U.S. texting raises $11 million for Haiti

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:13pm EST

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Cellphone users in the United States have contributed more than $11 million to Haitian earthquake relief through text messages in what is being hailed as an unprecedented mobile response to a natural disaster.

The Mobile Giving Foundation called it a "mobile-giving record" for funds raised for a single cause. Donations are rising swiftly, it said, as former President Bill Clinton and other politicians urge the American people to give.

Jim Manis, chief executive officer of the foundation helping to manage cellphone donations, said it was receiving up to 10,000 text messages per second. The foundation said more than $11 million has been donated.

Cellphone users can donate $5 to Haiti-born hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund by texting the word "Yele" to 501501, or they can donate $10 to other nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, by texting the word "Haiti" to a specified number, like 90999.

The donation is charged to a user's cellphone bill.

The American Red Cross said it has received more than $9 million in donations from more than 900,000 mobile phone users.

"It's unprecedented that we've received this amount," said spokeswoman Nadia Pontif.

Jean's fund had raised $2 million via text messages, according to Give on the Go, Yele's mobile application service provider.

The giving is also being fueled by the popularity of websites like Facebook and Twitter, where users are urging one another to make donations using cellphones.

Wireless carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint and T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, have waived fees for customers wishing to send mobile donations. Carriers are also letting users know they are not taking a cut of the donations.

"There are no text messaging fees and 100 percent of the $10 donation goes to the American Red Cross," Verizon said in a statement.

Manis said Mobile Giving is working with wireless carriers to decrease the lag time between when a cellphone user makes a donation and when the funds arrive at a charity. Donations can take 90 days to be delivered to a charity.

"Every carrier is working through a solution to push those funds out faster," Manis said.

U.N. disaster experts said at least 10 percent of housing in the Haitian capital was destroyed, making about 300,000 homeless, but in some areas 50 percent of buildings were destroyed or badly damaged.

An increasing number of corporations and celebrities have announced aid for the devastated country amid a clamor for help from victims of Tuesday's quake.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million from their foundation to Doctors Without Borders, which has been tending to victims of the quake.

Actor George Clooney will host a telethon on MTV next week to raise funds for the victims. The event will be broadcast on all MTV Network channels on January 22. Clooney is expected to be joined by many pop music and movie stars.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney and Sinead Carew in New York; editing by Mohammad Zargham)