Salvation Army Innovates To Stay Relevant In Down Economy

The Salvation Army’s annual holiday fundraising drive, with its iconic red kettles, hand bells, and volunteers in Santa suits collecting change, seemed to defy the odds this holiday. Despite a retail season with lighter foot traffic and pockets with fewer coins to spare, the Salvation Army reported record fundraising in 2008, bringing in $130 million.  That’s 10 percent higher than 2007, which represents the largest one-year jump in revenue growth in more than a decade. With the economy on the brink of a meltdown, how did the Salvation Army achieve record-breaking fundraising?

It innovated. The Salvation Army stretched pocket-change fundraising to new heights, elevating its strategy to a multi-channel, highly engaging program.

First, it recognized the power of younger donors and sought them out where they were already plugged in- online via social networks and through their mobile devices. The 2008 program included the ability to donate online, to spread the word via social networking sites and to download an iPhone application specifically developed for the campaign. Other high-tech advancements in the signature red kettle collections included regional testing of “cashless kettles,” which accepted credit or debit cards and “mobile giving,” which allowed consumers to text donations from their cell phones.

The Salvation Army leveraged these online capabilities and went viral by providing turn-key online fundraising toolkits and incentivizing consumer participation. The Online Red Kettle Campaign provided tools such as email templates and widgets and featured the top fundraisers on its Web site. Internet giving alone brought in $10 million in 2008.

At the same time, the organization stayed true to more traditional means of fundraising and awareness by engaging the teen-idol band the Jonas Brothers, leveraging several corporate partnerships including Wal-Mart and Target and never forgeting its volunteer base of 25,000 on-site bellringers.

Research shows that consumers are generally giving the same this year but to fewer organizations.  By mixing traditional fundraising tactics with new digital approaches, the Salvation Army was able to tap those with money to give and came out of the season further ahead than ever before.

For more fundraising tips beyond the holiday season to use throughout 2009, read our latest article, Fundraising Remedies for the New Economy


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