Following the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Okla., organizations involved in the rescue and recovery efforts are relying on mobile payments technology to accept text message-based donations from the public.
Calls to action quickly began streaming in from charities, celebrities and others, encouraging text donations to provide aid to the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.
"Please text STORM to 80888 to donate $10 to the recovery and relief efforts in #Moore, OK. I am spending the rest of my day texting this #!" NFL player and Oklahoma City native Wes Welker wrote in a tweet on May 20, referencing The Salvation Army's text-to-donate campaign.
When a mobile phone user texts a custom keyword to a charity's unique "short code"—a custom five-digit telephone number assigned to each group—the charge for the donation is added to the customer's wireless bill or deducted from the user's prepaid balance.
In the immediate response to the disaster, many organizations, including the American Red Cross, are relying on their general purpose keyword/short code combinations to solicit donations for use in the Oklahoma and Texas disasters, "as well as disasters big and small throughout the United States," the Red Cross said in a press statement. In other cases, groups have created new keywords that are specific to the tornados that have struck Oklahoma and Texas over the past week.
The efforts echo initiatives that took place following Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. Groups like Denver-based mGive facilitate mobile fundraising by providing the necessary technology and infrastructure and partnering with mobile carriers to handle payment processing and billing. In addition, groups like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance vet charitable organizations that want to engage in mobile fundraising and monitor for potential fraud schemes.
While carrier-billed payments are a boon for nonprofits, the underlying technology has come under scrutiny from regulators concerned about mobile cramming, a scheme that uses the technology to add fraudulent, unauthorized charges to consumers' mobile phone bill.
Mobile cramming threatens to undermine mobile carrier billing as a legitimate and trusted payment option, the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Financial Practices wrote in a March report. In May, the FTC filed its first lawsuit against a third-party biller accused of engaging in mobile cramming.
Ensuring a secure commercial ecosystem for carrier-billed transactions is crucial for text-to-donate services to thrive, Mobile Giving Foundation CEO Jim Manis said during a panel on mobile cramming that the FTC hosted in May.
"I don't want the philanthropic piece to be negatively tainted and if the premium space goes away, guess what? We go away, too. So there is a threat, if you will, to us," he says.
The following organizations are collecting text message donations to help with the recovery efforts in Oklahoma and Texas:
All Hands Volunteers: Text RESPOND to 80088 ($10)
American Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999 ($10) or DONATE to 90999 ($25)
Convoy of Hope: Text CONVOY to 50555 ($10)
Global Giving: Text GIVE OK to 80088 ($10)
Habitat for Humanity: Text TEXAS to 25383 ($10)
Heart to Heart International: Text HEART to 27722 ($10)
International Assoc. of Fire Fighters Disaster Relief Fund: Text DISASTER to 50555 ($10)
Operation Blessing: Text BLESS to 50555 ($10)
Operation USA: Text AID to 50555 ($10)
Matthew 25 Ministries: Text CARING to 50555 ($10)
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma: Text FOOD to 32333 ($10)
Salvation Army: Text STORM to 80888 ($10)
Samaritan's Purse: Text SP to 80888 ($10)
United Way of the Plains: Text REBUILD to 80088 ($10)
World Vision: Text TORNADO to 777444 ($10)