January 15, 2010 / 7:23 PM / in 9 years

US texting raises $10 mln and counting for Haiti

* Mobile Giving Foundation has seen 10,000 texts/second

* Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA waiving texting fees

By Nicole Maestri

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Cellphone users in the United States have contributed more than $10 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 elected officials take to the airways to urge the American people to give.

Jim Manis, CEO of the foundation helping to manage cellphone donations, said it was receiving up to 10,000 text messages per second, he said. The foundation said more than $10 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 that of the $37 million it has raised for Haitian relief efforts, more than $8 million has come via mobile phone users.

“It’s unprecedented that we’ve received this amount,” said Nadia Pontif, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.

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

Wireless carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc (T.N), Sprint (S.N) and T-Mobile USA 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. [ID:nN15213123]

The text message donations come as an increasing number of corporations and celebrities announce 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 victims of the quake. The event will be broadcast on all MTV Network channels on Jan. 22. Clooney is expected to be joined by many pop music and movie stars. (Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York, editing by Philip Barbara)

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