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Red Cross attracts $190K in pledges via Text 2HELP program

Mobile subscribers pledged more than $190,000 since September to the American Red Cross through its text message program.

Revived this time to help victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the recent Red Cross' Text 2HELP effort is being claimed as the mobile industry's most successful nonprofit text fundraiser. A major reason for its widespread acceptance is the extensive publicity that the Text 2HELP program received from politicians, social media sites and the media.

"I think the key to it is promote, promote, promote," said Mike Campbell, senior vice president at VeriSign Inc.'s VeriSign Messaging and Mobile Media division in Boston.

The Red Cross received the $190,000 in donations through 38,091 text messages.

VeriSign Messaging and Mobile Media powers the mobile application and mobile messaging transactions and delivery in conjunction with The Wireless Foundation, a nonprofit founded by members of CTIA -- The Wireless Association.

Text 2HELP donations go to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund to offer shelter, food, counseling and help to victims of the many disasters nationwide.

Subscribers of participating wireless carriers can donate $5 up to five times per month by texting the keyword GIVE to 2HELP (24357).

"The range needs to be an amount that people can feel comfortable donating on the spot when they have the inclination to donate," Mr. Campbell said.

Charges for these donations will appear on the subscriber's mobile phone bill each month. They can also be debited from prepaid account balances for those mobile consumers without a contract.

Standard text messaging rates may apply to those texted donations.

The participating carriers include AT&T, Alltel, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular.

The popularity of the Text 2HELP program has convinced the Red Cross, VeriSign and the Wireless Foundation to extend its life to Dec. 31, two months past its deadline.

Another consideration for the extension was the need for donations as more disasters strike the country -- tornadoes, the worst flooding in the Midwest in 15 years, early wildfires in Western states such as California and an active hurricane season with Dolly, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

The Text 2HELP program also introduces a new class of donors into society, aside from those responding to direct mail, television, print or online appeals.

The Red Cross aims to raise $100 million this year for its Campaign for Disaster Relief. More than $65 million has been raised, as of Nov. 20.

The Text 2HELP program was first launched to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. It is initiated whenever a large-scale disaster occurs that the Red Cross determines will require considerable national assistance.

The most recent Text 2HELP effort was pushed extensively and across channels. Campaigns for presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain as well as the CMO Council, the National Football League and the Boston Red Cross promoted.

In addition, the Red Cross promoted the program on social media platforms such as Twitter and on the Red Cross blog at

The Red Cross has also created a Text 2HELP widget for social media users to run on their Web sites.
Other charities can learn from the Red Cross' experience with text fundraising.

"I believe that this is a very viable channel in that there are people out there who still want to donate during these tough economic times," Mr. Campbell said.

"What the mobile channel allows charities to do is take advantage of a whole different group of people who want to donate but it should be easy for them to donate," he said.