Friday, January 15, 2010

TextAid: The New Normal?

Much has been said about how the mobile Internet is helping to imbue our everyday lives with a restless sense of urgency, for better or worse—what Twitter tummler Jeff Pulver calls "the State of Now." But this week, given Haiti's troubles, it's clear that there's one upside of this "nowism" that has become irrefutable: mass-mobile, location-aware micro-donations to people in need around the globe.

Not convinced? "Never before have people donated money to disaster relief at the scale and speed and ease as they have in response to the Haiti earthquake," nonprofit consultant Lucy Bernholz wrote today on her blog, Philanthropy 2173. "Technology changes so quickly, that we have almost entirely new platforms to deploy for each new disaster; each (disaster) is the 'biggest, fastest' example ever of using the platform of the moment (to give aid)."

This time around, Twitter, texting and social networks led and created swarms of instant-givers. And what a mobile outpouring it's been: according to the Mobile Giving Foundation, donations made via mobile phones to Haiti rescue efforts during the first 36 hours after the quake had topped $7 million. That tally included all the short message codes managed by the organization, and it's a mobile giving record for funds raised for a single cause. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross—despite the criticism it got during Hurricane Katrina for telling donors their money would be used in New Orleans, when it sometimes wasn't —says it has raised $7 million so far for Haiti through $10 "text" donations. It is coordinating its first-ever texting campaign with a mobile donations firm called mGive, and the outpouring is part of a larger surge of money flowing into international Red Cross coffers for the devastated nation: nearly half of Red Cross donations to Haiti since the quake have come in via texting. As of Thursday night, the Red Cross had raised some $35 million via mobile texts and Twitter blasts and Facebook appeals.

And that's not all. Everyone's now joining the mobile aid party, aware that speed-of-giving is critical as hundreds are now dying in Haiti by the hour. Mashable is reporting that Skype has sent $2 vouchers to all of its customers in Haiti, allowing them to make up to one-hour's worth of calls to the United States. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has dropped all charges for calls and texts to Haiti through the end of the month, while other carriers are waiving charges for "donation texts." Text-message donation campaigns will, no doubt, become the first line of response for many more cause activists in the months and years ahead.

But donor, beware: according to Katrin Verclas of, SMS donations speed up donations, but they don't necessarily hasten money to the cause. Verclas told Public Radio International earlier today that it can take up to 90 days for some text donations to make their way to those in need. "SMS makes it quick to give but longer to collect," Verclas says—though Verizon and some other mobile carriers are pledging to bypass their usual accounting procedures in this case, so as to get the texted amounts to Haiti right away. [Jeffrey Nelson of Verizon Wireless told The New York Times' Bits blog that the change was not permanent and that Verizon would return to its regular accounting practices after the Haitian crisis had passed. Sprint, meanwhile, said it would speed 80 percent of amounts texted to Haiti and AT&T said it is looking into speeding up donations , according to Times reporter Matt Richtel.]

To be sure, "old-fashioned" online giving will still outweigh mobile giving this year. But the takeaway here? Mobile giving is reaching whole new legions of people, from many who may not have given anything before texting made it so easy. Text-donations are giving the "urgency" trend in the marketplace—and donors, at least—a whole new way to define "instant gratification."

For more on mobile aid to Haiti, see's post, Earthquake in Haiti: How You Can Help , which is all about managing your inner "now" for Haitians who need all the urgency you can muster.

How are you and/or your companies using mobile to help Haitian quake survivors? Is it tapping donors who might never have given before? Let us know and we'll share your work in a later post.

By Marcia Stepanek


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Blogger Peter Burgess said...

Mobile technology and infrastructure facilitates TextAid ... but I will argue that even more interesting is how mobile facilitates transparency and accountability. Text messages ... mobile phone photography make it possible for ordinary people to report what they see. Using FrontlineSMS it then becomes possible to use these data in systems like Community Analytics (CA) and build a new paradigm for accountability in society.
Peter Burgess
Community Analytics

February 3, 2010 at 4:12 PM  

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