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UNICEF raises $18K via SMS for Philippines typhoon relief

November 12, 2013

Donations go mobile

The United Nations Children’s Fund, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services are leveraging SMS to drive donations for Typhoon Haiiyan relief and provide opportunity for donations from all socio-economic classes.

Since posting about the campaign on social media at 5 p.m. last Friday, UNICEF has raised around $18,000 via SMS. The text-to-donate campaign lets consumers from all different backgrounds contribute to the relief efforts by texting a keyword to a short code to donate $10.

“We started experimenting with SMS back in 2006, 2007, and over time we have begun to get more involved as the market dictates,” said Ed Lloyd, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, New York.

“What we find is that it has its advantages,” he said. “It is an easy way for people to donate and support emergencies without having access to a computer. People generally have their phones with them.

“The other thing it helps with is it really has the potential to reaches a much broader audience because it allows those who don’t have a lot of money to give to participate. We think it is a new way of looking at how you segment your donor base.”

Typhoon Haiyan
Since the typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday, the death toll is rising into the thousands. Typhoon Haiyan was comparable to a strong category four hurricane in the United States with winds of 147 miles per hour that is causing sea waters to rise 20 feet.

Once news spread of the disaster, relief organizations moved into action.

A number of those organizations included text-to-donate programs as a part of their strategy. The BBB Mobile Giving Foundation supported many of these programs in the U.S.

Consumers can text HOPE to 777444 to donate $10 to World Vision, RELIEF to 864233 to donate $10 to UNICEF and RELIEF to 25383 to donate $10 to Catholic Relief Services.

The charge is added to a consumer’s carrier bill, and 100 percent of the donation goes to the charity.

UNICEF’s funds will go towards water sanitation and hygiene issues to make sure that Philippines’ citizens have clean water.

For the Haiyan relief campaign, UNICEF is leveraging social media more than it has for past emergencies. The organization posted on Facebook and Twitter, and its fans and followers have been sharing the campaign, leading to more exposure.

Families in central Philippines fleeing Typhoon Haiyan

The text-to-give program has a lot of benefits for charities.

It adds a greater reach to their efforts by making it extremely easy for anyone to donate. If a consumer sees a post on Facebook about the disaster, he or she can immediately contribute by SMS.

Since the donation is capped at $10, it also makes it more accessible for lower-income consumers who may not be able to make a high donation but still want to be involved in the relief efforts.

Additionally, the program cuts out any decision making in terms of how much to give.

“We know that when people have a lot of choices and open ended donations, it becomes harder for them, they have to think about what they have to do,” said Alisa Aydin, vice president of communications and marketing at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “This is quick and easy, no thinking.”

The flip side however is that consumers who may want to donate more than $10 are not able to via SMS, but UNICEF sees the inclusivity the program offers as a valuable benefit  in addition to the actual amount of money raised.

SMS history
UNICEF and other nonprofits have been using text-to-donate for a number of years now.

Seven percent of American Red Cross funds for Haiti support came from mobile, adding up to more than $32 million. The U.S. State Department partnered with mGive to create the Text Haiti program which let consumers donate $10 towards the Haiti relief campaign (see story).

For the Haiti relief fund, UNICEF raised around $150,000 from SMS.

The American Red Cross, Oklahoma City Food Bank and World Vision also leveraged SMS to drive donations to aid tornado victims in Oklahoma and Texas earlier this year (see story).

“One of the things that SMS does contribute is it takes that ordinary person, that college student, who really wants to make a difference, it takes a dishwasher who may be from the Philippines who doesn’t have a lot of money to give but if he or she sees that their country is facing difficulty they can send a text,” Mr. Lloyd said.

“Obviously you want the money, but it’s also about sharing and spreading the value of participating with people who need help,” he said. “The more you can have that cascade down to all economic classes, it encompasses all kinds of things of people being more sensitive to others’ needs. You want the monetary benefit, but you also want the other benefits to be derived and SMS really does contribute to that.

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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