Sidewalk Santas Go Online

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This year sidewalk Santas have their own Web site.


While this is the third holiday season during which contributors have been able to donate to Volunteers of America's Sidewalk Santa campaign online at VolunteersofAmerica.org, the 104-year-old organization recently launched a separate site at Sidewalksanta.org aiming to tell a more compelling story and spur more online donations.


Among other things, the new site lays out the sidewalk Santas' mission more clearly.


"We are targeting three categories -- the elderly, the homeless and children -- because these are the categories that are growing," said Carl Ericson, a spokesman for Volunteers of America. "The government is reducing funding or holding the line, while the number of people who need services is steadily increasing. So we're increasing our efforts to raise money."


The organization is relying on viral marketing to get the word out on the new site. On Nov. 22 Volunteers of America sent e-mails to its 11,000 employees in 40 offices around the country promoting Sidewalksanta.org and asking employees to forward the message to people they know.


As part of the organization's new focus on the Internet, Volunteers of America also has begun developing a house e-mail list of donors.


Executives at Volunteers of America believe the Internet can play a crucial role in increasing name recognition.


"Up until five years ago the organization wasn't out there branding itself as a recognized name -- an organization serving 1.5 million people," Ericson said. "We're growing and [are] now in the top 20 philanthropies. One of the things we're trying to do is use the Internet as a tool to raise more money. It's a vital link to a successful future."


ClickRewards, an online shopping mall that rewards shoppers with frequent-flier miles and other travel-related discounts, is providing a link, and several other sites have made commitments to do so.


"We're hoping that by having a separate site and providing a link and promoting the site, we'll offer a number of ways to get to the site," Ericson said.
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