The American people dug deep this past holiday season and helped The Salvation Army, perhaps the most well-known charity in the country, raise a record $130 million.
Surpassing the previous record total of $118 million, the 2008 Red Kettle campaign saw a 10 percent growth in donations – the largest one-year jump since 1997. The announcement was made Tuesday.
"The record level of Red Kettle fundraising this year is an indicator that the American public is still willing to give during times of great need," said Salvation Army spokesperson Melissa Temme. "With all the talk this Christmas about increased need in the slowing economy, the public dug deep to help out their neighbors."
Amid hard economic times for hundreds of thousands of Americans, many chose to cut back on spending and give more generously to charitable organizations, as a 2008 World Vision survey indicated. U.S. retail sales fell by 2.7 percent in December, which was more than expected.
"We know that Americans always give more in time of need, so we were confident that they would again respond to the call with an outstanding show of generosity," said Commissioner Israel L. Gaither, National Commander of The Salvation Army. "The Red Kettle campaign is stronger than ever as it must be during these challenging times."
Despite the good news of record giving, the Christian charity hasn't been immune to the recession.
Local Salvation Army Corps have been impacted by the economic downturn in different ways, according to Temme.
"The Metro Detroit Salvation Army, for example, fell nearly $2 million short of their annual Red Kettle fundraising goal," she noted.
"So, while this (total giving) is obviously good news, we don't want to downplay the significant struggles that certain parts of the country are having in terms of fundraising and the fact that the money raised locally stays locally," she stated.
Additionally, local Corps have also been seeing sharp increases in the number of people requesting assistance. And in some cases, the charity had to turn some people away because of higher demand.
Many Salvation Army Corps have reported that the cost of service for one individual or family has risen sharply over the past five years, and they are also finding that individuals and families are requiring more service per person than before the recession.
Still, the charity is making the necessary cuts to ensure that resources are allocated to where they are most needed – serving people in need. Some Salvation Army branches are cutting back administratively such as instituting hiring freezes, cutting back on travel budgets, and furloughs, according to Temme.
"Even during economically sound times, The Salvation does more with less, making every dollar count," the spokesperson highlighted.
The annual Red Kettle campaign kicked off in November 2008 with a performance by the Jonas Brothers band. The three popular brothers proved to provide major support to the fundraiser, participating in promotional activities and hosting their own online red kettle. Their participation may have impacted giving among young Americans, Temme noted.
Other factors that contributed to the record level of giving include the Army's new use of technology. Facebook, Twitter and text messaging were utilized to reach new donors this past holiday season as well as "cashless kettles" which allowed donors to donate with a credit card.
Donations to red kettles at Walmart and Sam's Club stores accounted for more than $34 million or 26 percent of the total raised. Other corporate partners the Army worked with include The Kroger's Company, Melodeo, The National Hockey League, Shell Oil and Target.
The Army saw the largest increases in giving in the Eastern and Southern territories.