Salvation Army pumps up digital marketing for the holidays

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The Salvation Army is boosting its direct and digital marketing this holiday season. The nonprofit has pulled all of its radio advertising and assigned that budget to online communications, according to George Hood, national community relations and development secretary for the organization.

This week, the annual Red Kettle Christmas Campaign launched nationwide, in which bell-ringing volunteers hit the streets outside popular retail locations throughout the holiday season. In addition, Salvation Army has brought back its Online Red Kettle. Users can set donation goals and encourage friends and family to make donations. This is the sixth year the company has had the virtual kettle, but, Hood said, this year it has the most online promotion behind it ever.

The kettle is being promoted through online banner ads. Hood said that online news sites like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have been the most productive channels for online advertising. The company also runs ads on major portals like AOL and Yahoo, and through sites with which Salvation Army has corporate partnerships like Wal-Mart, JCPenney and Target.

A Salvation Army bell-ringing iPhone app is also launching this week. Proceeds from the 99-cent app will go to Salvation Army. Hood explained that when users shake their iPhone, they will hear the familiar sound of a bell used by those in-store ringers. The app also links directly to the Salvation Army's donation Web page.

The company also has a strong presence on Facebook, with 7,771 fans to date. On Twitter, @SalvationArmy has more than 2,000 followers. Hood said the social media initiatives launched “about 8 months ago.”

On November 3, the company teamed up with retailer JCPenney for the online Angel Giving Tree program. Traditionally done in retail and other business locations, Web users now can give an angel — or needy child — a gift virtually.

Salvation Army has listed 125,000 children's profiles on JCP.com/angel. According to Hood, since the launch, more than 19,000 angels have been chosen.

“We're fascinated that we've seen such a great response, even before Thanksgiving,” Hood said. “We're expecting a heavy onslaught of donations on [cyber] Monday, when there's typically heavy online shopping.”

Users can shop on JCP.com for the gift, where they receive free shipping to their closest Salvation Army location. They can also shop anywhere online or off- on their own and bring the item to the closed Salvation Army.

Hood explained that, like many nonprofits, the Salvation Army's donor base is “aging out,” which is why it's so important to target younger audiences through digital channels.

“As new generations are coming in, building relationships online is key,” he said. “The challenge is converting new and younger donors through online strategies.”

He said for “years and years” Salvation Army has been using direct mail as its primary channel for new donor acquisition, but now online community building has proved more effective. “The ROI is much more superior online than off,” he continued. “We see this happening as the general public gets more comfortable making donations online.”

Salvation Army is also getting more aggressive with its e-mail marketing this year. But Hood says because the organization is decentralized, each US region typically controls its own e-mail campaigns.

Dallas-based Richards Group is the company's advertising agency of record.

“We're getting much more savvy when to comes to digital marketing and part of our sustainability strategy is to continue to build these online relationships,” Hood said. “We believe that using channels where there can be a direct response is the future.”

Earlier this month, nonprofit marketers told DMNews they are turning to digital more often this holiday season than in the past, while still employing traditional direct elements, such as direct mail.

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