Green Yule for virtual Salvation Army

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Last Christmas, the famous bell-ringers went “cyber” in new ways - and Americans had the Salvation Army’s “virtual” kettles overflowing.

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign, traditionally pictured as volunteers at the entrances to shops and malls during the holiday season, had record-breaking success, the group reported this week.

The Campaign’s 2009 season, helped along by several Internet ideas, overcame poor national economic conditions to take in record donations of $139 million in its Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s run, a 7 percent increase over 2008.

Jennifer Byrd, national public relations director for the Salvation Army, said high Internet usage among today’s population led her group to increase national awareness through social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“We’ve found that we need to reach donors where they are,” she said.

“I think this increase is a testament to the generosity of the American people,” Ms. Byrd said, adding that the current poor economic conditions might actually have helped donations by encouraging the people who can give to do so, because they know more people are in need.

One Internet tactic was the creation of the Salvation Army’s own free iPhone application, which can make the phone ring like a bell when it is shaken. The group said the application was downloaded more than 59,000 times.

Equally creative was Coin Catch, the idea of an anonymous donor in Detroit.

The game, available at www.salarmycoincatch.com, depicts a Salvation Army kettle that must be moved across the screen to catch falling coins, until the game ends when a player accidentally catches a spider or mousetrap. While the game is free to play, the Detroit donor gives one penny to the Salvation Army for every coin that every player worldwide catches.

“We all had fun playing it,” Ms. Byrd laughed.

The Coin Catch game itself did not produce a huge windfall for the cause - “maybe a few thousand dollars,” Ms. Byrd said, all of which went to the Salvation Army in eastern Michigan. But Ms. Byrd was happy about the application anyway, saying its primary goal was to create awareness of the campaign, especially among a “younger, less affluent” target market.

The Salvation Army also used the Internet last season in its new Online Angel Giving Tree Program, a partnership with retailer J.C. Penney. It allowed donors to adopt “Angels,” children and seniors in need, and pay over the Internet for tens of thousands of those individuals’ requested gifts.

The new Internet campaigns accompany the online donation site www.onlineredkettle.org, now in its fifth year of operation.

But don’t look for the group to abandon its iconic bell-ringers any time soon.

“One can’t replace human contact one experiences when dropping some money in a red kettle and talking with a bell-ringer or visiting a Salvation Army center and seeing the work taking place. Those types of touch points with an organization are very important,” Ms. Byrd said.

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