SMS Text Donations and the Haiti Earthquake

Posted by admin on Jan 15, 2010

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, relief organizations in the United States and Europe have been able to collect substantial numbers of donations from SMS fundraising campaigns. Just like after the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the numbers are impressive. Two charities alone, the Red Cross Foundation and Yele, collected more than $4.7 million by mid-day Thursday (less than 48 hours after the first earthquake hit). UPDATE: The Red Cross has raised close to $20 million via its SMS campaign as of January 17th.  

Industry insiders had expected $2 million in text message donations for all of 2009 at the end of October. However, a natural disaster of the gravity and dimension of the earthquake in Haiti has jumpstarted the awareness of aid organizations as to the potential power of raising funds quickly via SMS.   

The Numbers   

Close to $20 million had been raised from text donations to The Red Cross by Sunday, January 17th. (updated), according to the Red Cross. 

And the money came in quickly - nearly $5 million was generated by small donors by the end of the day Thursday, January 14th, only 44 hours after 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. A little more than a day after the earthquake, State Department staffer Jared Cohen had posted on Twitter: 'Text "Haiti" to 90999 just reached $1.5 million is less than 24 hours and it isn't even east coast dinner time yet.'

Similarly, Wyclef Jean's charity, Yele, which started campaigning very early for text-based donations, had raised $400,000 on the first day, and $750,000 by 2:30 pm on Thursday, January 14, when this reporter talked to their service provider GiveOnTheGo.   

Red Cross donation statistics are also being updated hourly in these graphs.   

Haiti Campaigns   

Given the importance of relief efforts in Haiti, we are keeping a list of the Haitian Earthquake relief campaigns that are raising money using text-based donations (previously in this article):

A list of all short codes to text to to donate on your phone bill in the United States (UPDATED)

  • Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross for Haiti efforts. You can donate $10 up to three times, and 100% of the donations will reach the Red Cross Foundation. This effort is run by Mobile Accord.
  • Text YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to the Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation. 501501 is run by Give On the Go, a service provider for the Mobile Giving Foundation. Ashley Nay, who is in Business Development at Give On the Go told MobileActive on the phone that "100% of the donations go to YELE" from these donations.
  • Text HAITI to 25383 to donate $5 to International Rescue Committee.
  • Text RELIEF to 30644 to get automatically connected to Catholic Relief Services and donate money with your credit card.
  • Text CERF to 90999 to donate $5 to The United Nations Foundation.
  • Text DISASTER to 90999 to donate $10 to Compassion International. 
  • Text HAITI to 85944 to donate $5 to the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.
  • Text HABITAT to 25383 to donate $10 to Habitat for Humanity
  • Text CARE to 25383 to donate $10 to CARE
  • Text OXFAM to 25383 to donate $10 to Oxfam International
  • Text LIVE to 25383 to donate $10 to Americares
  • Text AJWS to 25383 to donate $10 to American Jewish World Service

In Europe: 

  • Germany: text HAITI to 81190 to donate $5 (out of which $4.83 will go to Aktion Deutschland Hilft).
  • Denmark: text Katastrofe to 1231 to donate 150 kr, or call 90 56 56 56. 
  • Canada: text HAITI to 45678 to donate $5 to the Salvation Army, again courtesy of the Mobile Giving Foundation. If you are on Rogers or Fido, you can also text HELP to 1291 to donate to Partners in Health.
  • Italy: text to 48540 to donate to the Italian Red Cross if you are on the WIND or 3 networks. If you are on Vodacom or TIM, text 48451 to donate EUR 2 (Telecom Italia users can also call this number). (Read More)
  • France: 80 222/Croix Rouge française, 80 333/Secours Populaire, et 80 444/Secours Catholique. One euro per SMS. (From a user)
  • Spain:  Send a SMS with  text AYUDA to number 28000. SMS cost 1.2 €. According to MobileActive community member Nacho Campos, the proceeds go entirely to the Spanish Red Cross.

How does it work?  

For donors, the process is exceedingly simple. After texting the keyword to the relevant shortcode, the donor received a text message asking him or her to confirm the contribution. Upon texting back the confirmation, most often a simple "YES", the donor receives a thank you SMS. 

