Texting's Biggest Moment Since 'American Idol'

mgive/text message donations/Haiti earthquake relief

Think back to Hurricane Katrina. Everybody, it seemed, wanted to help. Every publicist with a list reached out to it, or created an event -- from impromptu meetings at bars to speedily assembled but full-fledged fundraisers. And all of those people deserve a lot of credit for the speed and generosity with which they acted. And their efforts resulted in tens of millions of dollars being raised in the first week.

But however quickly they acted, it simply couldn't be as fast as this: "Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief."

You've probably gotten an email from a friend or seen tweets saying just that, urging you to donate money to support the relief effort in Haiti. The American Red Cross, which is working with mobile donation company mGive, said that by Thursday more than $5 million had already been raised in this way.

Much has been made of the speed with which this call to action can take place. You see the message; you've just heard another horrifying report about the situation in Haiti on the BBC or seen video of a young girl on CNN with her legs crushed under a building, and you have your phone right there. There's no need to store the information for later and then forget about it or hesitate. The action can be taken immediately.

The New York-based agency Gotham has run a similar volunteerism campaign for Mandela Day, setting up the SMS code 46664 -- Mandela's prison number, adding meaning to the code -- for people to donate their time. The effort registered 50,000 people for volunteer work in less than a week last year, again, partly because the response to the call to action was right there in everyone's hands.

But the response on mGive shows something new: a comfort with financial transactions via mobile devices. This willingness to send money using nothing more than SMS brings home the rapidity with which people are adopting mobile devices for so much more than communication, and specifically how close they are to push-button commerce.

So sure, people will text to donate money, but will they text to buy shoes? Maybe for a pair of Tom's.

7 comments about "Texting's Biggest Moment Since 'American Idol'".
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  1. Jeremy Gustafson from Haggin Marketing, January 15, 2010 at 1:32 p.m.

    I've heard rumors, the telcos are keeping $3 of the $10. Is this true?

  2. Brian Asner from Upshot, January 15, 2010 at 2:08 p.m.

    Definitely agree with the author. We described this as the upside of "impulse buying" in a blog post yesterday:

    As for Jeremy's question, the Red Cross addressed this briefly in a tweet, saying the phone companies keep nothing:

  3. Chasidy Atchison from Chasidy Atchison Consulting, January 15, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.

    I am very excited about the advancements in mobile marketing and micro donations since Katrina. You are right that the technology has truly come a long way in the right direction.

    I think Jeremy has brought up a good point though, while $7 out of $10 is still $7 toward Haiti relief, transparency would be valued. mGive is not a nonprofit and you can see their pricing at The question is...will people give more or less if they truly know how much of their dollar is actually getting to the need? I would still donate.

    Chasidy Atchison @chasidyatchison

  4. John Capone from Whalebone, January 15, 2010 at 2:19 p.m.

    In its FAQ, mGive, which is run by Mobile Accord, states that 100 % of the donation for Haiti goes to the Red Cross. Calls to Mobile Accord were not returned.

    Here is the FAQ:

  5. Eric Fernandez from Media Link LLC, January 15, 2010 at 2:58 p.m.

    Telco's don't keep a penny. The Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) has gotten all the major carriers to agree to support Mobile Giving at no charge. The MGF and mGive typically split a small % (i want to say in the 5%-7% range), but I believe in this case they've agreed to waive it (i'm not positive). Safe to say the majority of donations (90%) will go directly to the Red Cross.

  6. Mark Jaffe from Strategic Growth Consulting, January 15, 2010 at 4:18 p.m.

    Five days ago, I blogged about about how the immediacy of mobile and the internet can be used effectively to monetize the power of passion.

    But, I certainly did not anticipate the magnitude and immediacy of this overwhelming response to Haiti.

  7. Pamela Tournier from Focus: Productivity, Inc., January 15, 2010 at 5:06 p.m.

    mGive is waiving its usual fees for Haitian relief.
    To enable mobile giving, mGive charges participating charities a monthly fee.
    There is a 90-day delay between the time the funds are donated thru txting, and actual receipt of the money by the charity. (mGive says they are working with the carriers to shorten this lag). In part the delay occurs to prevent charge-backs (the donation shows up on the monthly phone bill, and there is a chance the subsciber may dispute the charge).

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