Texting for Haiti: A Breakthrough for Cell-Phone Fundraising?

Have a cell phone and want to help Haiti? It’s easy — just Text HAITI to the short-code 90999 and $10 will go to Red Cross and be billed to your account. Within 30 hours of launching the campaign, the Red Cross had already raised over $3 million and set a record for donations via SMS. Is this the beginning of a revolution in electronic fundraising?

The advantages of raising money this way are obvious: people’s phones are usually close at hand, meaning that we can move immediately to convert sympathy into action. And unlike most other forms of electronic donations, texting to a short code doesn’t require a credit card or even a bank account (a bartender friend of mine has neither but was still able to send in his $10).

One significant caveat: in the case of the Haitian earthquake, cellular providers in the U.S. have forgone their usual cut of the take, which can siphon off up to half of a typical donation-via-text. Other nonprofits and political campaigns won’t have this advantage in the future, which is likely to limit the broad adoption of SMS fundraising unless and until the providers relent. Another limitation is that while $10 donations can add up fast when millions of people make them, they’re essentially one-off transactions — donors don’t end up on an organization’s long-term supporter hit-list. But it seems inevitable that as cell phones become more capable and people rely on them for more aspects of our communications lives, fundraisers will try to use them to tap our immediate enthusiasm for a candidate or cause.

BTW, here’s another illustration of the potential of technology to help people take action easily: a Call2Action video widget that combines compelling imagery and the opportunity to solicit donations from any page in which it’s embedded. In this case the “donate” button directs you to the Red Cross short code, but it could just as well have pointed to an online donation page. Plus, the widget is easy to share online. A cool idea, well executed — and I’m not just saying that because Call2Action is an occasional client.


Written by
Colin Delany
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