Chile earthquake relief: Cellphone donations struggle compared to Haiti

While $21 million in cellphone text-message donations poured into Haiti in the first 48 hours after the earthquake, only about $100,000 in total phone text donations have gone to Chile since the Feb. 27 earthquake.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Members of the Chilean Military and volunteers load boxes with relief supplies at the airport in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a visit to deliver communication supplies to be used in the earthquake relief efforts.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

After the Chile earthquake on Saturday, cellphone text-message donations raised merely $100,000 in the first four days following the earthquake that rocked South America’s southern coast, which pales in comparison to the $21 million in text-message donations sent to Haiti in half that period.

Whereas $437,500 per hour in text donations poured into Haiti, less than $1,100 per hour has rolled into charities helping in Chile.

“Nothing compares to what was raised for Haiti,” says Christian Zimmern, co-founder and vice president of the Washington-based Mobile Giving Foundation, which started in 2007 and channels text-message donations to a handful of vetted Haiti and Chile charities.

IN PICTURES: Images from the magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile

In total since the Jan. 12 earthquake hit Haiti’s coast, Americans have donated about $41 million via text messages to the Caribbean island.

While American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and former Fugees rap star Wyclef Jean urged Americans to donate $5 and $10 amounts to Haiti relief using their cell phones, Chile isn’t getting the same attention.

“It’s all about promotion,” Mr. Zimmern said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “If you don’t get that message out to viewers, people don’t know. If Ryan Seacrest says something, or MTV is doing something on it with celebrities, that’s when you drive volume.”

Tragedies of scale

Zimmern says another factor affecting relief is the destruction. While 7.0-magnitiude Haiti earthquake killed an estimated 200,000, the 8.8-magnitude Chile earthquake killed less than 1,000 in one of the richest countries in the Western hemisphere.

“The human tragedy in Haiti was so much greater,” Zimmern says. “I don’t want to minimize the tragedy in Chile, but we’re talking about thousands dead instead of tens of thousands dead.”

Moreover, the Chilean government sent out mixed signals when it initially said it would not accept foreign donations. For that reason, the Red Cross – which was one of the primary recipients of mobile phone donations for Haiti relief – held off on launching a text-to-donate campaign for Chlie.

But others have.

Texting “CHILE” to 52000, for example, donates $10 on behalf of the Salvation Army. The Mobile Giving Foundation passes on 100 percent of the donation and cooperating cell phone companies add the amount to the donator’s monthly cell phone bill. Only the receiving foundation – such as the Salvation Army – pays a fee to the processor for the service.

Donor fatigue?

Donors are allowed to give up to $30 per month to any one charity. Following the Haiti earthquake, only 0.25 percent of all donations were later cancelled, which Zimmern said was because those donations were made by a child or on a company cell phone.

Americans give $300 billion annually to charities, Zimmern says, and 20 percent of that is in amounts less than $150. Less than 1 percent of the total is given through text message donations.

“I doubt that it’s donor fatigue,” Zimmern says. “We have 180 million cell phones in the US – 4 or 5 million people were making donations to Haiti. That means a lot of people are still not making a donation.”

Other analysts and observers say donor fatigue is hurting Chile relief, however.

In a recent blog for The Huffington Post, Chrissie Brodigan writes:

Chile is one of the top topics trending on Twitter, but rapidly falling out of popularity, eclipsed by Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus's new boyfriend. A simple search of "Chile + Donation" reveals that the socially-driven donation nation is well underway. But, Twitter also reveals sentiments that it's tired with some users tweeting "we have to donate to Chile too?"

IN PICTURES: Images from the magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile

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