Wednesday, January 13, 2010

$2 Million in Donations for Haiti, via Text Message

By Jenna Wortham

Courtesy of Michael David MurphyUpdate | 12:48 a.m. The organizers of the mobile donations said on Twitter Thursday night that over $2 million had been raised.

Update | 6:51 p.m. Adding more information about the campaign and updating the total raised.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday, thousands of Americans are sending financial support — through their mobile phones.

Anyone with a mobile phone and an account with a major wireless carrier can text the phrase “Haiti” to the number 90999 and donate $10 to the Red Cross. That amount is charged to the donor’s cellphone bill.

The texted donations are being handled by a company called mGive, which started the campaign in a joint effort with the State Department and the Red Cross late Tuesday night. Thanks to a mention on the White House’s blog and lots of word of mouth on Twitter and Facebook, the campaign had raised well over a million dollars by Tuesday evening, mGive said.

“Today is a huge day for mobile giving,” said Tony Aiello, chief executive of mGive. “We are experiencing a tipping point.”

Each month, when people pay their wireless bills, the texted donations are collected from the carriers and shuttled into a nonprofit clearinghouse managed by an mGive foundation, which in turn cuts a check to the appropriate charity.

MGive typically charges a licensing fee for its software platform, $4 to $1,500 a month, depending on the scale of the fund-raising effort and the additional services the company provides. In addition, after the charity receives the total amount raised from the wireless carriers, mGive charges a transaction fee for each collected donation.

In the case of the Haiti disaster, however, Mr. Aiello said the company had elected to waive all software and transaction fees.

“Catastrophic fund-raising is different from the everyday fund-raising that we help facilitate,” Mr. Aiello said. “This is a huge tragedy, and we simply hope to help provide relief.”

It typically takes about 90 days from the time someone makes a donation until the charity receives the money, Mr. Aiello said, although the company is working with wireless carriers to reduce that delay.

Mr. Aiello said the widespread adoption of cellphones and social media Web sites was helping to foster this approach to fund-raising. “Mobile giving is currently outpacing the early days of online giving,” he said.

Awareness about the disaster in Haiti has swept through Twitter and other social media sites. Facebook, for example, said its users had posted more than 1,500 status updates a minute containing the word Haiti.

MGive, which was founded in 2005, works with more than 200 organizations and charities, including the American Heart Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Mr. Aiello said the Haiti campaign had “outpaced anything we’ve every done in mobile giving so far” and showed no signs of slowing.

“Everyone is still trying to gauge the scope of this tragedy,” Mr. Aiello said, “But I expect this campaign could run for months.”

In another campaign that Twitter users are publicizing widely, the Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean is urging people to donate $5 to his charity organization by texting “YELE” to 501501.

Source: New York Times

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