Salvation Army’s Red Kettles Coming Up Short

December 16, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

The usual clanging and bell-ringing red kettles on behalf of The Salvation Army are not reaching as many ears this holiday season as affiliates in California, Massachusetts and New York are reporting drastic decreases in donations.

The Red Kettle campaign is The Salvation Army’s signature fundraising event. Now celebrating its 120th anniversary, the campaign raised a record $142 million last year. Complete national numbers are not yet available for 2011.

Just five weeks into the Red Kettle campaign, The Salvation Army Massachusetts Division has generated just less than $1.2 million, a 22-percent drop in donations compared to last year at the same time. This holiday season, organizers hoped to reach a $3.4-million goal.

“We’re not 100 percent sure why we are experiencing such a significant decline in Kettle donations,” said David E. Kelly, divisional commander via a statement. “We believe there are a number of potential factors including a greater use of online shopping, the weak economy and perhaps even fewer kettle locations.”

Massachusetts is seeing decreases in urban and suburban areas. Red Kettle contributions are down 53 percent in the city, 45 percent in Attleboro, Mass.; 45 percent in Waltham, Mass.; 43 percent in Haverhill, and both Worcester and Plymouth are off by 36 percent.

After learning about the Red Kettle woes, Garden Neighborhood Charities and the Boston Bruins Foundation donated $15,000, which will be doubled through a challenge grant.

The Salvation Army Greater New York Division (SAGNYD) sees donations on track for New York City, but lagging in rural areas.

As of Dec. 15, SAGNYD, had raised $1.5 million — about half way to its goal of $3 million. New York City donations have been on track with expectations for the city but rural areas are running 10 percent behind what they raised last year.

“I think in the rural areas like Newburgh, Port Jervis and Middleton, people are less employed which translates to less giving,” said Maj. Evan Hickman, general secretary of the Salvation Army Greater New York Division. “It also may mean people are waiting longer to give. Hopefully if they are waiting to give, they will give to the Salvation Army.”

Last year the rural core raised $2.3 million, compared to approximately $2.07 million so far this year.

“Over the past year and during 2008 when the economy tanked, our services have needed to increase by 60 to 70 percent,” said Hickman. “Our divisions depend on our Red Kettle drives. It also gives us a good indication of how many families we can help in the upcoming year.”

Hickman hoped that as the holiday season got closer, donations would increase just like years in the past.

California has seen a drastic decrease in Red Kettle activities, according to spokesman Robert Brennan. The Southern California affiliate is down more than 4 percent from the $2 million raised in 2010. Some urban areas have had fewer issues, but Brennan reported seeing double-digit decreases in the neighborhoods of Compton and Englewood.

In Detroit, Mich., the Eastern Michigan Division Salvation Army is more than $5 million away from its $8.2 million goal. With 16.8 percent of Michigan residents living in poverty Maj. Mark Anderson, said via a statement that they could not do without the funds.

“We are counting on the generosity of metro Detroiter’s to help us keep doing the most good this holiday season and throughout the entire year,” said Anderson.

Hickman believes that less foot traffic, with shoppers going online for holiday shopping caused some of the decreases. “I can only speak of our division,” said Hickman, “but in terms of New York City, we have so many more people passing by our urban kettles as opposed to the ones in rural areas. A lot of people tend to shop online and are not going to the store. I think that plays a role.”

The Salvation Army also gives supporters the opportunity to donate via texting and online, but specific data was not immediately available. In 2010, The Salvation Army raised $1.6 million on the online Red Kettle and $25,000 through their text campaign.

It hasn’t been all bad news at the kettles. A gold South African Krugerrand was valued at $1,300 was placed in a kettle outside a Walmart near Gettysburg, Pa. In Cynthiana, Ky., an 1880 $10 gold piece with a Liberty head on one side and an eagle on the other was put into a kettle at the Cynthiana Wal-Mart. It is worth approximately $900.

In and around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., an anonymous donor slipped $1,000 donations into five red kettles in the region, 10 folded $100 bills.