15 Branding Lessons from the Salvation Army

Salvation Army Red Kettle

You may complain every so often about the number of competitors you face, but consider yourself lucky you don’t work in the competitive nonprofit world. I know, with this economy, you sometimes feel you are a nonprofit…but that’s beside the point.

There are over 1,000,000 charities throughout the U.S. – some great and some not so great – and the Salvation Army is one brand that is head and shoulders above the bunch. It was recently ranked as the second strongest non profit power brand behind the YMCA.

The late great father and guru of modern day management Peter Drucker called the Salvation Army the most effective organization in the world.

The Salvation Army doesn’t have a brand problem, you see a Red Kettle and you know where the money is going. Due to the today’s economy, donations are down (as they are with most all non profits) and requests for services such as food and shelter are up.

However, with the expected downturn in end of the year donations, which are often a critical source of revenue for nonprofits, keep your eye on the Salvation Army because these folks rock in what they do and how they do it.

And, here are 15 reasons why the Salvation Army brand is so successful (and a few things Marketers can learn from them in terms of building a quality brand).

  1. They do remarkable things – they rebuild and save lives
  2. They have integrity – and their mission is a faith-based calling.
  3. They’re authentic, honest, sincere, consistent, reliable and transparent
  4. They have a consistent brand image served with key brand icons such as their Red Shield logo and Red Kettle (you see a Red Kettle you know where the money is going).
  5. They have a great story and tell it over and over again wonderfully well (read Red Kettle Story here).
  6. They know what they stand for and who they are (read 11 Articles of Faith) and read their 12 Position Statements here about abortion, alcohol and drugs, economic justice, euthanasia, gambling, homosexuality, human equality, human trafficking, marriage, pornography, religious persecution and suicide. Now, you may not agree with all of their positions, but you cannot argue that they do not know who they are and what they stand for…do you?
  7. They’re a proven brand that’s been accountable for over 130 years which has made it one of the world’s largest and most trusted providers of social services
  8. Most of their work is done without beating their own chests – their word of mouth buzz is delivered by the grateful people they serve
  9. They’re transparent with their fundraising (83 cents of every dollar goes directly to providing services). The Army’s administrative costs are not charged against funds donated.
  10. They get results
  11. They’re typically the quickest responders to people in need (see Wall Street Journal article – Advantage: God – Why the Salvation Army beats the Red Cross – about the differences in their respective responses during September 11, 2001).
  12. They generate multiple streams of revenue via many online and offline methods (e.g., Classic, Virtual and Mobile – Red Kettle Campaign in retail and heavily trafficked areas and online Virtual Red  Kettle Campaigns).
  13. Their flat decentralized organizational model (e.g., each U.S. region typically controls its own e-mail campaigns) includes Salvation Army officers, staffers, lay people, volunteers and other committed fans. According to this USA Today article from a few years back, it coordinates nearly 4,000 officers, 113,000 soldiers, 420,000 members, 60,000 employees and 3.5 million volunteers. FYI by contrast, Wal-Mart, the largest private employer, has 2.1 million associates.
  14. They have a rabid fan base of marketing partners and such as JCPenney (see online Angel Giving Tree program), Target and Wal-Mart.
  15. As their donor base has been getting older, they’ve worked hard to be more modern and relevant and have ventured more heavily into Web 2.0 Marketing with Facebook (500+ groups), Twitter, iPhone apps, online banner ads on AOL, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and Yahoo. They try to be everywhere their fans are – especially younger fans – and are into newer edgier tactics such as magic and stunts.

If you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas Gift to give, consider giving to the Salvation Army.

Merry Christmas and have a great New Marketing Year!

P.S.: Here’s an inspirational interview on the management philosophy of the Salvation Army’s National Commander Israel Gaither. He’s a heck of a guy – and why not – he’s from Pittsburgh!

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