The Twin Cities Salvation Army is hoping to boost donations this year to meet rising costs due to inflation and a growing number of Minnesotans in need of help.
The Roseville-based nonprofit — one of the largest social service nonprofits in Minnesota — kicked off its annual Red Kettle campaign Saturday, aiming to raise $2 million at 300 kettles deployed outside Twin Cities retailers and stores through Christmas Eve.
It's part of the Salvation Army's broader year-end goal to raise $12.5 million for its programs, the highest goal the Twin Cities nonprofit has ever set for its annual fundraiser.
"Families are feeling stretched more than they ever have," said Maj. Scott Shelbourn, who leads the Twin Cities unit of the Salvation Army's Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and North Dakota and aims to raise $21.9 million across the region.
"Our services are being requested at pretty unprecedented rates outside of the pandemic levels," Shelbourn said. "We see the need and know what we need to have to be at full capacity to serve the community."
Higher costs are pinching nonprofits' budgets across Minnesota. In a report released this month by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, more than 70% of nonprofits surveyed said they've seen or are expecting to see an increase in demand for their services, while more than 80% report that their expenses have risen or soon will.
Yet, many nonprofits report government and foundation grants have leveled off to pre-pandemic levels after a spike in aid at the start of COVID-19. That's leaving more nonprofits financially crunched and in deficit at year's end. Half of nonprofits surveyed ended 2021 with a surplus, but less than a quarter expect to close this year with a surplus.
At the Salvation Army, expenses are up 10% to 20% over last year's costs because of items from higher fuel costs for delivery vehicles to higher wages for its 300 employees. While the number of people in need has dropped from higher levels during the pandemic, the organization still is serving more people compared with 2019. Shelters are full, Shelbourn said.
"There is a great need in our community," he said.
Record donations that spiked at the start of the pandemic have since waned and fallen below last year's totals, Shelbourn said. The number of volunteers also is lagging just when thousands are needed to fill about 10,000 time slots to ring bells. Those interested in volunteering can go to salvationarmynorth.org/kettle.
If the organization doesn't hit its $12.5 million goal for the year-end fundraising campaign — more than half of its $24 million annual budget — Shelbourn said it may have to limit programs or services.
This year, the Salvation Army is hoping to capture the attention of donors with something new: a massive Christmas tree in St. Paul's Rice Park. The Red Kettle campaign kicked off Saturday with the unveiling of the 40-foot artificial tree, featuring more than 25,000 lights. The holiday tree — the first erected in the downtown park since 2019 — will be on display through early January.
With fewer people shopping in person during the pandemic and fewer carrying spare change and cash to drop in the kettles, the Salvation Army is relying more on online and mobile pay options.
Last year, the organization added Venmo and PayPal to accept donations. In 2020, the Salvation Army boosted the use of QR codes at its kettles that let donors scan with smartphones to link to the donation website. And in 2019, the organization added bump pay options that let people "bump" or scan smartphones to make a digital donation via Apple Pay or Google Pay. All those options will be available again this year.
"We know people don't carry around as much cash as they used to," Shelbourn said. "The more the community gives to the Salvation Army ... we turn around to give it back to the community."