The largest charity in the US (in terms of private suport) ventures outside its comfort zone in the new century's fundraising environment.
A rare sighting: an article about the marketing operations of the US Salvation Army (US headquarters EIN 22-240643, church, no Form 990)—in Forbes (Tatiana Serafin) rather than the charity press—and featuring Major George Hood, the National Community Relations Secretary who effectively the chief marketing officer in the US.
The Salvation Army as a whole is headquartered in London, UK. It was founded in 1865, and its name and quasi-military structure dates from 1878. Its first official group in the US arrived in 1880. While the Chronicle of Philanthropy claims that United Way is larger in terms of private support, the United Way is actually a collection of autonomous local groups, not a single organization like Salvation Army.
Just a few years ago, the Salvation Army was reeling from good and bad news. The good news was a $1.5 billion bequest from Joan Kroc, former owner of the San Diego Padres, to be used for construction of community centers, but the bequest stated that half the operating costs of the centers had to be raised by SA. The bad news was that Target department stores had decided to ban the annual kettle campaign from its stores and Wal-Mart was cutting back the number of days they could solicit. The grassroots fund raising methods that had served Salvation Army so well seemed to have hit a wall.
The new approach started with a key hire. Major Hood left the SA in 1986 and spent fourteen years in direct marketing for credit reporting companies TRW and Equifax before rejoining SA in 2000, rising to chief in 2003.
Major Hood introduced greater coordination and centralization of marketing efforts among the four US territories (Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern, a structure that goes back to 1926). Part of the centralization effort included the brand Doing the Most Good™, which first appeared in the 2006 annual report.
Then, there was increasing reliance on media events and advertising, including corporate sponsorship. Target atoned for its kettle ban by including SA in a $2 million event in Times Square with illusionist David Blaine. Wal-Mart is spending advertising money promoting SA, and the organization had increased its own ad budget.
More subtly, there is increasing emphasis on large gifts, such as a press release noting a $50,000 check deposited in a Christmas red kettle in Houston, Texas.
All this produced nothing but carping by cause marketing curmudgeon Tom Belford over at The Agitator, who thinks the Salvation Army needs to put more emphasis on results on its web page (and who else reads web pages?) I'm inclined to give SA the benefit of the doubt, myself, never having managed a billion-plus fund raising program with a half-million members, fifty thousand employees, and three and a half million volunteers.