Thu, December 18 2014

What Nonprofits Can Learn from Salvation Army Bell Ringers

Liz Ragland's avatar

Marketing Content Associate, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Fun stuff •

joeEditor’s note: This post was written by Joe Waters, author of Fundraising with Businesses and Cause Marketing for Dummies. You can also check out Joe’s work on his blog Selfish Giving.


I’ve always admired The Salvation Army bell ringers. In addition to donating their time and ringing their signature bell in all sorts of terrible weather, the program raises a sack of money that rivals Santa’s. Last year, kettle bells raised $136 million nationally for The Salvation Army’s mission, which includes food, shelter, addiction recovery assistance, after-school programs and many other services for the needy.

The secret to The Salvation Army’s success isn’t a secret at all—or a complicated fundraising strategy. They have an iconic brand that resonates with people during the holidays, and they work their butts off in December to raise as much money as possible with kettle bells. If you’re a nonprofit and want to stop reading now you should remember that brand and hustle matter. But bell ringers can teach you a lot if you’ll only take a moment to stop and learn instead of hurrying by.

3 Lessons from Salvation Army Bell Ringers

1. You can’t just stand there anymore. People are more distracted than ever these days. They have a lot on their minds and their heads are buried in their smartphones. Savvy bell ringers sing songs, dance and will do anything else to get the attention of passerbys. “You’ve got to get people’s attention and remind them that we’re here,” said one bell ringer to the Wall Street Journal. “And sometimes the bell just doesn’t do that.”

Nonprofits have to do everything they can to earn the attention of supporters. Even if you don’t physically sing and dance like a bell ringer, people want a song and dance to move them to act. An extreme example of what Wine to Water did earlier this year to expand its supporter base.

Wine to Water was founded by Doc Hendley, a former bartender turned do-gooder. MSLGROUP, a global public relations agency, adopted Wine to Water after one of its managing directors saw the charity profiled on CNN Heroes. Doc knew that Wine to Water needed to do something dramatic to cut through the clutter and get people’s attention.

With the help of two Napa Valley wine experts, they developed and launched the Miracle Machine, which claimed to turn water into wine in three days.


Fabulous, right?

One publication thought so. Business Insider ran the first story on the Miracle Machine.

That’s all it took!

The mainstream press picked up the story and the Miracle Machine appeared in at least 600 publications, and it was read over 500 million times! A Kickstarter board for the machine generated 7,000 requests for more information on the product.

But underneath all the allure and fascination with this revolutionary product was a GOOD secret. The Miracle Machine was a fake! Two weeks after Business Insider ran its story – the hoaxters came clean. The true miracle is not turning water into wine, but wine to water. That’s the work of Doc Hendley’s organization Wine to Water.

This bell-ringing program from Wine to Water brought in millions of new supporters.

2. It takes a team (of volunteers). While most kettle bells have just one volunteer, the best bell ringers know that you need a team to be a top ringer. That’s the advice of Tom Bomil, a two time winner of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Eve Bell Ringing Contest in Lowell, Massachusetts.

“The key thing is you’re not doing it all by yourself. My name may be at the forefront, but I’m just the captain of what is really a team thing, not an individual effort,” said Bomil to the Lowell Sun. “My co-workers helped me. My brother came out for an hour. They all helped us ringing the bell,”

Bomil’s message is clear: you can’t do it alone. And you can’t afford to accomplish all your goals with paid staff. You need volunteers. But many nonprofits balk at the large-scale volunteer programs that could transform their organizations.

Take the example of Austin Pets Alive! which has gained local and national attention by relentlessly focusing on an everyday tragedy: the unnecessary euthanizing of dogs and cats.

Since 2008, APA! has generated thousands of pieces of content, largely created by a team of volunteers. Thanks to their efforts, Austin is the country’s largest “no-kill” city. “No-kill” means at least 90 percent of strays are not euthanized.

The APA! takes their work seriously. They have around 100 volunteers writing blog posts, pet bios and producing videos starring dogs and cats in need of homes. They also contribute content like how-to guides for no-kill advocates and adopter resource information for new pet owners.

If you take volunteer engagement as seriously like The Salvation Army and Austin Pets Alive! do you’ll can make someone’s Christmas wish come true!

Adam Sowers on Flickr

3. Technology is your friend with benefits.

The Salvation Army has been raising money with red kettle bells since the 1890’s. And while it raises the bulk of its money from this traditional tactic, the nonprofit hasn’t hesitated to embrace technology and try new tactics. They include:

  • An online red kettle program you can join to collect personal donations.
  • An iPhone app that lets you ring your own bell and collect donations.
  • Red kettles with QR codes that take donors with smartphones but no cash to an online donation site.
  • Another mobile option is text-to-give. Just send a text to 4-1-4-4-4 with the words REDSHIELD. You’ll receive a confirmation text and a link to a mobile website.
  • A hashtag campaign that encourages Americans to share personal reasons for donating with the hashtag #RedKettleReason.

