Burst of Mobile Giving Adds Millions in Relief Funds

Old-fashioned television telethons can stretch on for hours. But the latest charity appeal is short enough for Twitter: “Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief.”

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In the aftermath of the earthquake many Americans are reaching for their cellphones to make a donation via text message. And plenty of them are then spreading the word to others on sites like Twitter.

The American Red Cross which is working with a mobile donations firm called mGive, said Thursday that it had raised more than $5 million this way.

“There is an enormous outpouring for this effort,” said Wendy Harman, social media manager at the Red Cross. “It’s such an easy way to give and pass around through social sites on the Web.”

The mobile donations are part of a larger surge of money flowing to the relief effort. The Red Cross said it had collected nearly $35 million as of Thursday night, surpassing the amounts it received in the same time period after Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

“When something like this happens, it’s incredibly frustrating because there isn’t much that we can do,” said Laura Fitton, a media consultant who has raised money for charity on Twitter. “It helps to be able to at least make a gesture, and that is what is catching on.”

The Red Cross expects that donations made through more established channels — writing a check or on the Web — will still far outweigh text-message giving. But the cellphone campaign may be reaching people who might not otherwise have made the effort to get involved.

Convenience is one factor in the campaign’s success. People simply send a designated word to a five- or six-digit number and then confirm that they want to give, and the donation is charged to their wireless bill. At the end of the month, the carriers transfer the contributions to a service provider like mGive, which passes them on to the charity.

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