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Five Questions About Inspiring the Spirit of Giving

Five Questions About Inspiring the Spirit of Giving

One sure sign that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas is the popping up of the Salvation Army’s red kettles all over town. In fact, since Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee installed the first red kettle, in 1891, to feed the poor of San Francisco, they have become an instantly recognizable call to action to help others.

Susan Eustice, director of public relations and communications for the Western division

Hayley Henriksen, digital marketing and graphic design coordinator for the Western division


Today in the U.S., the Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods. While kettles and bell-ringers are still a major calling card for the organization, they now also have an impressive command of media tools – both social and traditional – to support their good works.

Susan Eustice, divisional director of public relations and communications for the Salvation Army Western Division (which includes Nebraska, South Dakota and Western and Central Iowa), and Hayley Henriksen, the division’s digital marketing and graphic design coordinator, took time out of their very busy holiday season to tell us all about it.


What are your communications goals this time of year and how are you meeting them?

We have an overall fundraising goal of $2.5 million by Christmas, and our goal for the kettles is one-third of that, or $750,000. There are kettles at 137 locations in Greater Omaha and we have more than 50,000 hours of volunteer time to fill before Christmas Eve. We have run short the last few years, and we don’t want that to happen again, so we’ve launched a Ring the Town Red campaign. Any individual who signs up and does a bell-ringing shift has a chance to win a beautiful diamond ring from Borsheims. We have also created a calendar for each of the 37 days of bell-ringing, with special theme days that we’ve paired with one of our programs to raise awareness about what we do, and we have a Krispy Kreme Bell-ringer of the Day, which we post to our Facebook page with a quote from that person about why they’ve chose to support the Salvation Army.


What communications channels do you find most effective?

Facebook gets a lot of our focus because they have the greatest reach. We also live Tweet our events and have recently started using geofilters on Snapchat for events like the Red Kettle Run and the Tree of Lights kickoff, because it’s a good way of connecting with young people. We use our LinkedIn page to reach supporters and donors. And, we’re very excited because we’ve recently earned a Google Ad Grant that will give us new tools for the future. It’s really a whole new development model. Our parents’ generation, they didn’t need a reason to give, they just gave. Inspiring people to give used to be a push, now it’s a pull. That’s why we need to know a lot about our donors – in fact, we have a whole new customer relationship management (CRM) system. And we have to be journalists: constantly publishing on our social media channels and our media center. We took a ten-session content marketing course last summer just for that.


You mentioned brand awareness. Doesn’t everyone know the Salvation Army?

People think of thrift stores and bell-ringing, but that is only part of what we do. We focus on seven areas of need: feeding the hungry, providing housing, youth development, older adult services, material assistance, behavioral health and anti-human trafficking. We are a religion that takes our faith to the streets. For example, tonight (Dec. 1), we will launch our annual Winter Night Watch, which is in its twenty-eighth year. For five nights a week, all through December, January and February, we will be going around to areas where there is a high concentration of  homelessness and distributing warm meals and clothing. We want to make people aware that we serve all people in need. One interesting way we are doing this on a national level is with our #redkettlereason campaign, which is a peer-to-peer fundraiser that enables people to raise money for specific causes in their community that are important to them.


Traditional media is so busy with charitable stories this time of year, but they always cover the Salvation Army. What is your advice for keeping the media interested in what you do?

It takes years of building media relationships. When we hear of a journalist who’s new on the beat, we invite them in for a tour and tell them about what we do so they know that we are mission-driven and that we support human need without discrimination. After that, it’s about finding new ways to keep the story fresh, new themes, new human interest stories about people who have been impacted by our work. We are fortunate in Omaha to have media that is so supportive of our nonprofits. Every cause that helps others is a good cause, we just hope people give.


How do you keep the holiday social media momentum going throughout the year?

It’s a big challenge! Right now, we’re knee-deep in our campaign, but in January, and for the rest of the year, we want that momentum to continue. The stories of the people we’re serving are crucial. We will continue to keep our content fresh and to try to do new things. The grant will be really helpful for that, and we want to do more work on our website to keep it fresh and not so static. We are investing in digital display advertising. We are in an enviable position in that we give back 87 cents out of dollar to the program. We do the most good with what we have. We stretch every dollar until it screams.