Text Message Philanthropy: Technology Connects Haiti to Relief Aid

By Jennifer Janviere

We already know that our cell phones make the world more accessible to us by bringing our contacts, social media and the internet to our fingertips. But in the recent aftermath of the Haitian earthquake our cell phones took on yet another role: vehicle for charitable donation.

Word of the country’s catastrophe had just spread when the Red Cross, a leading coordinator in international disaster relief efforts, partnered with mgive, an online company that works with non-profit organizations, to raise charitable donations via text message. It works like this: anyone with a cell phone can send a text message to a five-digit number provided. A small predesignated amount of money is added onto the user’s phone bill that month, and the phone company transfers that amount to the charity. The process is simple and the giver can feel good about making a contribution to an important cause.

And as it turns out, the future of charitable fundraising could very well lie in harnessing the power of text messaging. According to the Washington Post, the Red Cross campaign raised over *$10 million dollars from the American public, who donated in $10 increments. The non-profit cultivated awareness of the campaign through its strong social media presence and through subsequent media coverage of the efforts.

On the coat tails of the monumental response, other organizations such as International Rescue Committee, The Canadian Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services have since followed suit.

The brilliance behind this grassroots strategy and one of the keys to its success is the fact that contributors can feel like part of a wide-reaching effort even while contributing only a small amount.  The giver can doesn’t have to provide personal information such as credit card numbers to a third party since the amount is simply added to his or her monthly bill. And since texting is something that most people do on a regular basis, it requires no additional effort or inconvenience on the part of the user and can be done instantaneously, almost like a philanthropic equivalent of an impulse buy.

With the overwhelming success of this campaign model and its rapid response to an immediate need, expect to see more charities adopting text messages and social media in the future.
*at the time of this writing

Jennifer Janviere is a multimedia specialist and instructor in the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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