Tsunami Donations Skyrocket Online

The tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people and pulverized the coastlines of nearly a dozen nations has also brought out unprecedented use of the Internet.

The power of the medium was harnessed in several ways including playing a pivotal role in the deluge of financial support.

Almost as soon as the waters began to recede, relief agencies around the world were bombarded with online donations. Just 10 days after the tsunami, American organizations had raised more than $245 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Slightly more than half of all donations are coming from online sources, the group said.

The American Red Cross raised more than $150 million and more than half of that total came through the organization’s Web site. New York-based UNICEF received $30-million with $20 million coming in online.

It has been three years since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, when billions of dollars in donations poured in from around the world. But unlike that effort, where it has been estimated that only 5 percent of donations where online, the tsunami galvanized a growing community of Internet users that look to the Web for so many different things.

Since the Dec. 26 tragedy, many corporate Web sites have carried links to relief funds and provided continually updated information.

Following the event, Apple Computer’s homepage read: “Our hearts reach out to those hurt by the Indian Ocean tsunamis.” It also provides links to more than a dozen charities that are accepting donations. eBay raised millions with banner ads on their Web pages and offered almost 50 organizations accepting tsunami-relief donations.

Amazon also provided customers with a direct donation option on its homepage and raised $6.5 million in the first two days. At press time, the site has collected a total of $14.9 million. All the proceeds will go to the Red Cross for Tsunami relief efforts.

And it wasn’t just the big companies raising funds.

PokerRoom.com, one of the world’s largest online poker sites, said it plans to organize poker tournaments this weekend to benefit the victims of the tsunami. They will host $20 and $100 buy-in tournaments and match the total prize pool. The company will donate the amount to the International Red Cross organization.

“While PokerRoom.com’s native Sweden was hit extremely hard, this is an international tragedy which will take years to overcome and will require efforts worldwide,” Patrik Selin, casino boss of PokerRoom, said in a statement. “PokerRoom.com is dedicated to the relief effort, and we encourage everyone to join us in this endeavor.”

A group of American expatriate businessmen living in Sri Lanka raised thousands of dollars on their adoptSri Lanka.com Web site. A message from the group posted on the site says they organized the drive to specifically help the people of the seaside villages.

The event was another breakout for daily weblogs carrying detailed accounts of the devastation. The immediacy of blogs provided detailed context to the tragedy.

Traffic to blogger.com increased 73 percent resulting for increased interest in discovering details about the event, according to Nielsen//Netratings. Traffic to news sites increased jumped an average of 27 percent.

But the unprecedented use of the Internet also created opportunities for
scam artists.

As previously reported, the FBI issued a warning detailing an explosion of numerous schemes looking to take advantage of the disaster.

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