WorldVue interviews Kelli Trinoskey, of The Salvation Army, who tells us how one of the most well known charitable causes in the world is expanding to do even more to help those in need.
Tell us a little about your organization and yourself.
The Salvation Army is a national organization and The Salvation Army in Central Ohio is a chapter, I guess you could call it, of the larger organization. We're everywhere around the country and in the world - but every area has their own mission areas that they focus on. So it is truly interesting, because we'll have programs that people in maybe Chicago or Minnesota do or don't run. It's just very interesting how the programs and services of The Salvation Army varies, but the mission is usually always intact: meeting basic needs. So it's usually food, clothing, shelter, education; kind of the real basic needs.
Personally, I have been with The Salvation Army for over four years and my role is to serve as the Director of Community and Public Relations. I handle all the media, all the print publications, the website, and I work with my team on events. We publish a newsletter quarterly and an Annual Review yearly. The biggest part of my job is just getting our story out into the media, getting coverage, responding to requests for interviews. Also, managing social media falls to me. Which is fun, and we've been able to grow our presence a lot, because nationally The Salvation Army has, in the last couple of years, gotten a lot more out front with messaging and sharing messaging. So, that has helped tremendously. The overall message of doing the most good - who we help, how we work to combat poverty, is at the core of most of our social media messaging.
How has social media, mobile, and digital marketing generally impacted your company?
Well we started on Facebook and we were kind of slow to engage, but our engagement has grown over the last four years by close to 300 percent. Off the top of my head, when I started in 2011, I think we had around 5-600 followers or likes on our page. Today we have close to 2,500. We have a lot more engagement with our corporate partners, our donors, and our volunteers. They want to engage. They want to know what's going on with the organization. It's really great because we can send out local messages or we can share content more nationally to educate everybody. Because again, I think the biggest thing is what you said - there are still a lot of people who don't know all that we really do. They think of us as only having to do with Christmas and Red Kettles, but it's great to educate and say, "Did you know we operate seven food pantries, we have four after-school learning centers, and we have housing programs?" It's just great because people don't necessarily always know that. So, I try to use it as much of an engagement as an education tool to tell our story. On particular video we rolled-out this fall about a woman, Mary, who shared why she always donates when she passes a red kettle generated a lot of sharing and liking of our page. It also generated a lot of positive comments.
Twitter would probably be the second platform that we are most active on. LinkedIn, a little bit. We have a Salvation Army in Central Ohio page. A lot of our board members are connected through there. I'll post job openings and things like that on LinkedIn. My goal is to venture into Instagram this year, because we have so many volunteers, especially around the holidays, and we want them to make sure they're seeing their photos. It's just a whole other area that I think we could engage probably more of our volunteers. Just to give you an idea, we have 20-some thousand hours of service, mostly volunteers. They're out there and they're doing cute things like bringing their pets to their shift ringing the bell at a red kettle. So, we need the photos out there and we need to start sharing them and then also we have a Christmas program. It's the largest distribution of toys and food in Central Ohio, and we have anywhere from 2000 volunteers that help with that. It's just kind of a natural place to put everything up on Facebook, but, as you know, there's also Instagram. I know there are other social media platforms that are growing in popularity because I have a 19-year-old daughter and I know there's other social media areas that are hot and growing. I just have to be realistic on what I can manage and populate on a regular basis.
What trends are happening in your industry or with your customers that are affecting you?
Well, the assumption is knowing - because of the industry's trend - knowing that Facebook is not a fundraising tool; it's just an engagement tool. It could lead to donations at red kettles or online but we cannot assume that. I added a donate button to our facebook page but it hasn’t garnered any donations to date. And that's fine; we were like, "It's really easy to set up, go ahead and do it." What has been more interesting is to learn is how other local non profits push out content. I always feel like I don't want to be in people's faces too much. I've learned to really think about frequency of posts and content. Because you have to always judge what is worthwhile content. What is just fluff and I really don’t want to get in the bad habit of oversaturating. I've gone to a couple of free, non-profit social media seminars, and everyone says it so important to be really purposeful with your content and with your posts.
