By Tim Schaal
To help obtain more kettle volunteers in 2011, the Western Territory introduced a new and innovative way for people to sign up to ring the bell at a traditional Salvation Army kettle: redkettlevolunteer.org. The web page allows potential bell ringers to pick a location near them and select a date and time to ring the bell.
Volunteer bell ringers are more productive than paid workers at generating income at the kettles—in 2010, only 16.7 percent of the over 130,000 kettles in the Western Territory were manned by volunteers, but they accounted for over 22 percent of the total gross income collected. In addition, volunteer bell ringers allow the Army to retain more of the donations than if it pays its bell ringers.
Once verified by the local Army location, the volunteer will receive a confirmation email with additional details about their assignment, including what to wear, when to show up and what to expect. Then they all have to do is ring the bell, offer a friendly smile, and shout out a cheerful “Merry Christmas” to all who pass by.
In the Western Territory, 21 corps use only volunteers to ring the bell at the red kettles.
The Chico, Calif., corps phased in the volunteer only system 10 years ago with two volunteer-only days a week. Captain Darren Stratton, corps officer, said they use a multi-faceted approach to build the team of volunteers, including contacting last year’s ringers, reaching out to every business and church in the community to see if they would be willing to sponsor a kettle for a day, and a TV commercial to encourage people to sign up. Last year, the Chico Corps had over 400 volunteers throughout the campaign.
“It’s worth recruiting volunteers because it will net more funds back into your programs,” Stratton said. He believes that a campaign using only volunteers will end with higher net funds and establishes better relationships with members of the community.
Stratton recommended assigning volunteers on high-income days, generally Friday and Saturday, and if necessary, then using paid workers to fill in the gaps. Many of the businesses and churches involved in the Chico campaign have also helped with other Salvation Army programs, such as Angel Giving Tree program sponsorship.
As this is the first year of the online volunteer sign-ups, not all Salvation Army locations may be participating. If no assignments are listed near you, call the local Salvation Army corps to volunteer at a kettle this season.