A Peek Behind the Curtain at The Salvation Army

Community engagement is key as we prepare for Christmas

Here at The Salvation Army it is Christmas in August! While most people are enjoying shorter work weeks and those last summer vacation days, we are busy planning all of our events, campaigns, strategies, and building the partnerships needed to raise millions of dollars to help those in need in metro Detroit this winter. As director of communications at The Salvation Army, Eastern Michigan Division, I’m looking at these plans through a wide lens to ensure that we include as many audiences, opportunities and platforms as possible.

As most readers of this blog know, public relations, very simply defined, encompasses all of the activities we do to garner press coverage for our clients whether we work at an agency, a non-profit, small business or corporate setting. Crafting stories and writing press releases, pitching, writing letters to the editor, booking talk radio and visiting television morning news shows, interviews with journalists…getting coverage and getting the message out through the press is the essence of good public relations.

I submit that in the age of total connectivity, public relations encompasses much more than media hits. I look at public relations within the non-profit fundraising arena as more of an umbrella term which includes all of the facets of media relations mentioned above, but also includes a wider approach focusing on community engagement. A PR professional can garner interest from the media but if a full community engagement approach is not part of the plan, then media relations will likely fall flat.

Yes, our red kettle communications plans include a strong media relations effort, but the plan is supported by engaging content like powerful client stories, and unique local events like our Red Kettle Kick-Off, when the world’s tallest red kettle lights up at Campus Martius Park on Friday, November 22, during Detroit’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. While we are sharing stories with the media, connecting with the public, and serving those in need, we are simultaneously sharing impactful stories of hope with our donors.

We prop up our media strategies by making sure our website is up to date and easy to navigate, our creative is fresh and engaging, digital and print marketing strategies are aligned, volunteers, donors and corporate partners are organized and mobilized, and of course, email and social media strategy are well-planned and making followers and friends feel excited about the work we are doing and inspired to get involved.

All of these components working in cohesive alignment ensure we stick the landing and have a stellar red kettle fundraising season.

Shameless plug:

Join us this season! We are looking for volunteer bell-ringers this holiday season. Ringing is set to begin on November 9 and sign up begins on September 1 so stay tuned to our Facebook page to ring at a location near you. Be a part of our #FightForGood!

Sharon Tatom Garcia is director of communications for The Salvation Army, Eastern Michigan Division. She has 20 years of non-profit communications leadership experience focused on improving lives through communication and community engagement.