Haiti: High Impact Technology for Disaster Relief Giving

It's been approximately 72 hours since an earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the news is rife with stories of how to give money to effective organizations while avoiding scams. The current giving trend of mobile donations via text messaging is an eye-opening phenomenon but has also caused many to wonder how it will compare with the previous successes of online donations. Meanwhile, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a figure of over $71 million already collected in donations to U.S. relief organizations. Yesterday, Carol McLaughlin, our director of global public health research, had a chance to chat with KCBS radio on the $3.4 million raised by mobile giving (as of the recording Jan 14, 2010, 10:30am EST/7:30am PST). Follow the links to read the story and listen to the audio. We also have the audio available, searchable on iTunes and on our podcast subscription page. Additionally, Kat Rosqueta, our executive director, was quoted in BusinessWeek and the Chicago Tribune, in relation to the emergency relief efforts, electronically and on the ground. The total for mobile giving via text has now reached a total of $8 million to the American Red Cross via CBSNews. As always, questions arise around the safety and sustainability of using new technology when it involves donating personal resources, such as money. After a quick round of brainstorming, our team came up with a few points to consider:

Pros (+) and Cons () of Donating via Text Messaging

  • + Easy to do, user-friendly, quick response (seconds-minutes)
  • + Low cost ($5-$10)
  • + Scale of use: close to 80% of Americans have cell phones
  • + Large and untapped demographic of young givers or “Millennials”
  • + Accessibility in the event of not being near a computer for immediate gift or a website crash due to heavy donation traffic (In the case of Yele.)
  • Money paid to orgs only after phone bill is paidlag in time for money to be paid to orgs (per NYTimes)
  • Software, Licensing, and Transaction fees to orgs (Per NYTimes. In this instance, fees have been waived for the most part.)
  • Limited donation amounts

How it works in this instance (4 steps):

  1. Text a specific keyword  to a designated number (Red Cross Example: Text the word “Haiti” to 90999)
  2. Wait to receive a text reply asking to confirm your donation amount (Red Cross Example: $10)
  3. Reply to the confirmation via text (Red Cross Example: Reply with the word “Yes”)
  4. Wait to receive a “Thank You/Confirmation” message that the donation has been received and will be charged to your phone bill

(Note: There are other instances of making transactions via text message. For example, there is a popular food truck on Penn's campus, Tacos Don Memo, which offers a text service called Venmo to pay for your order. However, this service requires credit card information, which some are still wary of for online transactions.)

Potential for future giving:

  • Grassroots mobilization of small donation amounts
  • Wireless “Giving Circle”
  • Recurring gifts through phone bill or other utilities

These lists are not exhaustive but serve as a start for how technology and philanthropy are combining in the information age. You can refer to a previous blog post on Wireless Philanthropy and Social Impact and we encourage your thoughts and feedback. On a final note, our support and thanks goes out to the brave men and women who are lending their skills, aid, and hearts to the victims in Haiti and indeed to all individuals who have to endure such a tragedy. You can visit Penn's response page to the disaster as well: https://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/haiti_earthquake.php.