Haiti Relief Effort Marks a Tipping Point for Mobile Charity

Over $2 million raised by texting “Haiti” to 90999.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

"Today is a huge day for mobile giving," Tony Aiello, chief executive of mGive, told the New York Times. "We are experiencing a tipping point." He was talking about the one piece of good news coming out of aftermath of the horrific earthquake in Haiti: that his company has raised over $2 million for Red Cross relief efforts there just since Tuesday--all via cellphones. Word spread on Twitter and Facebook that mGive could get money immediately to the Red Cross, and mGive was waiving all of its usual fees so that 100 percent of the money would go to Haitian rescue efforts. A nonprofit clearinghouse that collects donations for charities given by text message to wireless carriers, mGive usually charges the charities a licensing fee.

In this case, anyone with a cellphone and an account with a major wireless carrier can text "Haiti" (without the quote marks) to the number 90999 and donate $10 to the Red Cross. You'll see the $10 charge on your cellphone bill. I just did it myself, and it couldn't have been easier.

This really is a tipping point for American charities. Two years ago, I was at a Washington Nationals baseball game for "Diabetes Day," in which Children's National Medical Center was asking people to send donations to mGive via their cellphones for the Diabetes Care Complex, and they kept flashing the number on the jumbotrons to a sold-out crowd of fans--many of whom were families with kids with diabetes. Great idea. You'd think they would have made a fortune. I don't know if it was too new an idea, or people didn't trust that the money would actually get to the charity, or if it was too difficult for some technically challenged cellphone users, or what. But it didn't make much money, and the idea kind of died on the vine for future fundraising events. People didn't get it.

Now, two years later, people get it. And the fact that the word spread on Facebook and Twitter is big, too. Because as the Times pointed out, Facebook users had posted more than 1,500 status updates a minute containing the word "Haiti." I know friends of mine posted on their Facebook walls which Haitian relief efforts they were supporting, encouraging others to give. As I was reading live Tweets last night from survivors with cellphones in the earthquake-hit areas, I also was receiving Tweets from others asking me to donate via my cellphone. Imagine if technology had been used like this during Katrina, which was only four years ago but seems like a lifetime.

Today marks a tipping point for many charities, and for many donors. It's a lot easier to text a donation on your cellphone to the Red Cross than to do it the old-fashioned way with a check, an envelope, and a stamp. I bet many will never go back. It'll be great to see how much the Red Cross can raise--in affordable $10 donations--for the survivors in Haiti.

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