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Kai Ryssdal: If you want to give money for earthquake relief in Haiti, all you really have to do nowadays is pull out your cell phone. Text message donations to relief groups are already in the millions of dollars already. It is, perhaps, the easiest natural disaster to donate to ever. Instant contribution, and instant reward for you, the giver. We’ve called Katya Andresen at the nonprofit Network for Good to talk about technology and charity. It’s good to have you with us.
Katya Andresen: My pleasure.
Ryssdal: The ability to give mobile-y has been around for awhile, but it has really exploded recently, hasn’t it?
Andresen: From what we’ve heard from the American Red Cross yesterday, they raised a couple million dollars. We’ve seen nothing on that scale previously. And I think what you see going on here is that when people are given an opportunity to act right away, when they feel an impulse to give, they really respond. And that’s what technology has brought to giving and fundraising — the opportunity to give when we’re seized with the urge to do, which significantly boosts giving overall.
Ryssdal: Does the ease of that technology, though, affect who winds up getting the money? You mentioned the American Red Cross, and everyone knows about them. And they’re out there. So do they benefit at the expense of some smaller, less known charities, do you think?
Andresen: That’s a very good question. And what’s actually surprising about the answer is, yes, the Red Cross has done very well with mobile fundraising. But just because an organization’s very large doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily highly savvy technologically. And some of the most exciting things we’ve seen on social networks, on Twitter, with mobile giving — in the recent past, the last year or two — have been campaigns mounted by very small organization, who are seizing upon this technology to level the digital playing field and increase donations to their cause.
Ryssdal: Not to give him an undue shout out, but Wyclef Jean — the Haitian singer — yesterday was right out there with his text service, right?
Andresen: Absolutely. And then you see groups like Ushahidi, which is a Kenyan-based organization, which is doing mobile crowd sourcing in Haiti. And you see them all over the Internet right now, which is just an extraordinary example of a small organization having a big impact.
Ryssdal: Do you have know off the top of your head how much of these donations, like what percentage of a donation might be lost to what you could fairly call overhead? Whether it’s the phone company or the text provider or whatever?
Andresen: In general, giving with credit cards and giving with mobile — the mobile carriers have been much better about their fees of late — is a pretty efficient way to support a charity. It’s a much less expensive way for a charity to receive funds, than say, having to process checks.
Ryssdal: You mentioned that charity, or donations in the mobile way have become very much an impulse buy, right? But once this Haiti story fades from the headlines, that impulse is going to go away, isn’t it?
Andresen: As long as the story is in the headlines, on the front page, on the top of a Web site, we see giving is very high and steady. But when the story drops out of the news, the urge to give also recedes. And we find that this usually falls and peaks within six days of a crisis — even those as large as Katrina or the tsunami. So we certainly urge people to remember that. And when you do feel the impulse to give over the next few days, consider making a recurring gift to your charity. In other words, set up monthly giving. So that you’ll automatically have your credit card hit each month and you’ll be providing the steady support that charities working in Haiti are definitely going to need in the year ahead.
Ryssdal: Katya Andresen is the chief operating officer at Network for Good, they help people and nonprofits find each other online. Katya, thanks so much for your time.
Andresen: Thank you.
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