Red Cross text-messaging drive dwarfs online fundraisers for Oklahoma

  In the wake of the disastrous tornado that killed at least 24 in Oklahoma, the Internet scrambled to help. But it wasn't really sure what to do.


Kevin Collier

Internet Culture

Published May 21, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 3:22 pm CDT

As seems to always be the case with disasters, in the wake of the disastrous tornado that killed at least 24 in Oklahoma, the Internet scrambled to help.

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But it wasn’t really sure what to do.

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A number of users have created impromptu online fundraisers. With the lack of a clear authority, though, none of those have raised much in the day since the storm passed. One coalition of local radio stations used Give Forward, promising that “any and all money raised will go to victims thru various charities.” Though a handful of people have given $100 or more, it’s still only raised $2,520.

Give Forward’s only other foray into the disaster is for Brittnee “Subira” Cooks, founder of the Oklahoma State Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority. The fundraiser was created by Terri Pena, who, judging by her Facebook profile, is a current student at Oklahoma State and member of the sorority. It’s gotten $2,550 so far. isn’t much different. At least seven different users have tried to get a fundraiser started for mission trips or individual victims. Despite lofty goals of up to half a million, only one of those has cracked the thousand-dollar mark.

That might have something to do with the fact that anybody can create an account, causing potential donors to question where their money would go.

“I certainly understand anyone who may be skeptical of someone asking for donations online,” wrote Jordan Esco, who helps run the Oklahoma University athletics site Crimson and Cream Machine. “We’re not going anywhere, so we’re accountable I guess is what I’m saying.” His fundraiser is up to $890.

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It’s not as if people are afraid of using technology to give. The Red Cross is taking donations by text messages, as they did with previous disasters. That service raised more than $32 million alone in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; a Pew study later found that most people gave on impulse and had never donated via text message before.

Despite plenty of criticism of the Red Cross text-to-donate program after Haiti, it’s still overwhelmingly more popular online than those user-created fundraisers for Oklahoma. More than 50,000 tweets posted since the tornados hit contain “90999,” the number to text give the Red Cross $10. The Red Cross of Oklahoma’s tweet to this effect, for example, has been retweeted nearly 15,000 times, more than all those user-created charities alone.

Best way to help tornado victims is to donate to the Red Cross at or text REDCROSS to 90999. #okwx

— Red Cross Oklahoma (@redcrossokc) May 20, 2013

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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*First Published: May 21, 2013, 2:32 pm CDT