For nonprofit organizations in the United States, the Mobile Giving Foundation is the main umbrella organization for mobile giving campaigns. Non-profits can apply to get approved as accredited 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. Once they are approved, the organization chooses a service provider that works with the Mobile Giving Foundation.  These service providers provide the SMS messaging platforms. (Mobile Giving Foundation's list is here

Another organization, Mobile Accord and its mGive Foundation, run fundraising SMS campaigns for nonprofits outside of the Mobile Giving Foundation. MobileAccord operates the very successful shortcode for the Red Cross in the United States. The application service providers own the particular shortcodes that users text to, and handle the donations for monthly and per-donation fees. Detailed information is available on MGF and mGive's websites.


Both the Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) and mGive have negotiated with the mobile carriers in the United States to waive any fees for SMS donations. MGF and individual application service providers have fees associated with the use of their messaging platforms for organizations using their services. Similarly worded terms on both the mGive and Mobile Giving Foundation terms pages note:

The [foundation] collects donations paid by you from your wireless operator. In some instances, your donation will be deducted from your pre-paid balance with your wireless operator. The wireless operators remit 100% of your donation to the [foundation]. Within 30 days of the [foundation’s] receipt of collected donations from the wireless operator, the [foundation] grants 100% of the donation to the designated organization. (There may be some designated organizations that have permitted the [foundation] to grant 5-10% of each donation to the [foundation] to cover administrative costs associated with the [foundation's] mission.)

Application service providers have their own pricing structures. mGive's pricing page is here, and the pages for some of MGF's providers'--we couldn't find pricing pages for all of them--are here, here, here, and here). 

For SMS campaigns for organizations working on the Haiti earthquake, at least two major campaigns have no fees associated with them. Mobile Accord has waived all fees for the Red Cross 90999 campaign. Ashley Nay from Give On the Go, who is managing the 501501 campaign for YELE told that "100% of the donations will go to YELE, just like [mGive]."

In normal circumstances, there are service fees associated with siging up with the Mobile Giving Foundation and specific application service providers. mGive's pricing sheets, for example, show a minimum of a $399/mo fee with any campaign that includes mobile giving via a shortcode (note that this also includes other services such as Facebook giving, donor database management, etc.). The Mobile Giving Foundation charges a $350 fee for an NGO to be accepted to solicit contributions via SMS.

Typically service providers charge ~$200+/month to a non-profit for their services. Give by Cell charges $240, Mobile Cause $250, Mobile Commons "from $500/mo", Give On the Go $500/mo (and again, services include more than just mobile giving). [All information ccording to pricing pages linked above that were accessed on January 14, 2010.]

Turnover of Funds, other Carrier-Imposed Limitations

Donations via SMS have a relatively long turn-around time before the organization sees the funds in their bank accounts. In February 2008, we reported that it can take 60 days from billing until non-profits receive funds. Ashley May of Give On The Go told us that this time is dependent on the mobile carriers, and that they are currently working on "innovative ideas to speed up the process," leveraging their "existing relationship with carriers" to expedite the process. mGive similarly reported to Katrin Verclas on twitter (who had posited "up to 90 days, or even 120 days turn-around time for the release of funds?") that they "are working with the carriers to reduce this window (this was referring to SMS donations to the Red Cross)."

Update: The Red Cross reported that on January 15, "Verizon Wireless circumvented the normal mobile giving process and advanced $2.8 million in donations from its customers to the Red Cross." Other carriers are considering following Verizon Wireless’ lead in advancing funds pledged by customers. 

Currently, donations via SMS in the United States are limited to $5 or $10 per SMS (depending on service provider), and limited to a few donations per individual per month. mGive says that these limits are set by the wireless service providers.

So is Mobile Giving ready for Non-Profit to Use?

The Mobile Giving Foundation has made great strides in the last two years in making mobile giving accessible and safe for many non-profits. By cutting the carrier cut of a premium SMS to zero (it used to be up to 50%), a large part of the legwork has been done. Now, the main costs are those by the approved mobile messaging companies that are managing the shortcode campaigns (and providing other services to non-profits). And as we are seeing in the Haiti earthquake, they are willing to consider waiving and lowering those fees, and even work towards trying to shorten turn-around times for payments to non-profits. 

