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Cell phone users send donations via text messages to charitable groups


By Suzanne Choney – msnbc.com

Americans who are turning to their cell phones to donate money via text message for Haitian relief efforts have pledged more than $19 million as of Monday to the American Red Cross alone, an unprecedented amount for mobile donations.

The Mobile Giving Foundation said within the first 36 hours after the Jan. 12 quake, “donations made via mobile phones for Haiti earthquake relief … surpassed $7 million” to several relief organizations. The Bellevue, Wash.-based nonprofit group has worked with the country’s four major wireless carriers to arrange for the text-message donation program.

Jeffrey Nelson, Verizon Wireless spokesman, called the campaign “the largest outpouring of charitable support by texting in history — by far.”

“In all of 2009, all mobile giving (via texting) to all charities totaled just under $4 million for the year,” he said.

The American Red Cross is the largest benefactor of the effort so far. Other organizations receiving $5 and $10 donations include the Yele Haiti foundation; the International Rescue Committee; the International Medical Corps; and the Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief Fund.

In a matter of days, the mobile giving campaign has become a popular and easy way to donate to relief efforts, with all four major carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile —backing the text-messaging donation campaign, saying customers will not be charged for text-messaging mobile donations. Smaller carriers around the country are also involved in the program.

As of Friday, AT&T said its customers pledged $4.2 million to the Red Cross, and Verizon Wireless customers have given nearly $3 million to the agency. Sprint customers have contributed more than $1.2 million in mobile-giving donations, a spokeswoman said.

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., said Nelson of Verizon Wireless.

Donating is easy; in the Red Cross’ case, phone users can text the word “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10,” and when prompted, hit “YES” to confirm the donation. The donation is added to the cell user’s bill, and receipts are available.

Wireless carriers have vowed to expedite donations to charitable groups helping Haiti. On Friday, Verizon Wireless said it sent nearly $3 million to the American Red Cross, “representing dollars pledged by texting customers,” even before collecting the money pledged by its users.

Sprint took the same action. Normally, the company said, it would take 30 to 60 days to transfer the contributions from customers to relief agencies. But because of “the overwhelming support from our customers to the relief efforts, Sprint is donating a bulk of the committed dollars immediately.”

Other text-message codes for donations include:


* Text the word “YELE” to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Haiti foundation.

* Text the word “HAITI” to 20222 to donate $10 to the Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief Fund.

* Text “HAITI” to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee.

* Text “HAITI” to 85944 to donate $10 to the International Medical Corps.

The mobile donation campaign, mentioned on the White House’s blog has also lent a boost to the activity.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone also suggested the mobile donation route to the Red Cross and to Yele on Twitter’s blog, saying it is among “a few simple but effective ways to help (that) have emerged.”

Meanwhile, T-Mobile said Thursday its current customers trying to connect with “loved ones in Haiti during the aftermath” of the earthquake can make calls to Haiti without being charged for international long distance calls through Jan. 31. The free calls are retroactive to Jan. 12, the date of the quake, T-Mobile said.

Also, T-Mobile customers “who may already be in Haiti will be able to roam on T-Mobile’s partner networks in Haiti (operated locally in Haiti under the names Voila and Digicel) free-of-charge through the end of the month. In both cases, T-Mobile will remove these charges from customer bills accordingly.”


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