International Relief Goes Mobile 10

Back in October 2008, I wrote a post about charitable organizations embracing donations via text message to help meet their end of year fundraising goals. This week the island nation of Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake and two high profile charities, the Red Cross and Yele (founded by Haitian musician Wyclef Jean), urged those wishing to send aid to make a donation not via check, email, or even online donations, instead they asked for one simple item – a text message.

By text messaging a special code to the Red Cross or Yele you could make a donation to relief efforts in Haiti with the push of just a few keys on your phone. Last week I wrote about some of the exciting mobile technologies unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and its clear that the mobile trend is not just for tech, it has spread to non-profit.

The Red Cross text message donations are being managed by a company called mGive. mGive’s chief executive, Tony Aiello, told Jenna Wortham of the New York Times, “Catastrophic fund-raising is different from the everyday fund-raising that we help facilitate. This is a huge tragedy, and we simply hope to help provide relief. . . Mobile giving is currently outpacing the early days of online giving.”

How popular is the donation method exactly?

In an interview with MSNBC’s Suzanne Choney, Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless said, “All mobile texters in the United States have contributed $4 million to the Red Cross Haiti earthquake relief effort, the largest outpouring of charitable support by texting in history — by far.”

Nelson went on to say, “Previous donating-via-text message efforts raised $400,000 after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and $200,000 after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by all wireless customers in the U.S.”

And it doesn’t end there. To get out the word about donating via text, concerned individuals posted the text message codes on a plethora of social networks, making the plea viral.

Jennifer Van Grove of Mashable wrote a post today praising the Red Cross’ decision to use mobile and social media to raise awareness and more importantly, to raise funds. Van Grove said, “The Red Cross’s involvement in the relief effort is to be commended. Not only did it immediately set up the simplest donation method possible, but its social media presence and outreach, when combined with the State Department’s involvement, has turned this into a viral funding initiative, topping Twitter trends and inspiring action.”

This week it has become clear the most effective method of raising funds is to reach people where they are: on their phones and on social networks. When launching a fundraising campaign, in the wake of a crisis or otherwise, fundraisers should consider that their staring point is in fact mobile.

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