- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

The Salvation Army's bright, red-kettle campaign has moved to cyberspace, including its bell ringers.
The evangelical Christian nonprofit, the seventh-largest charity in the nation, is experimenting with a donation Web site as it struggles to meet fund-raising goals amid a decline in charitable giving.
The site, www.ring2help.org, is an experimental venture between the Christian church and Kintera, a San Diego technology firm for nonprofits. The goal is to penetrate the online donation market, which hit $96 million in 2001, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a news publication for foundations and charities.
Donors click on a ringing virtual kettle to send money to local chapters in Texas, Georgia and the Washington area, which includes the District, Alexandria and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince William and Prince George's.
Herb Rader, spokesman for the Washington chapter, said he expected smaller online traffic for the site, which was started last week, despite offering incentives like online store coupons and personalized Web pages.
"This is more of a way to see how well the Web site will be received and how many people will refer it to friends, rather than a way to recoup donation losses this year," Mr. Rader said.
The red kettle, which was started by a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco in 1891, stands outside department stores, malls, strip centers and grocery stores with volunteers ringing bells from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.
The Washington-area kettle campaign generally accrues one-third of the chapter's annual budget of $19 million, which is still $7 million short of meeting its goal, said Bernie Dake, director of development.
"We hope to raise $1 million through the red kettles and this online version," Mr. Dake said.
Last year, volunteer bell ringers nationwide collected $91 million in 20,000 kettles, higher than the national projections, spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Jones said.
"It's always hard to tell how the local chapters will do, especially this year when they have a number of factors against them," like rising unemployment and a struggling economy, he said. Other problems include more shoppers carrying credit cards instead of change, six fewer shopping days from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve and inclement weather that has discouraged shopping in the North, Midwest and South.
Local Salvation Army posts also have fewer spots to solicit donations. Dozens of Ames and Kmart department stores have closed, and several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Sears, Roebuck & Co., J.C. Penney and Home Depot, ban charitable groups from standing in front of their stores, Mr. Jones said.
"That said, we hope to tap into the growing online shopping market with this Web site, primarily at getting a younger, more computer-savvy donor group," he said.
Despite the peak of online donations after the September 11 attacks, Christopher Dann, a nonprofit consultant, said individual donors, the main red-kettle contributors, prefer to give donations in person.
"The site will generate some new donor growth, but not at a high rate," said Mr. Dann, president of DSD in Lakespur, Calif. "The red kettle itself is a medium that people identify as hope and charitable giving at Christmastime."
The Salvation Army and other national charities like the American Red Cross and United Way are projecting lower donations for December, usually the biggest month for individual donations.
Mr. Dake estimated that the Washington-area chapter has lost 2 percent to 5 percent of red-kettle donations while increasing aid to 12,000 families, including more than 20,000 children, this year.
"We haven't been hit as hard as other counterparts in the Southern region," which have reported up to a 15 percent loss in red-kettle donations, Mr. Dake said. "But the District area is facing a very serious cash-flow problem, and we haven't factored in the emergency applicants we'll get as Christmas gets closer."
The Salvation Army uses 83 cents of each dollar donated to fund services like adult rehabilitation centers, youth programs, food and clothes drives, disaster relief and Christmas dinners. The Christian church acts as an army of spiritual and community services, headed by a national commander.
Overall charitable donations declined to $212 billion last year, with $161 billion of the donations from individual donors, according to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, an Indianapolis organization that promotes corporate governance for charities.
In a recent survey, 48 percent of 2,725 public charities and private foundations reported declining donations from January to October compared with the first 10 months of 2001, according to Philanthropic Research, a Williamsburg nonprofit research group.
Linda Lampkin, program director for the National Center for Charitable Statistics, a unit of the Urban Institute, said charities are facing the age-old problem of too few resources for a growing number of families while competing with a growing number of new charities.
"About 22,000 charities have formed since 1996 and they're growing at a rapid rate that is not parallel with the number of donors in the nation," Ms. Lampkin said. "Charities are going to tighten their belts this year and look to the Internet and other mediums to stay afloat."

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