Donating by texting – Haiti earthquake relief

UPDATE 8:10PM – There is obviously more to the story, many of these fees are being waved. I’m sifting through what information I can. There is some information on these donations on the Consumerist and Consumer Reports.


Perhaps you have seen this making the rounds on Facebook status updates:

Text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

It seems like a great idea, right? I’ve seen these before for other non-profits, namely various public radio fundraisers. It would seem like a great way to get people to donate. It’s fast and easy, allowing people to give precisely at the moment when their impulse to give is strongest. They don’t have to fire up their computer, find the website, fill out a form with their credit card, etc.

If you have an unlimited texting plan, and want to do this, go for it! But if you pay for each text message you send, keep reading before you donate.

I’m a skeptic by nature and when I see something like this, I become a little concerned. First off, you want to make sure it’s not a hoax. You want to make sure the money is actually going to where it should be and not that some radio station somewhere is getting 1000 texts an hour that say, “HAITI”. That seems unlikely since this meme has been picked up by the news media and by the White House.

The other thing that concerns me is whether the phone company keeps a percentage of the money donated and how much. If you donate to a charity using Master Card or Visa, a percentage of that (probably around 2%-3%) is skimmed off as a processing fee. Is that what is happening? According to snopes.com, it is not:

Callers should note that the $10 donations will be charged to their cell phone bills… It is not true that phone companies keep half the monies donated in this manner — the full amount of each $10 donation is passed through to the Red Cross for Haitian relief.

So that is good news.

However, for some people there could be a big processing cost. Why? Because “Msg&Data rates may apply.” When I donated today using this method, the entire transaction took seven texts:

  1. Me: HAITI
  2. 90999: To confirm your $10 donation to Red Cross Int’l Response Fund reply with YES. Reply with HELP for help or visit RedCross.org
  3. Me: YES
  4. 90999: Thanks! $10 charged to your phone bill for Red Cross Int’l Relief. Reply HELP for help or Visit RedCross.org. Reply STOP to cancel. Msg&Data Rates May Apply
  5. 90999: Reply YES to receive the latest news about Red Cross Int’l Relief! Up to 4 msgs/mo. Info? Txt HELP, to end txt STOP. Msg&data rates may apply
  6. Me: Stop
  7. 90999: You will not receive addl msgs or further charges from Haiti Relief $10 donations. Info? Visit mGive.com/a or contact 888-316-2506. Msg&Data Rates May Apply

I have an unlimited texting plan, so it didn’t cost me anything extra to give that $10. For me, it’s probably the most efficient way for me to give. If I were to use a credit card on a website, a small part of that $10 donation would be eaten in fees.

However, if I didn’t have a texting plan, the effective processing fee would be enormous. On a basic Verizon plan, text messages cost $0.20 for both sent and received messages. It would have cost me an additional $1.40 to give $10. This is effectively a processing fee of 12.3%, much higher than a credit card. Notice too that if you don’t stop the texts you will get 4 more messages a month, with more text charges.

If you are going to be charged extra for these texts, I highly recommend that instead you go directly to the Red Cross site and donate there. I wonder also if it would be possible to get some figures about just how much the cell phone companies are making off this and if pressure could be brought to bear on them to donate all extra fees they collect as well.

2 thoughts on “Donating by texting – Haiti earthquake relief”

  1. The msg/data rates apply to the followup texts that you can opt out of, not to the donation text. The cell phone carriers – except ATT – are waiving text charges for the actual donation.

  2. Thank you for the clarification. Are you sure that would apply to all 7 of the texts I had above? I can’t see how I would have done it for less than 7, and I can see them considering 4 or 5 of these texts as follow up texts.

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