Relief Is Just a Text Away: Text Message Giving in Haiti

January 12th, 2010 will forever be remembered as a horrifying and tragic day in Haiti. On this date, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, causing approximately $13.2 billion in damage while leaving over one million Haitians without a home. Worst of all, the catastrophe caused between 250,000 and 300,000 deaths, according to the UN aid mission. Little good can be drawn from an event that wrought such havoc and sadness. This was one practice following the earthquake, however, that could greatly benefit future relief efforts: text message giving. This innovative practice has the potential to forever change humanitarian relief.


In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the Red Cross set up a system where donors could send a text message to donate money for relief victims. By texting HAITI to 90999, individuals gave $10 to the Red Cross, with the opportunity to donate as much as $30 if they so chose. The charges were simply added on to peoples’ monthly phone bills.

The Red Cross’s program was largely an unparalleled success, raising a huge sum of money while also exposing a new group of donors that was previously underutilized. According to a recent report released by Pew Research Center in conjunction with the Knight Foundation, individuals donated an astounding  $43 million to Haiti relief efforts through mobile giving. The report also revealed that the majority of these donors were first-time mobile givers, subsequently gave on more than one occasion, and were more technologically connected and savvy than the average donor. The Red Cross’s program seemed to unearth a new kind of giver and gave the tech savvy an easy and effective avenue through which to donate.

A text message giving system such as the Red Cross’s Haiti program has numerous advantages and benefits. For one, the process severely lessens the opportunity cost usually involved in giving; instead of filling out complicated forms or having to deal with extensive phone calls, individuals can donate in a matter of seconds with a simple click of a button. Almost anyone can take part in these types of donations, as a large majority of potential donors own a cell phone. Finally, along with drawing the technologically savvy, the low cost of these donations could draw those that are reluctant to give larger sums of money.


Text message giving does come with some drawbacks, however. Critics point to the fact that these types of programs lead to “impulse giving”, or the practice of donating without giving the issue much thought or thoroughly researching the organization beforehand. It is possible that less-than-trustworthy organizations could use this to their advantage. These programs also often have $30 dollar limits, not allowing for larger, more substantial contributions. Finally, since funds are pulled from individuals’ phone bills, there tends to be a lag when a person donates and when the money is actually taken and utilized (Luckily, this lag has been effectively addressed in some cases).

Regardless of its flaws, text message giving has already shown the potential to raise money at a dizzying rate, while also drawing donors that otherwise may not give. The process has taken off recently, as numerous text message programs have arisen to respond to various issues. For example, a program similar to Red Cross’s Haiti campaign was established for victims of Japan’s 2011 tsunami. The National Wildlife Federation also set up a mobile giving system in order to raise money to save wildlife affected by the BP oil spill.

In today’s hectic and fast-paced world, pressing issues can often be forgotten or underexposed. Text message giving has the potential to be an effective, quick, and easy way to make sure that this happens less in the future.


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