If you expect donors to text in in large numbers, mobile giving is cost-effective. (Mobile Causes, for example, lists if you get 750 $5 donations, you break even, and you get 90% of any further donations). And, as we are seeing, mobile giving is an effective way to fundraise in emergency situations to build support and a mobile list (as well as a small donor base) for future work. This is not to say that mobile giving should supplant your other fundraising and communications efforts at. As we and others have often pointed out, mobile giving is best done as part of an overall smart and strategic communications campaign. But mobile giving is here to stay. Now, donate online or via SMS to Haiti relief efforts. We are with the people of Haiti. 

Photo Credit: Talia Frenkel / American Red Cross 

SMS Text Donations and the Haiti Earthquake data sheet 11416 Views
Countries: Haiti

How do we turn mobile donors into committed donors?

I'm thrilled to see mobile giving being used by so many global citizens to help Haiti. However, I want everyone to slow down the 'back patting' and think long and hard about how we design a set of business rules that allows charities to ask these text donors to make further donations (if possible through monthly debited giving). During the South East Asian Tsunami response, MSF Austria received hundreds of thousands of Euros in smaller text donations. However, they were given the chance to ask text donors if it was OK for MSF to call them as a follow up. This request came approximately 10 days after the text gift. 60% of the text donors said yes - and half of those contacted made a monthly commitment to reconstruction.

Everyone involved in raising money through text giving MUST work tirelessly to motivate these initial small gift donors to make deeper financial commitments. MSF Austria proved it works. Let's go in 2010!



Disclaimer: I work for

Disclaimer: I work for Causecast.  This is a great article, and very accurate. I hate having to market my own service, but it really does apply here.  Thank you for increasing the knowledge about what this service is and does MobileActive

Causecast also provides this service.  We charge $99/month... BUT... 3 other additional huge advantages.

1) No $350 MGF setup fee

2) No $500,000/year revenue requirement

3) 1 week setup time

We're legitimate... if you're wondering... we're listed on the MGF site.

Good Medium but SMS is Poor Vehicle

A quick review of the site (under mGive map of US) reveals why the current SMS technology is a significant constraint on mobile giving.  The poor user experience, less than universal carrier adoption, disbursement delays, and lack of transparency is cited on too many comments.  While I applaud the wilingness of carriers to advance funds as a means of circumventing the 90-120 day disbursement cycle associated with mobile carrier billing and the Mobile Giving Foundation, I have my doubts as to whether that practice will extend to most charitable causes or whether these same players will waive their fees for other worthy causes.  I suspect there will be many news stories ahead on how a promising start left many dissapointed upon closer inspection.  With so many great mobile web apps in the marketplace--with better functionality, user experience and transparency--it's hard to understand why causes have adopted sms--a relatively expensive transaction engine with many limitations.  Time for a change.

But SMS has a killer feature--reach

Jim, I could not find the discussion on (under the map were comments unrelated to what you were saying--do you have a permalink?) that you were referring to, but here are a few responses to your comments:

- The killer feature of SMS is reach. I don't have a number for how many people have data plans in the US (I do know that smartphones are about 17% of US phones), but SMS is accessible pretty much on every phone. We have no doubt that this reach contributed to get Americans donating $25 million just using $10 donations. The second feature of SMS vs. the mobile web is that SMS donations can be put directly onto phone bills, and do not require submitting of credit card or bank information (which makes the donation process much more cumbersome).

- Universal carrier adoption is certainly a problem. We hope organizations like the Mobile Giving Foundation can push this , especially abroad, and use the success of text donations from the Haiti event to their advantage.

- Your concern about disbursement cycles and waived fees not carrying over to future charitable causes is valid, and while I hope that it does happen, we just have to wait and see.

In general I agree with you: SMS may not be the best way to donate if you access the mobile web. But for organizations setting up donation infrastructure, and trying to reach wide audiences, it does have the killer feature of reach and ease of use. (And I don't happen to agree with your usability point--if you use SMS, the usability isn't all that bad).

Mobile Donations - and after...

Thank you for highlighting the Haiti Relief programs. A number of relief organizations have launched Text-to-Give programs in the last 72 hours. Everyone’s help is needed. A full list is at

**What will be critical for all of these organizations will be to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their supporters, post-initial-donation. Mobile messaging solves that issue. After all, the needs in Haiti will outrun the standard news cycle by a long shot…


Again, thanks for supporting the efforts.

- Anthony Risicato

CEO – Mobile Commons


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