U.S. cellphone users donate $22 million to Haiti earthquake relief via text

By Thomas Heath
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; A10

The American Red Cross has received more than $22 million in U.S. text-message donations for Haiti earthquake relief efforts, far outpacing the charity's previous record of $400,000 for emergency relief using similar technology.

"It's truly an unprecedented amount for a text campaign," said American Red Cross spokesman Roger Lowe.

The $22 million is roughly one-fifth of the $112 million total that the American Red Cross has so far raised for Haiti, most of which has come through more conventional sources such as corporate and online donations.

The text-messaging effort involves sending the word "Haiti" in a cellphone text message to the number 90999, which automatically adds a $10 pledge to a person's phone bill.

Wireless providers have said they are forgoing standard text-messaging fees for the Haiti effort.

"We make no money on this," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson.

To get the money to Haiti faster, Verizon said Monday that it transmitted nearly $3 million in text-message pledges to the American Red Cross. Normally, telecommunications companies wait for the user to pay their phone bill, a process that can take a few months, before passing the donation to the charity.

"I think it's great," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a watchdog group. "They should expedite the funds as rapidly as possible, and I am glad that they are doing that."

The American Red Cross is not the only group to see a surge in contributions via text messaging. Hundreds of thousands of people have donated using their cellphones. The technology allows charities to tap into new sources of giving, such as young adults.

"The beauty of it is the young people who don't give will give because it's so easy," Borochoff said. "They hit a few buttons and they can show off, and it's the cooler and hipper way than getting out your credit card or whipping out a check like your parents do."

The mobile donation network was set up through the nonprofit Mobile Giving Foundation and is connected with all four major U.S. cellphone carriers -- Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T.

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