Two years ago this month, Haitians endured a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the infrastructure in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed over 300,000 people. The outpouring of support from numerous nations inspired faith that rebuilding after the tragedy would bring notable improvements to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Unfortunately, two years on, much of the news concerns not the rebuilding of the island nation but the challenge of simply finding where the promised money and resources went. Much of it simply has not shown up as countries have given less (some news sources state as much as half) than first promised. But of what has arrived has often been diverted to non-Haitian companies or to corrupt local officials who overcharge for minimal services.
And yet we also have the data to show how much non-governmental was raised ($43 million) and how.
Money raised in the US by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) came via a newly-developed technological opportunity: text messaging. Giving to Haiti via text messaging shattered all kinds of records, and now the Pew Charitable Trust has done a long-term study to uncover who gave and what their other philanthropic habits are. From a nonprofit’s point of view, the trend of text donations holds news both discouraging and encouraging.
Perhaps encouraging was the outpouring of support from citizens ready to micro-donate to the ‘Text To Haiti’ campaign. They did so by hearing about the campaign on TV or from text messages from friends, and they responded almost immediately – showing the power of microdonations to inspire giving. Moreover, although just under half of those who donated forwarded encouragement to family and friends, over three quarters of those who did got personal responses from those family and friends that they too gave – highlighting the efficient power of networks.
Yet some of the news suggests the limits of text-based microdonations, because most of those who gave admit to being unaware of subsequent developments in Haiti and/or affiliated in any way with the charity to which they donated. Most of those who gave to Haiti, though, have also given, via text messaging, to subsequent disaster-relief campaigns.
The report from the Pew Internet Project shows both how important text donations can be in the immediate crisis and yet how those who give with this technology likely will not remain closely tied to the charity they give to. We are still in the early days of text messaging, of course, but the study helps map ways forward for charities wanting to build a fundraising foundation from the mobile devices more and more of us are depending upon.