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Mobile giving could account for 20pc of Superstorm Sandy relief efforts

Disaster relief agencies have responded quickly to the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, with many making mobile a key part of their efforts to raise funds to help those affected by the disaster.

The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, American Humane Assoc. and World Vision are among the relief organizations that have created mobile giving campaigns enabling users to text a keyword to a short code to donate $10. Mobile is playing a bigger role in disaster relief efforts as mobile phone penetration grows and users become aware of how easy it is to make a donation this way.

“One reason there is a focus on mobile giving is because we know that cell phone penetration is over 100 percent and users generally have their phones in arms reach 24 hours a day,” said Jenifer Snyder, executive director of The mGive Foundation, Denver, CO.

“We know that the best way to help is through financial contributions and the easiest way to do that is through text,” she said.

“We also know that text message open rates are 97 percent and 85 percent are read in 15 minutes. So, text is a quick way to get to someone and know they will open the message in an expedited fashion.”

Mobile outreach grows
The earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was a key moment for mobile giving as millions of mobile subscribers donated to the crisis in increments of $5 and $10 by sending a text via their mobile phones.

That year, more than $50 million was raised through mobile donations.

Many of the same organizations once again looked to mobile to help raise relief funds following the tsunami in Japan last year.

Nonprofits have discovered that mobile can be a good way to reach a new audience of givers, as a significant percentage of mobile donors do not communicate with charities using any other method.

Hurricane Sandy marks the first time relief organizations have proactively sent out mobile messaging asking for donations in a significant way, per Ms. Snyder.

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and Japan’s tsunami, many organizations built a database of opted-in mobile users, which they are leveraging to ask for donations to help in the relief efforts for Sandy.

Some of the other organizations running mobile giving campaigns to help with the relief efforts for Sandy are Operation USA, Convoy of Hope and Church World Service.

Size of donations grows
As a result of these efforts, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the funds raised for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are expected to come through mobile phones.

However, donations are not expected to pick up in earnest for a few more days once the shock over the extent of the damage has worn off.

While the typical campaign consists of a keyword that can be texted to donate $10, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross also has a second mobile giving campaign using a different keyword that enables users to donate $25.

Brands and retailers such as MTV and Kroger are also getting in on the relief efforts by promoting the organization’s mobile call-to-action in banner ads and throughout their digital properties.

Mobile preparations
Mobile is being used by disaster relief organizations for more than raising funds. Because it was known for some time that the storm was on its way, many organizations sent out text messages to their list of opted-in mobile users with tips for how to prepare and, once the storm was underway, with targeted messages about where shelters could be found.

Hurricane Sandy was the first time that government organizations such as FEMA used mobile to disseminate information related to the hurricane, per Ms. Snyder.

However, some of these efforts may have been hampered by the storm itself, which caused service interruptions and significant slow-downs for mobile users as cell towers were affected by power outages and a surge in voice and data traffic.

Mobile and Web cloud testing and monitoring company Keynote found that almost everyone in and around New York encountered either full-scale outages with their Internet connectivity or sporadic performance issues, including those accessing the Internet through their mobile devices.

News and media sites were most impacted as concerned New Yorkers tried to get online to access the latest weather and news related to the storm. Retail sites were less affected, with no significant performance slow-downs or availability impacts reported.

“We haven’t seen a disaster of this magnitude in the U.S.,” Ms. Snyder said. “Right now, everyone is still a little bit in shock on the East Coast and around the nation.

“We expect to see more widespread mobile giving in the coming days,” she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York