Haiti text donations overwhelm Red Cross

Total exceeds $8 million, and still climbing

Haiti earthquake relief donations made by text may not constitute a miracle, but the American Red Cross says it is overwhelmed by the millions of dollars it has received through $10 gifts sent via mobile phones.

As of early Friday, the Red Cross said it had raised $8 million in donations via texts, with the potential that millions of dollars more could come in over the long holiday weekend.

The simple process requires a mobile phone user with a text messaging capability to send "Haiti" to 90999, and a $10 donation is applied to their phone bill. Cellular companies are forwarding 100% of the total to the American Red Cross. "We honestly have no clue how much more to expect, but have been really surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of donations via texting," Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Housman told Computerworld.

The $8 million raised in less than three days after the first earthquake ravaged Haiti was "unheard of," she said. Half the total was raised in less than a day, with $4 million raised by midday Thursday, following the earthquake, which hit late Tuesday.

"We never raised this much money with a mobile campaign, especially at $10 a time," she said, noting that some smaller domestic campaigns have been tried since 2008. Compared with earlier attempts going back to 2008, "this one has just blown the results out of the water."

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She attributed the terrific response to the dire emergency, the closeness of Haiti to the U.S., and also the simplicity of donating via text.

"It's something easy that an average person can do, and the $10 amount has been key in this situation. It's a doable amount," she said. "A 10-year-old girl texted her donation and called to tell us and said she was planning to spread the word through her classmates. It was very emotional for her."

Housman said the campaign got off to early success, having been set up three hours after the first quake struck. The text-to-donate idea was also spread through Twitter and Facebook.

The cellular phone companies will transfer the funds to the Red Cross once donors pay their phone bills, which means the money might take between 30 and 60 days to reach the Red Cross. Still, the Red Cross has funneled $10 million to Haiti relief already, using its cash on hand, and is already delivering water and supplies. But it expects to be rebuilding the island nation for years, Housman said.

The Red Cross texting effort is powered by Mobile Accord and the MGive Foundation, and is being coordinated with the U.S. State Department, the Red Cross said on its Web site.

A map on the Red Cross site indicates that the largest number of text donations has come from populous states including those near Haiti, such as Texas and Florida.

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