Fairfield, N.J. "And that's where the thought came of doing something online as a virtual gala came along."

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The virtual gala, scheduled from April 1 to April 30, raised more than $100,000 from more than 125 supporters and ARCNNJ decided to extend the virtual gala for an additional month.

"It was one of our board members who said, 'Hey, for the first time I don't need to rent a new tux and my wife won't need to buy a new dress. I can stay home in my pajamas pajamas
Noun, pl

US pyjamas

pajamas npl (US) → pijama msg; piyama msg (LAM
 and join the party,'" said Shepherd. "In the long rim, these kinds of things will be pretty second nature after a while."

The Touch of Red's information was prominently displayed on ARCNNJ's main Web site and once visitors clicked the link they were directed to the event's microsite, TouchOfRed.org. The site allowed visitors to learn more about sponsors, watch video testimonials from volunteers and supporters and directions to join the party.

The cost to create the Touch of Red virtual gala micro-site was $50,000, while traditionally it cost the organization around $75,000 to hold a physical event. The organization plans to reuse reuse - Using code developed for one application program in another application. Traditionally achieved using program libraries. Object-oriented programming offers reusability of code via its techniques of inheritance and genericity.  the Touch of RedWeb site for future online giving programs--cutting costs of creating another site.

Opening up the event on the Web means that participants didn't need to live in the immediate Northern New Jersey area to support ARCNNJ and join the gala. Ana Dabrowski, special events manager at ARCNNJ, said she received, a phone call from a man living in California. "It was just so funny. He was across the country looking at Touch of Red," she said.

"It really is the more responsible thing to do right now. We are saving more money than frivolously friv·o·lous  
adj.
1. Unworthy of serious attention; trivial: a frivolous novel.

2. Inappropriately silly: a frivolous purchase.
 spending money on a gala and putting the difference into the community," explained Dabrowski.

Events cost money whether it's a gala or a professional development conference. A virtual event usually takes time and manpower to coordinate, but is usually low cost compared to a live event, according to according to
prep.
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3.
 Joanne DelGiorno, group vice president, integrated marketing and senior strategist strat·e·gist  
n.
One who is skilled in strategy.

Noun 1. strategist - an expert in strategy (especially in warfare)
strategian

market strategist - someone skilled in planning marketing campaigns
 for Atlanta-based Grizzard Communications Group. "There are upfront investments in developing this within the first year," she said. "But I think you are developing a long-term strategy for fundraising in a new environment."

Grizzard hosted a conference, Winning Strategies in Challenging Times, this past February to highlight effective, efficient communications during the economic breakdown. One element of the conference was a live panel discussion with Maj. George Hood, national community relations 1. The relationship between military and civilian communities.
2. Those public affairs programs that address issues of interest to the general public, business, academia, veterans, Service organizations, military-related associations, and other non-news media entities.
 secretary of The Salvation Army Salvation Army, Protestant denomination and international nonsectarian Christian organization for evangelical and philanthropic work. Organization and Beliefs


The Salvation Army has established branches in 100 countries throughout the world.
, in Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by Linden Lab Linden Lab is a privately held company based in San Francisco, California. Its CEO is Philip Rosedale, former CTO of Real Networks. Mitch Kapor is on the board of directors. The company was founded in 1999. The name comes from Linden Street, the street it was originally based on. . Other Salvation Army IT communications associates from Alexandria, Va., and Reston, Va., also participated.

"We were saying that you can use this to facilitate conversations within your organization around the world, but you can also use this as a tool for reaching different audience demographics The attributes of people in a particular geographic area. Used for marketing purposes, population, ethnic origins, religion, spoken language, income and age range are examples of demographic data.  you wouldn't necessarily reach in direct mail program," said DelGiorno.

Shepherd said that Touch of Red virtual event sponsors, such as medical technology company and event honoree hon·or·ee  
n.
The recipient of an honor.

Noun 1. honoree - a recipient of honors in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments
recipient, receiver - a person who receives something
 BD, were intrigued by the online event. ARCNNJ can share online analytic information with sponsors and offer placement on the gala's online recognition journal and a printed version of the journal will be mailed to gala participants.

"Typically when you have a gala, you have a journal at everyone's seat. And to be honest, when you leave there's probably half of them that are still there and haven't been taken home," said Dabrowski. "I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
 what attendees are going to do with it when it gets to their house, but it is in their house--not just left in a chair in a room."

Virtual events are not just one night. "It's not one time, it's not one location--it's multiple weeks. And it gives that sponsor even more visibility than a room that holds 300 people. There is more chance for them to get visibility of their company in addition to our mission," said Dabrowski.

The Touch of Red virtual gala set up a registration barrier to explore the auction portion of the Web site. Shepherd explained that the organization decided that only registrants should be able to access the auction, which included restaurant certificates, a football signed by the New York Jets
    The New York Jets are a professional American football team based in the New York metropolitan area. They are members of the Eastern Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) in the National Football League (NFL).
     football team and a trip to South Carolina South Carolina, state of the SE United States. It is bordered by North Carolina (N), the Atlantic Ocean (SE), and Georgia (SW). Facts and Figures


    Area, 31,055 sq mi (80,432 sq km). Pop. (2000) 4,012,012, a 15.
    .

    "The concept was just as if you were at a regular gala. You would have paid a ticket to participate in the auction. We feel like the online site should be very similar to that," said Shepherd.

    "We want you to be a part of the party and gala--and as part of your entry fee you pay that and then you can go into the auction as well," he said.
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    Author:Donohue, Michele
    Publication:The Non-profit Times
    Date:Oct 15, 2009
    Words:1225
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