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Mobile Phone Donations Break Records for Haiti Earthquake Relief

By Jim Fisher-Thompson

Washington — After a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, millions of Americans grabbed their mobiles, but instead of calling friends or family they hit a number that automatically donated $10 to the American Red Cross, resulting in an unprecedented $31 million raised for Haitian relief through mobile phone technology.

$31 million raised through American Red Cross text messaging

“To raise $31 million dollars, $10 at a time, with mobile phones is overwhelming and nothing short of amazing,” says Roger Lowe, senior vice president for communications at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington. “Think about it, that’s 3.1 million people,” he told America.gov in a February 4 interview.

Commenting on philanthropy in general, Lowe said, “I think people want to be able to help” in an emergency instead of just waiting for government to jump in.

“People all over the United States are helping with events such as concerts, food sales and raffles,” he said. “One school is trying to come up with a ‘Mile of Quarters’; another is making chains of $1 paper hearts and having different classes compete to make the longest chain.”

Lowe said an 8-year-old child went so far as to send in a dollar that he said he got from the tooth fairy. [In America, children put teeth that have fallen out under their pillows and are rewarded with money their parents say comes from “the tooth fairy.”] In North Dakota, a rancher donated five cows that were to be auctioned off at the stockyard in nearby Aberdeen.

Since the end of January, the American Red Cross has raised $203 million for Haiti relief. Total donations from individuals, nonprofit groups, businesses and other groups in America amounted to $560 million during that period, which compares to $402 million provided by the U.S. government.

“One thing you have to understand,” Lowe said, is that “this $31 million donation obliterates every record ever set on mobile giving.” And texting the word “Haiti” to 90999 continues to bring in money for stricken Haitians, providing essential emergency supplies like clean drinking water and shelter material such as tents, blankets, tarps and sleeping mats.

“Most young adults today have their mobile phones practically melded to their hands,” Lowe said, “so mobile phone giving is a way to engage a new generation of donors who want to help out somebody they’ve never met.”

With help from the State Department, Mobile Accord/mGive Foundation and CTIA-The Wireless Association, Lowe said, “We were able to set up the program within hours of the earthquake and it became a great opportunity for instant giving.”

The involvement of the State Department was indispensable, Lowe said, “because the day after we started the mobile giving program, Secretary [Hillary Rodham] Clinton went on the morning TV shows and promoted the effort, which was a great help.”

A big benefit of mobile phone giving, Lowe said, is that “the mobile carriers, who charge the $10 gift to the caller’s phone bill, are able to advance us the money.” The Salvation Army also raised $82,000 via text messaging, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The $10 pledges are being put to use by the Red Cross almost immediately, Lowe said. A pledge can provide a family with two water cans to store clean drinking water, basic first aid supplies or a blanket. The donations will also help support training from the Red Cross that “will help them recover and rebuild for years to come.”

Internet giving is also on the increase, reports The Chronicle of Philanthropy. It states that nonprofit organizations like Network for Good, an online charity portal, received $5.2 million in donations that it distributed to 140 charities providing aid to Haiti. JustGive, which also collects online gifts for charities, received $3.8 million in donations by the end of January.

Businesses and corporations are contributing with the Business Civic Leadership Center, affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The center announced that 299 companies in the United States had contributed more than $122 million to Haiti relief within two weeks of the disaster. One hundred companies have also launched employee-giving campaigns in coordination with the American Red Cross.

Shortly after the earthquake, Jeffrey Towers, chief development officer for the American Red Cross, told the press, “We are rushing supplies and disaster management staff to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake and are very grateful for the support of these companies for humanitarian mission.”

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