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Donations made by texting may take time to reach Haiti

MIAMI — In the rush to donate money to charities aiding victims of the Haitian earthquake, cell phone users have been texting keywords such as HAITI and YELE to five- or six-digit numbers. But the roughly $27 million in donations made by text so far may not travel to the devastated Caribbean nation nearly as fast as your message.

Under normal circumstances, it can take up to 90 days for text donations to be funneled to charities, said Jed Alpert, founder of Mobile Commons, which runs many text-message donation programs in partnership with the Mobile Giving Foundation. The delay is because the donations aren’t collected until texters pay their cell phone bills.

“We work with a huge number of nonprofits. In the past it has been an issue: Some organizations have said this isn’t going to work for us,” Alpert said.

Some cell phone carriers are working to shorten the lag time because of the urgent need for aid to Haiti. For example, Sprint is advancing 80 percent of the money donated via text to participating charities, spokeswoman Crystal Davis said. That translates into about $2.2 million that has already been sent Haiti rescue efforts.

The remaining 20 percent of text donations will be sent at the traditional pace, she said.

Verizon advanced all donations users had made as of Friday night: about $3 million, spokesman Chuck Hamby said.

Donations by text to Haiti are the largest in American history, Hamby said. The $27 million given through texts eclipses the amount of donations via text raised for Hurricane Katrina victims: less than $500,000.

The largest benefactor of donations by text for Haiti rescue efforts has been the American Red Cross, which has generated more than $22 million in donations, the U.S. State Department reported.

Many cell phone companies are waiving the text-messaging fees associated with special text codes.Sprint is waiving fees only for texts to the American Red Cross, Yele Haiti Foundation, William J. Clinton Foundation, Internal Rescue Committee, and Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.