04/25/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cell Phones and Laptops As The New Collection Basket

The impact of social networks and new media on fundraising for emergency relief efforts in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake is a truly inspiring sign that philanthropy has entered the 21st century. For example, more than $37 million in cell phone text message donations have poured in so far to help Haiti rescue and recovery efforts, usually in increments of $5 or $10.

It's a perfect example of "Philanthropy 2.0." In this digital age of rapid-fire social networking, we find amazing new tools to lend a helping hand to those in need and make an impact toward social change. Tools like Twitter, Facebook Causes and SMS phone texting are transforming philanthropy, providing new ways to enable individuals who have not traditionally engaged with charitable causes to participate and make a difference.

Take the response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, for example. Concerned citizens have contributed more than $774 million to date to U.S. nonprofit groups providing emergency relief in Haiti, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Demonstrating the power of technology, text messaging, for the first time, played an increasingly significant role in this fundraising effort. Multiple charities set up the capacity to accept gifts through text messages, with impressive results. The American Red Cross alone raised a record $31 million so far through text messages.

Most of that money was raised in the first few weeks following the devastation. But more recent exposure has helped to sustain the support. During the Super Bowl, when a record 106.5 million Americans tuned into the game, the CBS announcers provided information multiple times about how to donate to Haiti relief efforts via text message.

Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, one of four Haitian Americans playing in the Super Bowl, is raising relief funds through his Helping Hands Foundation, and plans to go to Haiti to distribute meals and aid in April. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma also plans to go to his parents' homeland to help, and designed a T-shirt with proceeds going directly to relief efforts. The outpouring of support within the league even led the NFL Players Association to make a million dollar donation to the Red Cross and Partners in Health. Not to mention the TV ads during the game announcing the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund effort by former Presidents Bush and Clinton, and First Lady Michelle Obama's PSA urging text donations to the Red Cross.

I just saw Avatar for the second time a few nights ago (yes, I'm a sci-fi junky) and heard Mrs. Obama's voice only to look up at one of the TV screens in the lobby of the AMC theater and see her Red Cross Haiti PSA.

Groups including the American Red Cross, Oxfam America and Partners in Health have mobilized supporters through Facebook as well, urging donors to post status updates on Facebook after they contribute, and using the Facebook Causes application to raise funds as well. Oxfam's Facebook Causes page has raised over $130,000, for instance. Charities have also used Twitter, YouTube and blogs to communicate their relief plans and provide information on how people can help out.

Don't get me wrong, I know that this technological leap is not without its glitches. There was the unfortunate hoax circulating around that Facebook would donate $1 to Haiti relief efforts for every status update mentioning the cause. While no such program existed, Facebook responded rapidly by setting up a Global Disaster Relief page to connect donors with certified charitable organizations.

Similarly, people who responded to the text message appeals probably thought their $10 went directly into action to fund relief efforts. Unless your donation was meant for the Red Cross, that is not the case, unfortunately. Text message donations can take up to three months to process and ultimately reach the charity benefactor. Due to the dire situation in Haiti, cellphone carriers expedited text donations to the Red Cross, but not to most other relief organizations. So there are plenty of kinks in this system to iron out.

Text message campaigns still have a long way to go to catch up to the effectiveness of telethons. While $37 million in text message donations over the past month is pretty impressive, the star-studded Haiti relief telethon organized by actor George Clooney brought in $66 million in one night. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the public outpouring of support in just the first eight days provided at least $580 million for relief efforts. Those efforts relied primarily on traditional routes of fundraising, like phone banks, telethons, and word-of-mouth. But imagine if we had the ability to quickly donate via text message or Facebook then?

But overall, it is clear that Philanthropy 2.0 is the wave of the future and will only become more important and effective as the technologies connecting us continue to evolve.

In our instantaneous world, social networking technologies enable nonprofits to raise funds for rapid response mobilization in the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergencies.

Let's be straight about the money too. It used to be the case that a lot of nonprofits weren't too interested in a deluge of $5 and $10 donations, because it created a lot of paperwork and paper cuts opening all those envelopes.

With Philanthropy 2.0, all that has changed. Now, with the rise of micro-philanthropy, individuals with a laptop or cell phone can easily send any amount to a nonprofit, even $1, and the recipient charities can avoid all those paper cuts and piles of paperwork thanks to digital tools like PayPal and Network for Good. Network for Good processed $5 million in donations for relief efforts in Haiti, mostly supporting smaller non-profit who were already working in Haiti before the earthquake.

Small donors are clearly ready for Philanthropy 2.0. The question now becomes, are traditional philanthropic entities -- from major foundations to wealthy individuals -- ready for this new era?

That is a question I hope to explore in depth with you in this space over the coming weeks and months. The answer is likely to be a mixed bag. My goal is to help these traditional philanthropists move into the fast-paced digital age, with the goal of better connecting the worlds of traditional philanthropy (large foundations and wealthy donors), cutting-edge technology, those who have a special ability to shine attention on the issue such as the professional athletes from the NFL during the Super Bowl or the celebrities during the telethon, and the new media/philanthropy 2.0 space.

I'm not out to write a how-to guide to Philanthropy 2.0, but rather to engage you in the endless opportunities of innovation, and as many people as we can bring together, in a discussion about how and why social networking and new media can foster more support for charitable causes. This is about learning how to facilitate better communication between philanthropy change agents and traditional outlets.

I'm looking forward to hearing some of your thoughts. So feel free to comment below with your ideas on the next generation of philanthropy.

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