Social media plays key fundraising role in wake of back-to-back earthquakes

SANTIAGO, CHILE: With the earthquake in Chile on February 27, only weeks after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, social media and text messaging continue to play a major role in sharing information and collecting donations for relief.

SANTIAGO, CHILE: With the earthquake in Chile on February 27, only weeks after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, social media and text messaging continue to play a major role in sharing information and collecting donations for relief. As consumers become more comfortable with donating through nontraditional methods and see results from their text-message donations, PR professionals in the digital and nonprofit space are following the trend.

"Haiti was the first time we used text messaging and we saw success," said Peggy Atherlay, communications director for AmeriCares. "It was the first time we saw a connection between either social media or text messaging and a direct connection to fundraising."

The Red Cross started its text messaging campaign for Chile on the evening of March 2, three days after the earthquake, and only after the Chilean Red Cross requested assistance. Roger Lowe, SVP of communications for the American Red Cross, said they had to quickly get out the news that the organization was accepting text-messaging donations.

"The second that decision was made, we had a very conscious roll-out strategy and that included every light on in social media," he said.

"Now the technology has caught up to the intent," explained Kai MacMahon, VP of digital strategy for Ogilvy. "It's now so easy to get a message out there, to communicate to donate." As consumers have become more comfortable donating online, they are open to using text messaging as well, he added.

"Two years from now, there will be new, quicker ways to use social media and online and even iPhone applications and things like that to donate even more quickly," said Mory Fontanez, VP in the digital public affairs team at Edelman.

She added that social media spreads news quickly and also motivates consumers to respond and give quickly. The concept of smaller donations, like $5 or $10 text message donations, has also contributed to the success.

The Red Cross raised more than $32 million via mobile donations in the month since the earthquake in Haiti, but the social media outpouring and mobile giving for Chile are significantly less. The damage in Chile was not as great as it was in Haiti, despite a more powerful earthquake, and with two natural disasters following behind each other so quickly, it seems the first one - fair or not - is more likely to capture the world's attention.

"There was a little bit of a novelty factor to donating via text, because it was quick and easy," explained Jud Branam, senior digital strategist at Weber Shandwick. "It seems that the timing is kind of unfortunate for raising money for Chile, because there seems to be an element of fatigue."

But, he added, as the millennial generation continues to grow, and begin to make and donate their own money, this social media and text-related philanthropy will be "a natural expression of their concerns and how they want to use mobile and Web."

"Organizations, certainly nonprofits, are tackling it head-on now, but the scale and the amplification comes from the consumers," MacMahon added. Going forward, aid organizations are looking to figure out how to expand their social media and text strategy around non-disasters.

"Clearly, people are motivated to give and give generously by a disaster," Lowe said. "We'll be looking at the American Red Cross for ways to have more of a sustained text-donation, where we have an ongoing thing."

"I think the key to making sure that it happens successfully in the future is demonstrating what [social media and text donations have] done in the past," Fontanez said, noting that around Haiti, there was some confusion regarding text messaging fees for text donations. "Giving some transparency around that process, people understanding where their donations are going, will make them more likely to donate."

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