Jan. 14, 2010 -- A who's who of celebrities – from Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean to comedian Ben Stiller – have harnessed the power of the Internet and mobile communications to quickly generate millions of dollars in donations for disaster relief in Haiti.
Never has so much money been raised for relief so soon after a disaster, fund-raising experts say.
"This is a watershed moment. It's historic," said Albe Angel, founder and CEO of Give On the Go, whose company is helping Jean raise funds for his Yele Haiti Foundation.
Many of the celebrity tweets are directing people to Jean and his Yele Haiti Foundation. Users of mobile devices can make an instant donation of $5 to the charity by texting "Yele" to 501501. The charge later will appear on the donor's telephone bill.
Angel, whose company Give on the Go helps process the Yele Foundation's donations, said the charity received 200,000 donations of $5 each – a total of $1 million – in just one day. By contrast, $1 million was raised by all charities through text donations in 2008, he said.
"This has been remarkable in every way," he said.
The group is hoping for a donation considerably larger than $5 from superstar Tiger Woods, and Jean tweeted today, "Wyclef Jean Haiti relief group Yele may get $3M donation from Tiger Woods." The tweet included an Internet link to a New York Daily News story in which rap icon Russell Simmons said he had contacted the disgraced golfer seeking a hefty donation.
Within hours of the earthquake, scores of boldface names began using their Twitter and Facebook posts to comment on the disaster and provide links where their millions of followers could contribute to help the people of Haiti.
Among those appealing for aid: Stiller, Tyra Banks, Dr. Phil, Shaquille O'Neal, Lenny Kravitz, the Dixie Chicks, Steve Nash, Alyssa Milano, John Legend, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Shakira.
"STATE OF EMERGENCY!!" said the musician P. Diddy to his 2.4 million Twitter followers.
"Come on people. Haiti needs us," wrote the rapper known as Fabulous to his 391,000 followers on Twitter.
Nash, the all-star guard for the Phoenix Suns, tweeted several links where people could donate to earthquake relief. "Haiti's the only thing on my mind this am," he tweeted today.
The cascade of celebrity messages has created a non-stop viral telethon, instantly raising cash for a variety of organizations ranging from the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to little-known charities like the one run by Haitian-born center Samuel Dalembert of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.
Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Chris Martin Make Haiti Pitch
"I would say Twitter is the No. 1 outlet right now for spreading information about our organization," said Jaime Conneely, vice president of the Samuel Dalembert Foundation. "After the initial post about this, there definitely was a surge. Now we're getting a donation about every minute."
UNICEF said it has raised $3 million online for Haitian relief in less than 48 hours, in part through the help of celebrities from singer and actress Selena Gomez and blogger Peres Hilton to Victoria Secret's model Selita Eubanks and Jordan's Queen Rania.
"Our celebrities were mobilized and tweeting within an hour and a half of this, telling people how they could give," said spokeswoman Lisa Szarkowski. To increase awareness of the tragedy, UNICEF asked some celebrities to make short video public service announcements that could be posted online and shared across the Internet, she said.
"This early money is what we call smart money. It helps us to order supplies immediately, and that saves lives right now," Szarkowski said.
Some celebs still donated the old fashion way and wrote a check. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt gave $1 million to Doctors Without Borders which runs several medical facilities in Haiti.
On Wednesday Oprah Winfrey began her TV talk show by asking viewers to donate to the Red Cross, and Coldplay singer Chris Martin urged his fans to donate to Oxfam. Martin had visited Haiti with Oxfam several years ago.
Magician David Blaine will be in Manhattan's Times Square doing street magic to raise money for the Red Cross.