If a century-old organization can embrace social media, online giving and mobile technology, so can you! Businesses especially are looking for digitally savvy nonprofits that can keep pace with their own online and mobile efforts. After hosting an online red kettle program that raised $50,000, the fourth largest pizza delivery company in the country, Papa John’s Pizza, created a Red-Kettle Cookie. Through December 28th, Papa John’s will donate 50 cents per cookie sold, up to $300,000, to The Salvation Army.


Adopting technology and being cutting edge hasn’t been easy for The Salvation Army - and not everything works. But like any army they’re focused on pushing forward. So should you.

Start Your Own Kettle Fundraiser


While The Salvation Army’s fundraising strategy is no secret, here’s something you might not have realized. Salvation Army red kettles are just donation boxes (aka coin canisters). But instead of being outside near the entrance or exit, donation boxes are inside the store right next to the register.

A lot of nonprofits dismiss donation boxes as old-school and a huge hassle. But when done well, these programs can raise thousands of dollars locally and tens of millions of dollars nationally!

Here’s how to execute your own successful donation box program.

Target busy stores. With donation boxes, the more foot traffic there is the more money you’ll raise. It’s a numbers game in that your odds improve as you see more people. Sure, you can put a donation box in a tailor’s shop. But how many customers does a tailor see each day? Not as many as a supermarket, coffee shop, or bakery.

Cash is king. A while back a car dealership called me about doing donation boxes. I told them to choose something else. How many people are buying cars with cash, much less quarters, nickels and dimes? Target businesses where people pay with cash.

No tips allowed. Tip jars are popular at many businesses. But your coin canister won’t be if you try to replace the tip jar with your donation box. Employees depend on the tip jar! A Starbucks barista once told me that tips added $50 per week to her paycheck. If you include your charity canister alongside a tip jar, one will go missing. And it won’t be the tip jar!

Front and center. I’ve seen donation boxes in the strangest places, including a men’s bathroom in one store. The best place for a donation box is right in front of the cash register. Don’t give people an excuse to say no. A donation box anywhere except at the register is just begging to be ignored.

Security is key. Theft is a big problem with donation boxes, especially with the round canisters with the slot in the top. It’s demoralizing to the business and the nonprofit when they get swiped. Either empty canisters regularly to discourage thieves, or invest in heavy-duty donation boxes that can’t be stolen. Whatever you do, make security a priority.

Donation boxes are an excellent way to begin a partnership with a business. The USO has grown its donation box partnership with convenience store chain Kangaroo Express into a million dollar program. The fundraiser includes special events with patriotic show cars visiting KE stores and customers showing their appreciation for troops with recorded messages aired on the Salute Our Troops website.

Looking for more examples of donation box fundraisers? Here are 39 example of donation boxes that are sure to educate and inspire!

One request: don’t set up your donation box next to a red kettle. December is for The Salvation Army! You have eleven other months to amass your own pot of gold. When you do see a red kettle this month, give generously and know that the bell ringer is a call to action for the new year. The poets words ring true. “Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Joe Waters shows do-gooder nonprofits and businesses how to create win-win partnerships that raise money for good causes and increase stakeholder loyalty. He blogs at Subscribe to his podcast CauseTalk Radio on iTunes!

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Thu, December 04 2014

A post-#GivingTuesday Flowchart

Liz Ragland's avatar

Marketing Content Associate, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Fun stuff • Giving Days •

#GivingTuesday is over. Now what? Use this simple flowchart to determine your next steps:



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Thu, November 20 2014

Rallying the Troops: the Staff Plan for #GivingTuesday

Jamie McDonald's avatar

Chief Giving Officer, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Events • Fun stuff • Giving Days •

Make #GivingTuesday an event for your team, and a win for those you serve.

giving tuesday

In less than 2 weeks it will be December 2nd, and #GivingTuesday will be here. Whether you’ve planned for months or just for a week or two, there’s one more thing you can do to make it a great day for your nonprofit.

Organizations large and small can put their campaigns over the top on #GivingTuesday by creating a “day of generosity” that involves your staff, board, and volunteers. Plan a day of hard-working fun that involves your team in outreach and celebration as you hit milestones toward your goal.

