As the tragedy from last week’s earthquake in Haiti continues to unfold, the Red Cross and other relief organizations have now raised more than $20 million via text message donations, which is about 10 percent of the $210 million total raised so far. The text donations have been doubling at a rapid pace, from $5 million last week to $10 million to more than $20 million today. As more and more people pick up their phones and text “HAITI” to the number 90999, not only is a $10 donation to the Red Cross be added to their phone bill, but many of them are also experiencing mobile SMS payments for the first time.
James Eberhard is the CEO of Mobile Accord, the company behind the mGive Foundation which is coordinating the text fundraising efforts for the Red Cross. Mobile Accord has been running cause marketing campaigns for non-profits since the 2008 SuperBowl. He’s never seen mobile giving at this scale. “It is the biggest,” he says “Previously the largest was during American Idol when Alicia keys made a call to action that raised $450,000 through two calls to action over the course of three minutes.”
There are many advantages to mobile giving. It’s probably the fastest way to make a donation. You don’t have to write a check. You don’t even have to turn on your computer. It lowers the barrier to giving and opens the door to w whole new class of donors. When someone decides they want to give, they can do it immediately and get billed later. (The carriers, for their part, are trying to release the money as quickly as possible to the relief organizations). Eberhard notes that there are 270 million cell phones in the U.S., and they all can send text messages. For the non-profits, they end up getting funds faster and can begin to establish a direct relationship with the people who give.
As text donations become more common, they may also pave the way for regular mobile commerce payments. It’s like Paypal: sending money via text message might seem unnatural at first, but once you do it, the next time the option comes up it won’t seem so strange. The people texting money to the Red Cross this week will be more likely to text money to a business down the road. But for now, keep texting “HAITI.”
Here’s a list of different ways to text to help Haiti: