Technology

Donations To Haiti Pour In Via Text Message

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There has been an outpouring of charity for the victims of Haiti's earthquake. Donors in the U.S. are responding more quickly than they ever have before — via their cell phones. This is the first time large numbers of Americans are giving donations by text message. In other countries, it's been more common to donate this way. According to the Red Cross, more than $4.7 million has come in through text-message donations to date — and they are expecting that number to keep growing.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There has been an outpouring of charity for the victims of Haiti's earthquake. And it's been coming from the U.S. in an unexpected way: by cell phone.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, this is the first time that large numbers of Americans are giving donations by text message.

LAURA SYDELL: John Dallas, a San Francisco realtor, was watching the news about the earthquake in Haiti last night with his wife.

Mr. JOHN DALLAS (Realtor): And my cell phone had a text message that said give $10 to Haiti relief, text this number. And we both kind of looked at each other, like, well that's awfully convenient.

SYDELL: So convenient that they did it right away. This is the first time that there has been massive giving via text message in the United States. mGive is the company that's been working with charitable organizations to set up this kind of giving. Tony Aiello, the CEO, says people are used to interacting with local news sites via cell phone and text message.

Mr. TONY AIELLO (CEO, mGive): Now you see a call to action that allows you to do something about the story you just saw and you're already trained to interact via text messaging. Now, that text message can just take it one step further.

SYDELL: Aiello says it's bringing in donors who might not otherwise give. But a small amount like $10 seems doable. And it's getting people who give annually to give more.

Mr. AIELLO: We're seeing that it opens up an incremental donation flow from traditional donors.

SYDELL: That's certainly true of Jennifer Roy(ph). She was nowhere near her wallet when a friend posted a number for text-giving on Facebook. It might have otherwise taken her a long time to give.

Ms. JENNIFER ROY: I think people hesitate a little bit more to, like, fill out a form, give a credit card number.

SYDELL: The program is a collaboration between the U.S. State Department, the Red Cross and the wireless phone companies. Now that people are used to giving via text message, Carrie Housman of the Red Cross says it's a game changer.

Ms. CARRIE HOUSMAN (Spokeswoman, International Red Cross): I think this is the way of the future, allowing people to help right away and to be watching the news and feel like they can be a part of helping the people that they're seeing on the news who are struggling.

SYDELL: According to the Red Cross, more than $4.7 million has come in through text-message donations to date and they're expecting that number to keep growing.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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