Why the Salvation Army keeps working on its great brand

publication date: Dec 12, 2011
In every economic slump, some fundraising campaigns succeed. Those that manage to make their targets in tough times have lessons for us all. That's true of the Salvation Army, which in October announced "significant improvement" in donations of cash and food.

National marketing and communications director Andrew Burditt attributes the success to the Salvation Army's persistent messaging. The Salvation Army does the usual integrated media, direct mail and online fundraising that mark a modern national charity. But education is a crucial backup to the appeals and promotions. This year, that education includes an emphasis on dignity as a fundamental human right, plus reports on public perceptions of poverty and homelessness that present food and nutrition as part of human dignity.

Red Kettles a small part of overall picture

Though the Salvation Army is best known for its Red Kettle campaign, it's highly successful at conventional fundraising too. Most of its fundraising revenues - $150 million out of a total $170 million - comes from donors it can name and track.

Questioning its assumptions is another thing the Salvation Army does right. Its demographic skews towards the over 55 group, just like many other charities. And Burditt's team assumed that the primary draw for their donors was that they or their parents had benefitted from Salvation Army programs earlier in their lives.

But they were wrong. "We've found that as people age, they migrate towards the Salvation Army," says Burditt. They may have given elsewhere in their younger years, but the charity's emphasis on meeting basic human needs and putting gifts to work in the donors' own communities resonates more powerfully as people approach their middle and later years.

With that information in hand, Burditt's team have targeted the 35 to 54 age group in order to build up the next generation of donors, even though they don't expect immediate dramatic results from their efforts.

Managing muddled responses - in-kind gifts don't work all the time

Though the Salvation Army seeks and uses in-kind gifts more than most charities do, such gifts aren't without their challenges. "People like to donate in-kind items like toys and food, especially at Christmastime," Burditt acknowledges. And that's exactly what's needed at Christmas.

But with ongoing work or catastrophic response, Salvation Army communications emphasize the right kind of in-kind gift. "We communicate as much as possible," he explains. "We'll make explicit cash asks, accompanied by explanations why we can't take particular in-kind items. We don't have the ability to ship crates of supplies."

What's the single greatest asset to the Salvation Army's fundraising success? Burditt says it's the 129-year track record of giving hope and dignity to the marginalized. He believes the agency's reputation for effectiveness, transparency and consistency will sustain the Salvation Army's brand through future campaigns and future generations.

For more information, Andrew Burditt, 416-845-8231, by email or www.SalvationArmy.ca

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