Haiti Relief: Text Messages Speed Donations

Jim Manis, the chairman and CEO of the Mobile Giving Foundation, said text message donations are attractive because they're quick and easy.

Manis cited three reasons why mobile donations are growing -- the growing population of mobile phone users, the immediacy of the response and the privacy of donating directly through a cell or smart phone.

"You have 280 million phone users in this country [and] about 260 million of them have text capability," Manis said. "From the immediacy standpoint -- people don't let their phone out of their sight. They're able to pick up that phone and respond as soon as they've received the request to do so."

Manis said that when crises hit, people are motivated to donate and making it as efficient as possible can only increase the charitable giving.

"It's an opportunity for individuals to make a difference. People do have an opportunity to give. These types of opportunities exist all the time," he said. "What mobile giving does is it opens up a whole new channel for participation by donors for causes. So it's easy and it's quick."

Roots in Hurricane Katrina Disaster

The American Red Cross developed, "Text 2HELP," where wireless customers can send a text message from their mobile phone to "2HELP" with the message "GIVE." A $5 donation will be made to the organization's disaster relief efforts.

Text 2HELP was established after Hurricane Katrina as a way for Americans quickly and efficiently to donate with little effort.

The Wireless Foundation, a non-profit organization aligned with CTIA, partnered with the American Red Cross to create a text message system that would allow for donations in the immediate aftermath of that disaster.

Recognizing its value and convenience, the system was made permanent and is activated when the Red Cross determines national support is needed for a disaster.

Donations go to the Red Cross' Disaster Relief Fund that provides food, counseling, shelter and other services to victims of disasters.

While there is no definitive study that looks at the demographics of who is donating via text messaging, Manis said it seems the donors mirror the demographics of mobile users.

"The demographics of texters are clear," he said. "Our donors typically are between 18 and 29."

But Manis said it would be wrong to dismiss older demographics when it comes to text messaging because old mobile users may be influenced by their children.

Avoiding Internet Scams -- What Charities Are Legitimate?

Donors are advised to pay attention and be smart to avoid scams.

Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which produces reports on more than 1,200 nationally soliciting charitable organizations, said the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is prime time for scammers to try and take advantage of people who are in a generous mood.

"Those who are seeking to take advantage will do so very quickly because they know they need to strike when the iron is hot," he said.

In the first 24 hours after the earthquake in Haiti, the FBI already had received a handful of complaints about Web sites that could be fraudulent.

During major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, Internet con artists took advantage of the human tragedy and the public's willingness to donate by sending out spam e-mails and engineering phishing attacks with spoof e-mails and Web sites seeking "donations."

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