EARTHQUAKEHaiti -- January 14, 2010 at 2:28 PM ET
Text Donations a Boon for Haiti Relief Effort
As Haiti continues to reel from Tuesday's devastating earthquake, Americans are donating to the relief effort in droves, and for the first time ever, tens of thousands are doing so via text message.
Any mobile phone user can donate $10 to the Red Cross by simply texting the word "Haiti" to the number 90999. As of noon Thursday, the Red Cross had collected more than $4 million worth of donations for the relief effort through text messages alone.
The Red Cross set up the program yesterday through a partnership with the State Department and the mobile philanthropy, mGive. A map on mGive's Web site breaks down how much has been contributed by state.
Here's how it works: Contributions are charged at the end of the month to the donor's cell-phone bill. Once bills are paid, carriers hand over all donations to a clearinghouse managed by mGive, which after about 90 days goes on to wire the money to the appropriate charity. Typically, the company charges licensing and transaction fees, but is waving those costs for the Haiti relief effort. It is also working with carriers to get donations to Haiti faster than usual.
"Today is a huge day for mobile giving," mGive's chief executive, Tony Aiello, told the New York Times' "Bits" blog on Wednesday. "We are experiencing a tipping point," he said.
The convenience factor is one reason text-based fundraising has been so successful in the wake of the Haiti quake according to Marketplace's Sam Eaton. "And with the help of Twitter and social networking sites like Facebook, these efforts have gone viral," Eaton said.
Another nonprofit using texts to collect funds for the relief effort is hip-hop star Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti. The organization is raising money to send food, flashlights and blankets by asking cell-phone users to text "Yele" to 501501.
"This is the first time there has been a major disaster when this type of service has been widely available," Yele's executive director, Hugh Locke, told Time magazine. "People want a sense of participating in the response," he said.
Of course, text donations are not without their downsides. "Opportunistic scammers typically come out of the woodwork in the wake of catastrophes, hoping to strike it rich through fraudulent schemes," writes the Christian Science Monitor's Matthew Clark. Legit organizations will send a confirmation text moments after receiving a donation.