Salvation Army Red Kettle Donations Slow Dancing

December 6, 2012       Patrick Sullivan      

Move over, PSY; the tuxedo-clad Korean rapper of “Gangnam Style” fame isn’t the only one with dance moves. Some of The Salvation Army’s (SA) bell ringers are cutting the concrete in an effort to get noticed during this holiday season’s Red Kettle campaign.

It doesn’t appear to be working, as donations are either flat or down depending on the region of the country. The SA cuts the country into four territories.

“It’s hard to get New Yorkers’ attention,” said Maj. John Hodgson, community relations and development secretary for SA’s Eastern Territory in West Nyack, N.Y., which covers 11 states in the northeastern United States, from Maine down to Delaware and out to Ohio. “You just become such a part of the background. Some of the young cadets decided to sing or do a dance, just to make sure people see the kettle.”

The Eastern Territory has no cause to dance for joy. The territory has generated $5 million for the Red Kettle campaign so far, about $1 million less than this time last year. “It might be because people gave for (Hurricane) Sandy relief, and they’re not so quick to give another gift,” said Hodgson.

Hodgson said he believes that despite the slow start, this year will be another record for the campaign nationally, which last year raised $147 million. “Every year when all the dollars are counted we have had an increase, and I’m looking forward to that again this year. I believe we’ll hit $150 million or more,” he said.

Most SA territories rely on Red Kettle campaign funds for about half of their yearly budgets, according to Jeff Curnow, the Central Territory’s public and corporate relations manager. Headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the Central Territory covers 11 states between Michigan in the northcentral and Kansas in the southwest. Curnow said his territory has so far raised about $12 million, which he said overall is even with this time last year.

The campaign, which runs until Christmas Eve, kicked off on Thanksgiving, during the Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins halftime show featuring country music star Kenny Chesney. This was the 16th year SA partnered with the Cowboys. Maj. George Hood, national community relations secretary at SA’s national headquarters in Alexandria, Va., said that fundraising for the 122-year-old campaign has doubled since the arrangement was launched.

“We’re still early into the campaign but we’re optimistic about our fundraising efforts across the country,” said Jennifer Byrd, national public relations director. “Although it’s been a difficult year, especially coming off of Hurricane Sandy, we’re thankful for the continued support of our donors and we’ll be here to serve anyone in need, regardless of the final total (of the Red Kettle campaign).”

A donation total for the Southern Territory was not immediately available. The territory’s director of communications, Chris Priest, estimated that the numbers are on par with last year, “which is good news for us,” he said. “It indicates that in spite of difficulties, people are still very generous.” The Southern Territory is based in Atlanta, Ga., and consists of 15 states south of the Mason-Dixon Line and as far west as Texas.

The metro Atlanta division, which covers 13 counties in Georgia, is up 6 percent compared to last year, said area commander Maj. Todd Hawks, to $660,000. He said that’s a good thing, because his division is serving 22 percent more families than last year. “While the economy is showing signs of recovery, there are a lot of people still searching for work and a lot of people working part time, barely getting by if at all,” he said. “As a result, they’re coming to the Salvation Army and others for year-round and holiday assistance.”

Chaz Watson, executive director of development for SA’s Western Territory, said his territory’s donations have been fluctuating. “We’ve been up by as much as 8 percent and down by as much as 8 percent. Currently, we’re down by 6 percent,” or about $500,000, over this time last year, he said. A total donation count was not immediately available for the Western Territory, which covers the 11 states from the Pacific Ocean to New Mexico in the south and Montana in the north plus Alaska and Hawaii, and is based in Long Beach, Calif.

Red Kettles aren’t the only way to give this season, said Byrd. Online red kettles, which are personal fundraising pages, have raised almost $500,000 so far, with a goal of $3 million. Online kettles raised $1.7 million last year.

“It’s a great program and we’re really excited about it,” said Byrd. “Donations are 100 percent tax-deductible, and they stay in the communities where they were raised” based on the kettle’s host’s location, she said. Donors can also contribute directly through SA’s national Facebook page.