How your text message donation gets to Haiti

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Texting a donation to Haiti relief efforts feels like an immediate way to help, but it could take up to three months for your $10 to land in American Red Cross coffers.

Mobile donations have raised more than $7 million for the Red Cross thanks to a Twitter campaign that went viral shortly after it launched Tuesday at midnight.

But the disaster relief agency wants to assure the public that this time lapse will in no way delay the aid it is providing to Haiti in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck late Tuesday.

"The processing delay doesn't mean we're waiting," said Jonathan Aiken, spokesman for the Red Cross. "Our policy is always to work in good faith and assume people will make the contributions they pledge."

The Red Cross already has cash on hand, so it's putting that money to work now and will replenish its coffers once the mobile donations are officially processed, Aiken said.

"That's how it's always worked," Aiken said. "So in a way it doesn't matter which exact date the money officially comes in. And in any case, we're still going to be in Haiti 90 days from now -- this is not going away anytime soon."

How it works: "It feels immediate to text, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes," said Jody Peake, the spokeswoman for mGive, which facilitates mobile donations to charities including the Red Cross.

That's because the funds pass through two middlemen before they reach a charity. First, donors text a 5-digit number to make their contribution. That amount is added to their cell phone bills, which depending on billing cycles, could take 2-3 weeks to be sent out.

Once a customer pays their bill, the wireless carrier collects the funds and sends them to mGive. Then, the money is finally sent to the charities.

"The money can't be disbursed until it's paid, because wireless carriers aren't creditors," Peake said. "That said, we are looking at ways to shorten this process -- most contributions don't have this kind of urgency."

Peake noted that mobile giving isn't brand new -- many organizations have numbers to which subscribers can text donations at any time -- but it is still a somewhat nascent technology. And volumes are far exceeding past levels; the former record was set by the Alicia Keys charity Keep a Child Alive, which raised $450,000 via text.

How to give faster: The Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers give to charity online, by phone or mail if they want the funds deposited immediately.

"The popularity of texting donations is the convenience of donating this way," said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. "But ease and immediacy don't always match up."

Weiner also warned donors to research carefully charities in order to avoid scams.

Texted donations are receiving a lot of attention, but their long-term popularity remains to be seen, Weiner said. He noted people once thought online giving would turn into a huge trend, but the volume only tends to pick up during emergencies like this one.

"With new technology, people mistakenly think everything is instantaneous," Weiner said. "It doesn't mean they shouldn't give this way, but they should recognize the reality." To top of page

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