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Haiti Text Donation Campaigns Face 90-Day Delays

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UPDATED: Text-to-give campaigns have gone viral in the two days following the massively destructive 7.0 earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12. The immediacy of texting makes it incredibly easy for those following the quake from afar to show their support by adding a small amount to their cell phone bills (especially in the U.S., where the two major campaigns are based). But at this point, it’s far from immediate that the $5 you send to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti foundation or $10 to the American Red Cross actually gets to Haiti, because it’s standard practice in the young mobile giving industry for donations to be delayed by 90 days.

The Red Cross, whose campaign is being publicized by the White House and the U.S. State Department, is accepting $10 donations via texting “Haiti” to 90999 in a program powered by Mobile Accord’s mGive. As of this morning, that campaign alone had raised $3 million (see the map image below for a distribution of donations). The State Department had actually been responsible for initiating the Red Cross campaign with a call to Mobile Accord chairman James Eberhard (who had met Secretary Clinton at a dinner earlier this month, but got the call while traveling in Pakistan this week). It was activated at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday and had raised $800,000 by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

$3 million easily tops mGive’s previous record of $450,000 donated to Alicia Keys’ children foundation, which was publicized through “American Idol.” The Mobile Giving Foundation, which is powering Wyclef’s parallel campaign and has not yet released Haiti totals, said it expected to raise a total of $2 million in all of 2009. Both organizations say neither they nor mobile carriers are taking a cut from the Haiti donations.

However both Mobile Accord (which is a for-profit company, but operates 100 percent pass-through mobile donation campaigns through the mGive Foundation) and the Mobile Giving Foundation admit it usually takes 90 days from the time of donation to the time it is received by the intended charity, in part because they are collected through each customer’s normal cell phone billing cycle. That’s eons in disaster recovery time.

Earlier today mGive posted to Twitter, “We are currently working with the carriers to reduce this window. We will tweet when he have an update on this.” A spokesperson for mGive added via email, “It would be inaccurate to talk about them as ‘carrier’ delays. The delays are just in the business processes that were set up when the mobile giving channel was created. Like all new systems, it will improve as we grow and learn.”

A spokesperson for Verizon (s vz) — which like most carriers is waiving SMS fees for Haiti donations — told DailyFinance, “We understand the need to get this money into the pipeline ASAP and we’re looking at ways to do that internally. People want to give now, and the money needs to get there as soon as possible.”

Sounds like a plan. C’mon carriers — let’s get cracking!

Update: Around noon PT Friday, Verizon Wireless said it had advanced $2.98 million in mobile donations committed by its customers to Haiti. “Time is of the essence, and it makes sense for us to toss aside our normal financial processes to get money where it can do the most good, in the fastest way possible,” said Verizon Wireless president and CEO Lowell McAdam in a statement.

Update 2 (Tuesday, Jan. 19): The four major American carriers now say they are all committed to getting text donations to Haiti quickly.

Haiti-related mobile fundraising campaigns, via Mobile Giving Insider:

* Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross
* Text HAITI to 25383 to donate $5 to International Rescue Committee
* Text HAITI to 45678 to donate $5 to the Salvation Army in Canada
* Text YELE to 501501 to donation $5 to Yele
* Text RELIEF to 30644 to get automatically connected to Catholic Relief Services and donate money with your credit card
* Text HAITI to 864833 to donate $5 to The United Way
* Text CERF to 90999 to donate $5 to The United Nations Foundation
* Text DISASTER to 90999 to donate $10 to Compassion International

Photo for the feature slot courtesy of mGive. You can send your money using their website as well.

50 Responses to “Haiti Text Donation Campaigns Face 90-Day Delays”

  1. yeah the irony that mobile provides for instant gradification but it still takes 90 days. We develop an alternative to restaurant pager systems call Mobile Matradee. Just another great restaurant marketing idea.

  2. Benny McCall

    Just over a month ago, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake – over 2 million desperately in need of food assistance to rebuild their lives. The World Food Programme was there before the quake, and they’ll be there afterwards. If you want to help you should go to: or text FRIENDS to 90999 to make a $5 donation.

  3. Alberto Vassabi

    As all we know that recently happened a terrible disaster, earthquake in Haiti, millions dead, and still dying.what I propose: To collect money for victim assistance, my brother lives on the island, miraculously survived, we have a little communication with him . do not pass by, help, who knows, maybe one day the we will help You.The list of donators i am going to write here,.If you can not give much, give little, even 1 $ if us be a million we will have 1 000 000 $ most generous will be the First in our donator list,so when you will send money,please write your name\surname.Thank you,God bless you.
    webmoney Z224146264785
    here it is.How many we already have – 150$
    1. Richard Miller – 100$
    2.Miky John Alberto -50$ Priest.Its me.

