Haiti relief effort helps solidify texting's role as outreach force

The unprecedented popularity of mobile giving following the January 12 Haiti earthquake has changed the face of fundraising.

The unprecedented popularity of mobile giving following the January 12 Haiti earthquake has changed the face of fundraising. Text donations offer a powerful combination of immediacy, accessibility, and affordability, and make charitable giving available to more people than ever.

The text "HAITI" to 90999 campaign involving the mGive Foundation, Mobile Accord, the US State Department, and the American Red Cross shattered previous records for mobile giving. More than $30 million was raised - $10 at a time - in the first two weeks after the earthquake.

The success of the mobile-giving effort is due to the strong desire of people to help the earthquake survivors, an easy-to-use giving option, and the ever-increasing popularity of mobile devices.

The lessons learned for future mobile-giving efforts are to set up special text numbers quickly, promote it widely with partners and through social and earned media, and offer rapid response to questions. The text "HAITI" to 90999 option was available within hours of the earthquake, giving people who wanted to do something an immediate way to donate to the Red Cross relief efforts.

In addition, the text donation for Haiti received widespread buzz and attention through social networks, extensive print and broadcast coverage, promotions during major events such as the NFL playoffs and the Grammy Awards, and through PSAs by first lady Michelle Obama and celebrities.

The Red Cross had to respond quickly and clearly to questions on the text code's legitimacy, how fast the money would get to Haiti, and whether the Red Cross was being charged processing fees. In this case, mobile carriers advanced the Red Cross much of the money and normal processing fees for the mobile giving were waived.

Mobile giving efforts can engage donors through a communications channel that is readily available to them and in increments that small donors can afford. It is a way to "democratize giving" and enable more people to experience the joy of helping others.

Getting a mobile donation is just one step, however. Entities such as the Red Cross next must continue to use social media, online channels, and earned media to show new mobile donors, as well as those who gave online, by phone, or by check, how those donations are being spent to help earthquake survivors in the short term - and rebuild Haiti over the long term.

Roger Lowe is SVP of communications at the American Red Cross.

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