Group Hopes to Use iTunes to Collect Donations for Disaster Relief

ORLANDO -- The success of efforts by charities in collecting $10 mobile texting donations to help Japanese and Haitian disaster relief efforts has non-profits considering whether to raise the amount to $25.

Groups are also talking to Apple about allowing millions of iTunes customers to use the technology to give directly to relief charities.

"We've talked to Apple. We're hopeful," said Jenifer Synder, executive director of The mGive Foundation (TMF) in Denver, which vets charitable groups to prevent fraud.

Apple could not be reached immediately to comment.

A TMF survey found that most people who donated $10 to one of the disaster relief efforts would prefer to give a higher amount, Snyder said in an interview at the International CTIA Wireless conference here today.

"That $25 would not be a lot and would be well spent," said Snyder.

TMF certifies that non-profits are truly charitable groups that would use the donated gifts properly, Snyder explained. Her non-profit, with five employees and an annual budget of less than $200,000, relies on texting software from Mobile Accord for the charitable effort. Mobile Accord is a for-profit company founded by Snyder's brother, James Eberhard.

TMF is a subsidiary of Mobile Accord.

The $10 mobile texting donations for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief now total about $4 million in the U.S. More than half of that total is going to the Red Cross effort, according to CTIA officials at the International CTIA Wireless event here this week.

A $10 donations towards Red Cross Japanese relief efforts by texting "RedCross" to 90999.

Texting donations for Haiti relief through various organizations have totaled $49 million since an earthquake hit the country in January 2010, Snyder said.

However, about 10,000 fraudulent groups claimed to be taking text donations for Haiti relief, giving impetus to TMF's mission to check whether the groups it certifies have bylaws and meet the charitable donation standards set by 41 states.

TMF's own survey showed that 74% of those texting $10 for relief efforts favored a higher price point, while 87% of the non-profits certified by TMF certifies wanted the higher amount.

It is possible to allow various levels of giving, but having one choice at $25 keeps the text donation simple.

Non-profits report that their average online contribution with a desktop computer is about $60, she said.

Snyder said a concern of some giving text donations is that it might take up to 90 days for the funds to reach charitable groups, a delay that TMG is trying to reduce.

Carriers pass along the $10 without taking any portion of that money, but they usually do so after contributor has paid the next monthly phone bill. If a person gives a $10 text donation on Jan. 12, and doesn't receive the bill until Jan. 30, then has another two weeks to pay, the process is already delayed considerably. But carriers have worked with TMG to lower the average number of 90 days down to 75, she said.

Snyder praised U.S. wireless carriers for assuming the costs of processing the texts for free.

Meanwhile, she added that Apple offers a prime opportunity for charitable donations, since it has milllions of iTunes subscribers who could bill a credit card already on file with Apple. That would likely be a Web-based transaction through any number of wireless and wired devices.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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