In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. This post is part three in a four-part series explaining these ideas.
Enabling efficient donation systems
Social media also prompted a maturation of global giving during the Haiti crisis by enabling a substantial increase in donation efficiency. A Red Cross mobile fundraising campaign went viral after being released on Twitter, raising more than $21 million in about one month via $10 donations. In 2009 mobile donations to all charity organizations totaled about $4 million. By developing agreements with all major cell phone companies, as well as the US Department of State, the Red Cross enabled anyone in America with a cell phone to instantly donate $10 to the relief effort simply by texting the word “Haiti.”
This initiative removed all barriers between the relief effort and potential donors—donations were directly added to individuals’ phone bills. In the past, potential donors would have to write and mail a check or make a physical donation at a relief organization detachment. The number of mobiles phones in use in the US is approximately 89 percent of the number of the total population; by integrating disaster relief with cell phone technology, the Red Cross was able to turn all mobile phone users in the US into potential immediate donors.
The campaign effected a sense of immediacy, and likely many people donated for the fact alone that it had never been easier to give. Meanwhile of course, the campaign was appearing everywhere; it appeared on television and Internet ads, during news programs, and even during the Super Bowl.
Still, the donations were not as instant as they appeared; due to billing and legal restrictions, donations may take as long as 90 days to be deposited into Red Cross accounts—many still have yet to be deposited! But still, as Red Cross spokesman Jonathan Aiken said, “The processing delay doesn’t mean we’re waiting. Our policy is always to work in good faith and assume people will make the contributions they pledge.” The Red Cross extracted massive stores of funding to address the Haiti disaster, understanding that its coffers would be replenished by deposited funds over the course of the coming months. While the process is imperfect, in this way social media enabled a massive global giving movement that significantly aided the disaster relief effort in Haiti.
Check back tomorrow for part four in this series.