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Salvation Army feels economic pinch

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The annual Red Kettle Campaign at the Salvation Army mirrored last year’s slow retail sales, with the $118 million take topping 2006 totals by the smallest margin in several years.

Last holiday season, the Salvation Army saw only a 0.7 percent increase in contributions to its signature campaign as retail sales in the U.S. posted the weakest finish since 2002.

With increases in the Red Kettle pot typically averaging about 6 percent annually, the economic downturn may be taking a toll on buying and giving alike, the Salvation Army says.

“We were pleasantly surprised by this year’s total given the home mortgage crisis, rising prices for home heating oil, and the state of general economic uncertainty,” Major George Hood, Salvation Army community relations secretary, says in a statement.

The Christian social services provider relies on multiple retail partners in its annual holiday campaign, during which more than 25,000 bell-ringing volunteers with red kettles gather to solicit spare change from holiday shoppers.

Last year, kettles placed in front of Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs accounted for more than $32 million, or nearly one-third of total campaign giving.

Some retailers also offer direct donations.

The Wal-Mart Foundation contributed $1 million dollars to launch the campaign in 2007 and Rayovac Batteries donated $250,000.

“We can’t overstate the importance of our retail partners to our fundraising efforts,” says Hood. “Particularly in a year like this, with many Americans beginning to feel the economic pinch, it was critical for us to have the direct interaction with donors that partners like Wal-Mart provided and fostered.

But tough times for retailers may have impacted the Red Kettle Campaign as well. Stagnant sales last December, which produced a gain of only 4.2 percent compared to 5.9 percent in 2006, seem to have produced fewer shoppers eager to donate.

The campaign did better online last year than in the past, expanding its presence by allowing businesses and individuals to host a red kettle on their own websites.

Overall, the campaign raised more than $585,000 online, up 21 percent over 2006.

The Red Kettle Campaign, begun in 1891 in San Francisco, now is nationwide, with donations supporting the operations of the Salvation Army in the region where they are collected.

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