Red Cross raises $24 million for Haiti via text, builds mobile database

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The American Red Cross has garnered more than $24 million through its text-to-donate-$10 campaign for those affected by the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. The nonprofit is also building its mobile text database with the effort.

The text campaign has raised about one-fifth of the non-profit's total Haiti-related funds. That amount is significantly larger than any the non-profit had previously seen from a text campaign, according to an organization spokesperson.

“Our core demographic tends to skew a bit older, but the text platform gives members of Generation Y another channel in which to express support in charitable giving,” said Attie Poirier, public affairs contractor for American Red Cross.

Users who text the shortcode HAITI to 90999, will receive a confirmation text, to which they must respond with the word “yes” to confirm the donation, Poirier explained. The $10 is then billed to the user's monthly cell phone bill. Users then receive a thank you text, to which they can opt-in to receive future updates from the Red Cross. To date, more than 130,00 users have opted in, Poirier said.

“The Red Cross will then contact those users up to four times per month,” Poirier said. However, those retargeting efforts have not yet begun. This is the first time Red Cross is building out a mobile text database for consumer reengagement.

Poirier said the retargeting effort will begin later this year.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross raised about $120,000 via text, Poirier said.

She attributes the success of this campaign to widespread media coverage, including ad space donated by the National Football League for PSAs featuring players of Haitian descent and ticker ads during playoff games. The ad time was valued at $1.5 million.

There is also a PSA featuring First Lady Michelle Obama on YouTube and on the Red Cross' site, driving users to text to donate. Developed by the Ad Council, the PSA is also running on that group's affiliate sites, Poirier said.

Users can also donate by visiting RedCross.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Julie Ask, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that increased convenience and trust on the part of consumers contributed to the high numbers.

“It's easy to do. People see an ad and they don't have to go home and write a check and find a stamp. The hurdles are so low for this,” she said. “As we see more established brands like the Red Cross using these types of campaigns, more and more people are getting more comfortable doing more with their mobile phones.”

The Red Cross has also employed social media in the effort, Poirier said. “We've had more than 100,000 Tweets featuring the shortcode, and we've also had a big presence on Facebook, which is a little more difficult to track,” she said.

“We've been successful because we're expanding our donor base in terms of the kinds of donors we're reaching,” she said, referring to members of Generation Y. “We're over 125 years old, so to sustain our momentum, we need to keep investing in younger minds.”

The Red Cross worked with mGive, a mobile firm, on the effort. The companies began work together on the evening after the earthquake. The carriers and mGive have also waived all fees associated with text messaging, so the entire $10 goes to the relief efforts.

An mGive spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment.

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