One thing that the ongoing relief effort in Haiti requires is money. And lots of it. US aid groups like the American Red Cross are asking folks to reach into their pockets to help. But they’re not necessarily asking them to reach for their wallets. Instead, they’re offering a service where mobile phone users can simply send a text message to make their donations. The World’s Clark Boyd has more.
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MARCO WERMAN: All of the relief efforts in Haiti require one thing, money and a lot of it. Aid groups are asking you to dig deep to help. This time some groups are asking you to reach for something other than your wallet, your cell phone. The World’s technology correspondent Clark Boyd has more.
CLARK BOYD: Just hours after the earthquake hit Haiti, the American Red Cross stepped up its fundraising campaign. There were the usual ways to give money, by check or by credit card over the phone or the web. But there was also another option. You could donate $10 by sending a short text message on your cell phone. Gloria Huang is a Red Cross spokesperson.
GLORIA HUANG: It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. The response has been really great.
BOYD: Great might be an understatement. The text campaign was highlighted by the state department. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook spread news of the campaign rapidly. Most mobile carriers agreed to waive the fees normally associated with sending text messages. It probably didn’t hurt that musician Wyclef Jean, himself a native Haitian also launched a text campaign for his Yele Haiti Foundation. It has raised more than one million dollars since Tuesday night. The Red Cross says nearly half the donations it has received have come by text. More than seven million dollars. Katrin Verclas is the director of MobileActive.org, a website focused on the use of mobile technology for social change. She says one reason the Red Cross campaign is popular is that people think it’s easy and immediate.
KATRIN VERCLAS: They texted, in this case the key word Haiti to a short cut, which is a five-digit number. Then they will be asked to essentially confirm the five or ten dollar contribution. At the end of the month when they receive their bill, there will be a charge in the amount of five or ten dollars that the customer pays as a part of their regular phone bill.
BOYD: U.S. aid groups Verclas says are using what they learned from European groups after the Indian Ocean Tsunami five years ago.
VERCLAS: In the aftermath of the tsunami, there were U.K., Spanish, Italian aid organizations that raised millions. I think in Spain it was 5.9 million raised in 24 hours or something after the tsunami all raised by SMS. U.S. aid organizations were in 2004 or early 2005 absolutely not on the bandwagon. They are now waking up, which is good. It’s about time.
SOUND CLIP: I made my first text to give donations. I had never done it before. For me, I was in the habit of giving on the web or writing a check. That is my generation.
BOYD: Beth Kanter is a seasoned fundraiser. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book called, The Networked Non-Profit. Kanter says it’s not just American aid groups that are waking up to the power of cell phones. It is American’s themselves.
BETH KANTER: I don’t think we are as much of a cell phoned culture at least several years ago as people were in Europe or Asia. Cell phones I think have been more of a part of people’s lives. Here I think especially older people like me are really more getting into using our phones.
BOYD: Kanter says the text message donation campaigns will become a powerful tool for U.S. aid groups almost like a first responder fundraising strategy. Still, there are some drawbacks both
for aid groups and would be givers. The top contribution amount allowed in the U.S. is currently only $10. Although some groups let you donate multiple times. Katrin Verclas of MobileActive.org
also notes that it can take up to 90 days from the time you make your text donation for the money to actually reach the designated aid group.
VERCLAS: I still would encourage anybody to donate online because the organization gets the donation money much faster and the charges are less.
BOYD: Verclas says, like with any donation, make sure the organization you are giving to via text message is a legitimate one. For The World, this is Clark Boyd.
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