  4. AndreaJWenger

    At this point, there’s more aid available than can be delivered to those in need, due to infrastructure problems. NGOs are receiving a large influx of credit card donations now due to the story being in the news. Will the same be true in the months to come? I doubt it. The Red Cross donations via texting will be welcome in 90 days, when the donations will be growing thinner. It’s going to take months, perhaps years, for the people of Haiti to rebuild their homes and infrastructure. The immediate need is great, but the long-term need is great as well.

  5. Tim Behrsin

    Looking at the news they seem to be pulling together to do what they can. Indeed billing models can improve given the scope for post-paid fraud in the telecoms industry, but it is us who chose paying by credit rather than prepaying for our mobile subscriptions. Reliable accounts with these carriers should be easy to detect and clear the payments for. The others of course can be secured by other means, as the number of individual accounts will be small.

    Good on those guys offering free calling. Thoughts with the people of Haiti, those who are helping them, and their families around the world.

  6. WHY can’t the State Department “guarantee” payment to either mGive or the carriers, get the money to the charities NOW and worry about the time lag later??? S T U P I D !!!!

  7. An alternative method of getting money in the hands of people who are currently in Haiti is through UMCOR – where one can donate using a credit card. I used this in the 2002 Indonesian tsunami as well as for the 2005 Katrina hurricane. “Every time you give to a designated emergency or program 100% of your gift supports the intended need. UMCOR does not use any of your designated gifts for administrative or home office costs-they are covered by other funding channels.”

    Also, one of the texts given will connect directly to Catholic Relief Services and donate money with your credit card.

  8. BTW, large non-profits use their existing ‘general cash funds’ to allocate/advance cash for immediate causes like this. Donations from the public backfill such advances. Small non-profits must wait until cash reaches their bank accounts …. which could be days/weeks/months!!

  9. Some delays are true for all types of donations for all sizes of non-profits, especially for international transfers. The financial system can be slow even for credit cards.

    Having gone through the exact appalling situation with a small non-profit during the South Asia earthquake in 2005, banks were taking upto 4-6 weeks to transfer funds from UK/West to Pakistan/India. People were dying every hour, but banks could not care less.

    Only media exposure forced them to get their act together and release funds quickly. Expose any financial organisation that delays despatch of funds to Haiti. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like were in their infancy in 2005 – use them to the max now they are everywhere to get aid to the victims fast.

  10. Any 90-day delay in the payment process will have no effect on the speed with which aid is rendered. The Red Cross borrows against future contributions, as evidenced by their >$600,000,000 debt.

  11. NYCFreshman

    Potential idea (not my own) regarding Haiti earthquake: get medical supplies from Dominican Republic due to proximity advantage; replace them w/those collected in US; please share with people who can make this happen. Many thanks.

  12. This is discouraging news. Hopefully a solution can be found. On the other hand, funding will be needed for Haiti for years so the delay of some of the donations will still provide the necessary assistance. Guess I’d better go donate the traditional way as well.

    Thanks for the info.

  13. The delays in processing payment have long worried us at The Hunger Site, due to the urgent need for immediate cash. That is why we set up our disaster Gifts That Give More to pay out each Friday while we are receiving donations (we also pull or shut down these GTGMs once our charity partners indicate they finished with relief work). Our first payment to Partners in Health, our nonprofit partner already on the ground in Haiti, will go out tomorrow. We’ll be posting the full amount paid on our press page by the end of day on Friday and will keep up this communication on our Facebook and other media pages.

  14. This is discouraging but thanks for writing. Carriers do take up to a month to run a wireless subscriber’s billing cycle. Of course, many of those same carriers can cut your service instantly if you are considered overdue.

    My hope is that carriers and billers create a much better solution. Til then, I also hope they ‘front’ the money.

  15. Sickening if true.

    AT&T, Verizon, T-Mo all have billions and billions in cash on hand.

    Just take the totals pledged from the text messages and send it immediately – LIKE NOW! – worry about billing later.

  16. Tim Behrsin

    They’ll be hard pushed to reduce this timeline for the full $3m, as all post-paid subscriptions with these carriers will expose the carrier to unpaid invoices.