Haiti Text Donation Campaigns Face 90-Day Delays

UPDATED: Text-to-give campaigns have gone viral in the two days following the massively destructive 7.0 earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12. The immediacy of texting makes it incredibly easy for those following the quake from afar to show their support by adding a small amount to their cell phone bills (especially in the U.S., where the two major campaigns are based). But at this point, it’s far from immediate that the $5 you send to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti foundation or $10 to the American Red Cross actually gets to Haiti, because it’s standard practice in the young mobile giving industry for donations to be delayed by 90 days.

The Red Cross, whose campaign is being publicized by the White House and the U.S. State Department, is accepting $10 donations via texting “Haiti” to 90999 in a program powered by Mobile Accord’s mGive. As of this morning, that campaign alone had raised $3 million (see the map image below for a distribution of donations). The State Department had actually been responsible for initiating the Red Cross campaign with a call to Mobile Accord chairman James Eberhard (who had met Secretary Clinton at a dinner earlier this month, but got the call while traveling in Pakistan this week). It was activated at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday and had raised $800,000 by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

$3 million easily tops mGive’s previous record of $450,000 donated to Alicia Keys’ children foundation, which was publicized through “American Idol.” The Mobile Giving Foundation, which is powering Wyclef’s parallel campaign and has not yet released Haiti totals, said it expected to raise a total of $2 million in all of 2009. Both organizations say neither they nor mobile carriers are taking a cut from the Haiti donations.

However both Mobile Accord (which is a for-profit company, but operates 100 percent pass-through mobile donation campaigns through the mGive Foundation) and the Mobile Giving Foundation admit it usually takes 90 days from the time of donation to the time it is received by the intended charity, in part because they are collected through each customer’s normal cell phone billing cycle. That’s eons in disaster recovery time.

Earlier today mGive posted to Twitter, “We are currently working with the carriers to reduce this window. We will tweet when he have an update on this.” A spokesperson for mGive added via email, “It would be inaccurate to talk about them as ‘carrier’ delays. The delays are just in the business processes that were set up when the mobile giving channel was created. Like all new systems, it will improve as we grow and learn.”

A spokesperson for Verizon (s vz) — which like most carriers is waiving SMS fees for Haiti donations — told DailyFinance, “We understand the need to get this money into the pipeline ASAP and we’re looking at ways to do that internally. People want to give now, and the money needs to get there as soon as possible.”

Sounds like a plan. C’mon carriers — let’s get cracking!

Update: Around noon PT Friday, Verizon Wireless said it had advanced $2.98 million in mobile donations committed by its customers to Haiti. “Time is of the essence, and it makes sense for us to toss aside our normal financial processes to get money where it can do the most good, in the fastest way possible,” said Verizon Wireless president and CEO Lowell McAdam in a statement.

Update 2 (Tuesday, Jan. 19): The four major American carriers now say they are all committed to getting text donations to Haiti quickly.

Haiti-related mobile fundraising campaigns, via Mobile Giving Insider:

* Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross
* Text HAITI to 25383 to donate $5 to International Rescue Committee
* Text HAITI to 45678 to donate $5 to the Salvation Army in Canada
* Text YELE to 501501 to donation $5 to Yele
* Text RELIEF to 30644 to get automatically connected to Catholic Relief Services and donate money with your credit card
* Text HAITI to 864833 to donate $5 to The United Way
* Text CERF to 90999 to donate $5 to The United Nations Foundation
* Text DISASTER to 90999 to donate $10 to Compassion International

Photo for the feature slot courtesy of mGive. You can send your money using their website as well.