The recommendations below are targeted at a mid-sized organization, so scale the plan for your day up or down to fit your organization’s capacity.

Make it a party!

Set up a #Givingtuesday ‘war room’ so the team is all together in one place. There will be hard work to do and a party atmosphere will make a long day more fun.

Consider these suggestions to elevate the excitement and spur the efforts of your staff and volunteers:

  • Provide special t-shirts, wristbands, hats or other swag if you have it. If you don’t, consider asking each team member to wear something in the colors of your organization’s logo to create that spirit of a team.

  • Have food throughout the day.

  • Have a first gift ceremony, where the team members contribute whatever they can to the campaign and put that total on the board as the “founders” gifts for the campaign.

  • Take an UNselfie of each team member and one of the whole team together and post on social media.

  • Have a visible tally board so everyone can see when you are getting close to key milestones

  • Covering the day

    Your #GivingTuesday staff plan should cover a time period from about 8am to 10pm. The busiest donation periods are likely to be from 9am to 3pm and 7pm to 10pm, and these are the windows when you’ll want the most coverage.

    Suggested staff roles

    Leader Appoint a leader so campaign staff have a single point of contact for questions throughout the day. The leader should have a list of contact information for all staff and partners (include cell phone numbers and email addresses). He or she should be ready to address technology issues should there be problems with your online giving site. Have the phone number of your software provider handy in the event there is an issue. He or she may also be assigned as designated representative to talk with the media if there is press interest in your campaign. The leader (or a designee) should be ready with talking points highlighting the key aspects of the campaign.

  • Thank key partners and sponsors

  • Alert the community to Day-of challenges and contests (especially if they change hourly)

  • Inspire the community with Day-of rewards or incentives

  • Ask the community to GIVE and SHARE

  • Mention the Campaign Hashtag and URL

  • Phone outreach team

    Your phones can be the most powerful weapon on #GivingTuesday. You can organize an actual phone-a-thon of sorts, reaching out to supporters to thank them for past generosity and invite them to join your #GivingTuesday campaign. At a minimum, you should reach out to board members, key friends of your organization, and active volunteers to enlist their participation as givers or sharers.

    Donor support

    Assign one or more people to be available to answer questions from donors should they arise.

    Social outreach staff

    The social team will be the ambassadors of excitement for the campaign. They will focus on:

  • · Building excitement by posting content to social media channels.

  • Engaging with followers, fans, tweets.

  • Promoting key milestone content such as Goal Updates, Prize winners, media coverage.

  • Alerting other staff to any social postings related to issues or questions.

  • Forwarding any social postings from the media to the team leader.

  • Volunteer Event coordinator

    If your nonprofit is hosting a hands-on service event for #GivingTuesday, the volunteer service coordinator should be part of the war room team. Ask them to provide photos, quotes, and results from the volunteer activity that can be shared with potential supporters online and in email.

    Work hard, have fun, focus on your goals, and it will be a great #GivingTuesday!


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    Mon, September 08 2014

    Reclaim Back to School: How to Stay Energized, Relevant, and at the Top of Your Game

    Nancy Schwartz's avatar

    Nonprofit Marketing Expert

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    Filed under:   Fun stuff • Nonprofit leadership •

    Our daughter, Charlotte, recently started sixth grade, and the pumped-up energy at school that first morning really got me thinking.

    “Back to school” is one of the definers of fall as we know it. It’s right up there with apples, the changing colors of the leaves, and Halloween.

    Here are all these kids marching into the unknown for nine months of learning and growth. Some are thrilled to be starting again, others are longing for the pool or camp, but all have this incredible opportunity to be exposed to new content, to digest it in the context of what they know now, and to arrive on the far side with a fresh perspective and new skills. I’m envious!

    Few of us have this kind of formal growth opportunity, but ongoing intellectual and creative growth is vital. It’s the only way to ensure that our marketing and fundraising content is relevant while fueling our personal satisfaction.

    My call to action for you and me? Let’s reclaim back to school. Let’s schedule some learning—via conversation, reading, participating—into every day, even if for only five minutes. Learning is energizing, positive, and productive, but you have to make it happen.

    Here are the five main methods I use to keep learning:

    1. Read and watch content (blogs, e-newsletters, social media, books, videos) in the field, from nonprofits in all sectors, and from expert marketers—in the nonprofit world and beyond—and fundraisers. This helps me keep current on trends, models, needs, tools, and news.

    2. Scan the world news, and process how it affects your work and the perspectives of the folks your organization strives to connect with.

    3. Participate in hands-on group workshops and webinars, so I’m doing rather than just digesting. For me, the doing reinforces learning like nothing else.

