The success of fundraising for Haiti

It is always a challenge to write something positive about others misery; the horrific events in Haiti over the past few weeks have, however, once again demonstrated the incredible power of the web. With many communication channels unusable the web has helped to deliver information and reassurance to desperate friends and loved ones and allow people the immediate and instant gratification of helping by giving. Thankfully still, in a time of global financial unrest and increasing ethnic tension, not matter what the location, event or circumstance, a basic human instinct to help kicks in. What the internet provides is an instant channel to satisfy that need.


A few hours after the quake, the White House blog was the first port of call for those desperate for some kind of official word on what had happened. This then very quickly moved out on to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as people desperately searched for any news coming from the Island. Within a few more hours it was four of the top ten trending topics on Twitter as traffic peaked from social network language site to language site around the world’s time zones.

The phenomenon of the web as the prime news source, with citizen journalists breaking news, is nothing new. Blogs from inside Iraq during the early days of the Gulf War, the Hudson River plane crash (the first picture was posted on Twitter) and the death of Michael Jackson (which at least temporarily shut down Google) all indicated that the social web had just as big a role to play in news dissemination as the major global news media.

In the case of Haiti, the fact that the majority of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure was buried under hundreds of tons of rubble meant that wireless internet connections were the only way to get word out.

Moving on to the fundraising, thank fully we have come a long way from the early days of emergency online giving. I remember a colleague of mine chatting to a techie in Geneva who had been down to PC World to buy an extra server to quickly plug it in as peaks in traffic on donation pages hit levels no one had even dared dream of in the aftermath of the Tsunami (the story may have got embellished over the years and I suspect they don’t actually have PC World in Geneva but you know what I mean!).

Though, I did here that Wycliffe Jeans charity Twitter page (Yele Haiti) was down for a few hours as thousands of people tried to connect and donate; they raised $12 million in a few days despite this, mainly through an SMS giving mechanic (it’ll never catch on!!!).

I got my first email asking for a donation exactly 6 hours after the quake struck, from the American Red Cross. Deeply impressive and no surprise that as of Wednesday this week they had raised over $137 million, of which more than $5 million came via SMS donations – a milestone that was shared with the world via their own Twitter account. To put this into context, it raised $190,000 through SMS donations in all of 2009.

As of Wednesday afternoon, over $305 million in donations had been raised in the U.S. according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy – an estimate based on a survey of 29 charities contributing the largest amounts of money to Haiti. In the UK, as of yesterday, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) announced that they had received £38 million in donations (counted so far), less than a week since the first DEC broadcast appeal.

One global NGO was reported to have raised about 80 per cent of their Haiti appeal online with (in web terms) traditional channels like PPC search delivering mind-blowing results.

The results are more remarkable perhaps as most charities do not have procedures for getting this set up in a strategic and co-ordinated way globally in an emergency, so all they manage to do is get a tiny little online banner on their homepage (which does seem to work!!). But imagine if they were pre-prepared……mmm.

I found it slightly ironic that the major traditional news sources have made news out of the fact that it was new media channels that broke and distributed the story. I even made into onto the BBC World News for an interview with Zainab Badawi. Guess I was the only one free last Thursday evening…

Some additional reading:

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