Facebook Helps Spur Donations to Haiti

By Sara Inés Calderón Comment

Only three days after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti and killed untold thousands of people, more than $8 million dollars has been raised by the Red Cross via text messages for charity through being popularized on social network sites like Facebook.

Although it’s unclear exactly how much money was raised directly by Facebook users, the viral text messaging campaign they helped create was very real. The Red Cross reported Friday that as a result of the mass social network campaign it received $35 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the earthquake — more than half through online contributions and at least $8 million by text.

To what extent Facebook has served as a direct conduit to Haiti-related giving is unknown. The widespread enthusiasm isn’t just obvious from all the status updates, as Facebook users have raised $100,000 for charities through the Causes app.

Text message money waas raised by individuals texting to charities asking that $10 or $5 be added to their monthly bill to be donated to charity. Pleas for this specific type of donation took over status updates and news feeds on Facebook— at one point there were 1,500 Facebook status updates a minute mentioning Haiti— and users of social networks were the initial points of information about the quake, not the traditional media.

MGive, which runs the Red Cross’s mobile giving campaign, incorporated a Facebook application — Red Cross International Relief — to allow users to give on yet another forum. The app asks you to donate and then invite friends to use it, as well as posts a box to your profile with a link back to the app and that prompts you to enter your mobile number to make a donation.

And more impressively, that the donations to the American Red Cross exceeded the total amounts “received in the first 48 hours of both (Hurricane) Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.” The organization also posted a map from MGive breaking down giving in the U.S. by state.

Facebook’s Causes app acted as a conduit to fundraise for a several projects, including $59,000 for Oxfam America’s Help Earthquake Survivors. On Wednesday, Facebook added a handful of charities to its Haiti donation lineup and those had raised considerable sums as of Friday as well: more than $19,500 for World Vision’s Haiti Earthquake Relief, $54,000 for Friends of the World Food Program and $28,500 for Compassion International.

Corporate America has followed on the heels of Facebook and social media users as most major cell phone companies have waived text messaging fees related to Haiti donations and major credit card companies waived their percentage cut of credit card donations. Even the companies managing the mobile campaigns have waived their typical waiting periods to get the cash to Haiti more quickly. Then a whole host of other corporations and tech companies jumped onto the Haiti charity bandwagon.

To what extent the social media campaign for Haiti will grow or taper off isn’t easy to predict without more data, yet as aid begins to filter into to the desolated country organizations are turning their focus from fundraising to recovery. A good example of this is Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti group: Thursday the site’s post was “Please donate!” replaced Friday morning by the announcement of the formation of a Haiti Earthquake Alliance which will work to coordinate aid efforts.