Xbox Live is an online network where Xbox 360 owners meet to play games, buy content, play with celebrities, and collect a range of rewards and bragging rights. Now the Canadian version of Xbox Live will use this social connection to collect donations for the Children's Miracle Network. It's a program called Mission 4 Miracles, and it's the first of its kind in the world.
For years, retail outlets have been participating in charity programs by offering paper balloons for dollar donations at point-of-purchase. By partnering with Microsoft Canada, the Children's Miracle Network can now engage online shoppers in the same manner, but through a market of virtual goods where the rewards can feel like they have more substance.
Canadian gamers can grab Avatar Golf for 400 points, a video game using Xbox Live profile characters. Gamers can also get add-ons to customize their systems by renowned graffiti artist Patrick Thompson, who has donated his brand and skills to create a set of dashboard themes at 180 points each, and profile picture packs for 80 points each. In each case, the full value of the purchase is converted to dollars and donated to the cause.
The advantage of using points instead of dollars is that gamers need only enter a credit card number when they first register for a membership. Then, the account automatically converts dollars into points. For example, $7.25 equates to 500 points, $29 into 2,000.
Since its beginning 23 years ago, the Children's Miracle Network has worked on the principle that money raised stays local, a concept here that will help tie an online sense of community with a real world one. In this respect, then, Microsoft will be using the postal code listed on each Xbox Live member's account to determine how to divide the collected funds amongst the 14 children's hospitals across Canada. This way, a gamer living in Vancouver will know that his money is going to the B. C. children's hospital.
"Online donations are now becoming the norm," says John Hartman, Chief International Officer of Children's Miracle Network. "There's a lot of ways that you can go online and donate money, but it takes a credit card or a debit card and you've got to plug in all of that. It can be clumsy. With this system, you're converting points to a contribution with exclusive offers that are unique to this community."
That sense of community is very important. Community-driven organizations and memberships often look toward charity initiatives as a way to express their group identity and give their interests more prominence. As a group, gamers are no different. Child's Play, a charity representing the video game industry and its interests, has raised millions of dollars over the past five years. That's the kind of passion the program hopes to capture.
While Mission 4 Miracles is based on a retail system for collecting donations, Microsoft is using the network to push that sense of community through a series of "Game With Fame" sessions. Popular celebrities will donate their time to connect online, play and chat with Xbox 360 owners, raise awareness for the cause, and speak about their own relationship with children's hospitals.
Celebrities in attendance at the Mission 4 Miracles launch event this week in Toronto included pop singer Shawn Desman, Olympic curler Cheryl Bernard, Olympic snowboarder Brad Martin, and graffiti artist Patrick Thompson.
Microsoft has also produced a series of videos and featurettes for free download that highlight the incredible work of Canadian children's hospitals and the stories of its patients, many of whom struggle through ordeals greater than most adults.
At the Mission 4 Miracles launch, 10-year-old Tobin Hass related his battles with brain tumors, detailing the 67 radiation treatments, 20 chemotherapy cycles, and numerous brain surgeries and MRIs that have become part of his early life alongside such normal pursuits as baseball, hockey, and curling.
"I go for MRIs every three months," explains Tobin, "and I see all the doctors at the different departments. I'm glad that all the doctors who are looking after me are here at Sick Kids'. I like it here. They have the best and nicest doctors and nurses."
This isn't the first collaboration between Microsoft and the Children's Miracle Network. A few years ago, the two organizations partnered with Blockbuster to sell exclusive "badge" buttons based on popular Xbox 360 video games, raising $4 million in four years. Outside of fundraising, Microsoft maintains a program called CLICK, which delivers technologies to hospitals that allow patients in critical care to maintain online contact with family, friends, and schoolmates.
With Mission 4 Miracles, the hope is that by combining the success of both community and retail-based charity initiatives into one online program, the results will reach a new high, and other countries will follow Canada's example.
"Children's Miracle Network is all about high volume, low dollar kind of fundraising," says Hartman. "So I may ask a donor for a thousand dollars, a thousand points, or I may ask them to buy a balloon for a dollar. It's transactional, it's retail, so this will capture it."