    4. Push myself to take on the next new challenge, and make sure there’s always a “next challenge” to tackle. Right now I’m focusing on developing several new training modules and a new small-group online learning program. You may think about how to meet the needs of an underserved part of your community or tackle a new donor segment.

    5. Synthesize what I learn with what I know and share that with you in blog posts, e-news articles, speaking gigs, and training. This is the linchpin of my learning program, pushing me to put it all together—for you!

    I guarantee I get my learning by scheduling it every day in “ink” on the calendar. This time-blocking approach works wonders for me.

    Starting today, reclaim back to school as your own. Schedule time daily to stimulate your mind, nourish your soul, stay on top of the world you’re working in (and communicating into), refine your perspective, and build your expertise and impact—all prerequisites to creating the relevant content and calls to action that best engage the folks whose help you need to move your mission forward!

    How do you keep learning even when your professional development budget is zilch? Please share your learning habits and favorite resources in the comments below!

    With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build the strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at

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    Fri, August 15 2014

    Why the #IceBucketChallenge works

    Caryn Stein's avatar

    VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

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    Filed under:   Fun stuff • Fundraising essentials • Marketing essentials • Social Media •

    Are your social networks full of friends being doused in icy water? You’ve witnessed the #IceBucketChallenge.

    Ethel Kennedy Ice Bucket challenge

    The “Ice Bucket Challenge” has taken the world by storm, prompting people across the nation to take note of, promote, and donate in support of research and assistance for those diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Challengers throw down the gauntlet to their peers:  dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate to support the ALS Association. It’s an unusual request that has a lot of people taking notice. Ethel Kennedy even challenged President Obama to join in, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has dared Bill Gates to do the same

    How has any of this helped the charity? The ALS Association shares how this viral hit has helped to grow their audience—and their donation totals (over $4M so far). This represents a 1,000% spike in donations compared to the same time period last year.

    So, why do campaigns like this take off? How do they tap into the part of us that shares, supports, and acts? Here are seven basic reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge is so successful. (Note: These factors can also help make your next campaign more effective.)

    It’s social. We’re social creatures, and we tend to do what other people are doing, whether we want to admit it or not. It’s who we are. We look to social norms to guide us. It’s peer pressure…for good.

    It’s personal.  There’s just something about hearing and seeing your family, friends, colleagues, and public figures speak and take action. This powerful personal trigger combines with social norms to inspire action. It wouldn’t have the same effect if a complete stranger (or an organization) asked you to take the challenge.

    It’s simple. The ask is pretty clear: dump a bucket of water on your head or give. That’s the choice. There’s not too much to think about there, which is the hallmark of an effective marketing message. Some may argue that an even simpler choice would limit the option to only one:  give. In this case, the ask is important, for sure, but the reason this has spread so quickly (and, in turn, raised so much money for ALS) is due to the stunt. Your ask may be easy, important, and necessary, but remember that it still needs a vehicle to reach your audience.

    It’s slightly irrational.  Sometimes we are more likely to give when a stunt is more unusual, painful, or downright weird. Want proof? Look to Christopher Olivola’s experiments from The Science of Giving.

    It’s direct.  Instead of issuing a blanket plea, the challenge is built around publicly calling people out. By name. When you want people to pay attention and take action, it makes a difference when you identify an individual vs. asking “everyone” to help.

    It’s consistent.  Instead of deviating from the script, each participant in the Ice Bucket Challenge focuses on the same challenge and specifically supports the ALS Association. This provides a common experience and goal, which helps build momentum and community. The same wouldn’t be true if the actions or causes were randomly selected.

    It’s different.  Let’s face it. It’s hard to stand out on social media, but we know that photos and videos of our friends make us linger for more than a few seconds. And people doing silly things like dumping freezing water on themselves? America’s Funniest Home Videos can’t even compare!

    With all of these things going for it, the challenge does have some critics who say the stunt is merely slacktivism and doesn’t represent a real avenue for fundraising. I’m glad to see some good conversations around this, as I think it’s important for fundraisers and marketers to understand the opportunities—and the limits—of these types of campaigns. That said, as Justin Ware (The Social Side of Giving) points out, if an effort leads to 7-figure fundraising results, it’s difficult to dismiss this example of “slacktivism” as a dead-end street. Justin also smartly clues in on the real opportunity: being able to further engage and retain these new supporters. In his recent Selfish Giving newsletter, Joe Waters underscores the importance of leading with engagement before making the ask. This is where these types of social campaigns really shine.

    What do you think of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Love it, hate it, or getting your bucket ready while you’re reading this? Chime in below and share your thoughts!

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