Salvation Army Kicks-Off Holiday Bell Ringing Season
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The Salvation Army is testing a program in Ohio that will allow donors to send a text message to a number posted near 80 kettles in the Columbus area.
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updated 10/22/2008 8:02:03 PM ET 2008-10-23T00:02:03

No change? No problem.

A pilot program will allow Ohioans to donate to the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign this holiday season by sending a text message to a number posted near 80 kettles in the Columbus area. The program is aimed at younger, tech-savvy donors who are less likely to carry cash.

When the campaign begins in late November, people will be able to make a $5 donation, which is then posted to cell phone bills.

Salvation Army officials have talked about creating a texting program for about three years and hope it will be successful enough to expand nationally, spokeswoman Melissa Tomme said.

"Particularly this year, where the economy is such a huge factor, we're all cautiously optimistic about fundraising but we don't really know what to expect," she said.

As the sour economy raises uncertainty, Salvation Army officials are searching for new ways to boost donations and awareness.

Kettle donations in Columbus and nationwide have increased during each of the past five years, as has the need.

The kettle campaign collected $118 million in the U.S. last year, just topping the $117 million raised in 2006. Material donations to the organizations thrift stores have decreased this year, but financial giving trends vary from those donation patterns, Tomme said.

Columbus kettle collections fell $48,000 short of the $550,000 goal last holiday season.

Frank Kirk, who oversees the charity's work in the Columbus area, said this year's goal will be higher, and he's not sure donations will meet the expected demand. But he's optimistic about the text message tactic.

"I've been an officer now for 36 years, and what I've seen is the younger generation now is as generous, if not more generous, than previous generations if you can get to them the message of how to give, what they can do and how their gift will make a difference," Kirk said.

The United Way and other charities have conducted similar fundraising efforts through mobile marketing services.

The text messaging pilot is not the Salvation Army's only attempt to reach a more tech-savvy audience. The online kettle network, which enables people to collect donations via red bucket icons on Internet pages, is in its third year.

At least half a dozen Salvation Army divisions offer updates through the microblogging site Twitter, hoping to reach out beyond the people who donate in response to traditional mailings and phone calls.

"We're just trying to find people who are online who are willing to do the same," said Kathy Lovin, the Salvation Army's Denver-based public affairs director, who sent her first Twitter about the kettle campaign Tuesday.

The charity is also experimenting this year with pages and interactive tools on the Facebook networking Web site.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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