Text-to-donate collects millions for Haiti relief

Simple method of giving gathered a quick $4M for Red Cross

Cellular communications are largely disrupted in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, but Americans are quickly texting donations via mobile phones back in the U.S., and have already given millions of dollars toward relief efforts for the island nation.

The amount from text donations has been fairly astounding, quickly reaching $4 million to the American Red Cross by mid-day Thursday, after passing the $3 million mark early in the day, cellular telephone association officials at the CTIA confirmed. The CTIA is the biggest association representing wireless carriers in the U.S. as well as a number of wireless manufacturers around the globe.

To donate $10 to the Red Cross, text-enabled users simply text "Haiti" to 90999, and 100% of the money is passed through to the Red Cross, a spokeswoman for the CTIA said. Some wireless carriers don't even charge the texting fee, normally a few pennies, for such a donation.

The Red Cross said on its Web site that the texting relief effort was set up three hours after the earthquake struck Haiti late Tuesday and is powered by Mobile Accord and the MGive Foundation. It is being coordinated with the U.S. State Department.

A map on the Red Cross Web site indicates that the largest number of text donations has come from populous states, including those near Haiti such as Texas and Florida.

"Raising this amount of money $10 at a time is a true testament to the American spirit," the Red Cross said on its site.

Other text donation efforts are underway, including one backed by musician Wyclef Jean, the CTIA noted. To donate $5, text users simply text "Yele" to 501501.

Also, the Clinton Foundation, started by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, has set up a $10 donation by texting "Haiti" to 20222. The Clinton Foundation has a list of various groups collecting donations online as well.

While the text donations to Haiti relief are a sign of the generosity, the simplicity of using a texting mechanism to avoid more cumbersome traditional giving methods is also apparent. A spokeswoman for Verizon called today's donations the "largest outpouring of charitable support by texting users in history. It's a simple and quick way to help."

Steve Largent, CTIA President added via e-mail, "The wireless industry is honored to make texting available to U.S. consumers as a way to lend support, and we are proud to have such generous customers. The need in Haiti is great and will be for some time to come, as Haitians re-build their towns, homes, and lives." He went on to urge people to donate and tell others how they can do so.

In an effort to help Haiti resume communications, all the major U.S. wireless carriers are gearing up to offer equipment, including portable and mobile cellular towers that have been used after recent hurricanes in the U.S.

At midday today, a Sprint Nextel Inc. spokeswoman said the wireless carrier was still working with U.S. government agencies to figure out what equipment it can provide Haiti to improve cellular communications. "We're willing to help and it depends on the need," she said.

The AT&T Foundation is also providing $50,000 to Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) to support disaster relief with a focus on emergency telecommunications, a spokeswoman said. TSF has already deployed an emergency team to Haiti that's equipped with satellite mobile and fixed telecommunications gear.

In addition, Verizon said it is matching gifts of its employees to World Vision and Food for the Poor.

T-Mobile USA said it will waive calling charges to and from Haiti through Jan. 31, and going back to Jan. 12. Mobile roaming on T-Mobile's partner networks while in Haiti will also be free on the networks Voila and Digicel in Haiti, T-Mobile said in a statement.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, send e-mail to mhamblen@computerworld.com or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .

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