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12/30/2004
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Tsunami Relief Efforts Get Record Online Donations

Major relief organizations have received a record amount of money from online donors, helping the nonprofits in getting emergency supplies to victims of the South Asia tsunami disaster.

Major relief organizations have received a record amount of money from online donors, helping the nonprofits in getting emergency supplies to victims of the South Asia tsunami disaster.

More than $20 million have been donated online to five organizations involved in helping survivors in the 11 countries hit Sunday by deadly waves that followed an undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, Kintera Inc., the web hosting firm for the nonprofits, said. More than 114,000 people have died in the cataclysm, according to news reports.

The groups include Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross-Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter, U.S. Fund for UNICEF and World Vision.

Donations surpassed the $20 million mark Thursday, when Kintera recorded a 50 percent increase in transactions on the groups' web sites and a 66 percent increase in the average donation amount, a company spokeswoman said.

Tim Ledwith, director of interactive donor communications at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said the amount of donations it has received has been increasing steadily since the disaster struck. The group collected from the Internet $300,000 on Monday, $1.6 million Tuesday and $3.5 million Wednesday. The U.S. group raises an eighth of the international organization's total amount of annual contributions.

"It's unprecedented," Ledwith said of this week's donations. "We have never seen this much of an outpouring. The generosity is overwhelming. This is a response that we really couldn't have foreseen."

Kintera expects each of the organizations to raise a record amount of money online, as well as set records for the most money raised in a single day and for the average gift amount.

"The generosity of donors is really unprecedented and the Internet is really making this a reality," John Hartman, vice president of client services for San Diego-based Kintera, said.

Before this week, the largest amount of donations received in a single day by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF was under $1 million, Ledwith said. That day was last Dec. 31, when people were rushing to make contributions for that year's tax deductions.

Most online donors use credit cards, although payment services such as PayPal or online banking accounts are also popular methods, Kintera said.

Because the funds are sent electronically, UNICEF has access to the money within 72 hours, versus several weeks when the money comes through direct mail, the largest donation channel for the organization, Ledwith said.

"Once funds are available, they can be transferred to UNICEF for programs in the field," Ledwith said. "It's a very quick process. It can only increase the amount of assistance that will be available for emergency supplies and the speed at which they can be transported."

As to the reason for the big jump in online donations, Ledwith believes extensive media coverage of the disaster has helped, along with the unusual number of countries affected.

"Once people sense the scale of the disaster, they want to make an immediate impact (on relief efforts), and going online enables them to do that," Ledwith said.

In addition, UNICEF has placed an ad-link with giant search engine Google Inc., and the U.S. branch has sent alerts to its 80,000 email subscribers, which have donated more than $200,000, Ledwith said.

Once the emergency relief efforts have subsided, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF will go back and solicit more money from online donors for rebuilding programs.

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