NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans may have half the population it did before Hurricane Katrina, but the cash-strapped city still loves a party, so to help pay for Mardi Gras, it's trying a new money source: text-messaged donations.
The fundraising campaign, which also includes online giving, aims to raise $1 million over the next year.
During Carnival season, which culminates Tuesday with Mardi Gras, the Text to Give program will be advertised on posters in local businesses, pillowtop cards in hotels, billboards, radio and TV and a 20-foot sign in the French Quarter, said Chick Ciccarelli, CEO of the ad firm MediaBuys, which is handling the campaign.
A national ad campaign also is in the works, he said.
"I think this is going to be a very strong and contagious, viral campaign, especially among the people who have the technology and come to New Orleans and love it here," said Ernest Collins, the city's marketing director.
Several hundred dollars has come in since the program started Feb. 8, said Collins, who added he's not sure the city will reach its $1 million goal by Carnival 2008, a fraction of what the city spends on public services during the festivities.
The Text to Give idea arose after efforts to garner corporate sponsorship of Carnival fell flat, Ciccarelli said. He said many companies didn't want their brands associated with the perceived excesses of Carnival, or with negative headlines coming out of the city's slow recovery since Katrina ravaged the city in August 2005. Companies also had already given to Katrina-relief charities, or said sponsorship would do nothing to reach their target audience, he said.
City officials are working with PayPal, a money-transfer Web site that has also set up text-message donation programs for Amnesty International and UNICEF. Neither PayPal nor those groups would say how much money those efforts had raised.
Under the program, cell phone users who have a PayPal account can donate by sending a text code and the amount of money to a designated phone number, said Jamie Patricio, a PayPal spokeswoman.
The city Web site — http://www.cityofno.com — also has a link for donating online.
PayPal joined the program after a pitch from Media Buys. Officials declined to say whether PayPal receives a cut of donations.