I like to also post photos of our volunteers having fun. I hope it will inspire other people to volunteer with our organization. I mean that's kind of one way. A "look-back", or a feed to see what I think would connect. A lot more in line of "Did you know?" kind-of posts, or I think the other thing is just getting really good visuals that's going to attract people. Good visuals and cute kids! And videos, I've been putting up a lot more video, because I know that's always a big plus. So, good visuals. Sometimes I have better access through the national site so I often get really good stock photos. And then just kind of local flavor and local folks. We have a wonderful partnership with the Columbus Crew Soccer Club here. They're really supportive cross-promoting when they do stuff for us and when their players come out and volunteer. That, I know, is invaluable because they're sending it out to their followers, but also we're putting them on our page and that's going to make us appeal to a totally different demographic. So, partnering and sharing on social media. We're very lucky, we have a great partnership with the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation. Again, another way to reach a much younger demographic through sharing posts. They come out to our events because it feels good, it's great, they like to give back. With The Salvation Army, it's very iconic, the brand. If they're associated with The Salvation Army, I think the feeling is it's a good tried and true organization. It's been around since 1865 and I think it's good for both sides of the partnership.
How is mobile impacting your marketing?
Well, the fact that a couple years ago we moved to a responsive website was huge. Especially if you look at the non-profit world trends with mobile giving and making it so that it doesn't drive you crazy figuring out how to donate. It's easy to navigate our website, which I think is huge. You have to be with the times and that's one thing that we're really working through. The other thing I've heard we have a partnership with MobileCause, and it'll be interesting to see how that is rolled out nationally and how it pairs with mobile giving. I just think it's funny because a lot of people will do searches on us and one of our biggest search inquiries is people wanting to donate a couch, or wanting to figure out how to donate, or they want to find a thrift store to donate to. We're so much more than that, but again we have a good website, we come up in searches, and that may be the starting point. They just want to get rid of their couch but they have no idea that by donating to our thrift stores, they are funding an adult rehab center for long-term in house treatment for those struggling with addiction. It has really good results and it's life-changing.
The one here in Central Ohio is for men only, but our Dayton one is for women and men. Participants are fighting their addictions but they’re also getting work-experience. They're getting back on their feet. With a couch donation, and again, if there's a way to tell that story through social media, those are the fun posts, I think. "Spring-cleaning, give a couch, save a life."
We have to figure out this mobile giving. We have to get more on board with that this year. Locally, we really embraced our virtual Red Kettle, or online Red Kettle where people could donate online. The traditional kettles are great but if you don't shop at certain stores and if you don't carry cash, we're missing a lot of people who would donate. So, we really put a lot of work behind our online Red Kettle this year, and we had some really great results. We're excited as we move forward towards doing more online giving. It's really peer-to-peer fundraising, and it kind of was our first time. Locally at least. Nationally it's been going on for years, but locally we embraced it this year.
Our over all online giving is up from past years. And the other thing that we have found is people tend to give larger gifts online than they would even if they mailed us a check. It's kind of interesting. Our average online gifts are much higher than a normal donation. I can't really speak to the traditional Red Kettle because that's anonymous. I do help count the money and there are 50's in there, there are hundred-dollar-bills in there, and there's 20's. I mean people are extremely generous; it's really unbelievable.
How do you find Collaborative partners?
You know, it's really interesting because, especially around Christmas, we have companies that want to come out to our Christmas assistance program and volunteer in large groups, because it's a great atmosphere, helping the clients shop for toys for their kids. It's a huge scale operation. Just to give you an idea, last year, last December, we helped over 6,500 families in a week period. Just for Christmas and 21,000 plus individuals, almost 11,000 of those are kids; we gave close to 19,000 toys. And we set up this huge kind of Christmas toy shop and then a food shop. People went through the distribution lines with volunteers and it was fun and festive. So, all these companies and groups and organizations and families and neighbors, they all want to do this year after year because it's so fun. It's really hands-on and you're part of something so much bigger than yourself. We've been doing this here in Columbus for, I think way back into the 1930s. It's just the tradition, so we have no trouble finding enough volunteers around the holidays. Bell ringing is a little harder to convince people to try. Again, we have people come back year after year after year; they love it, they want to do it; they know they're really helping. But it's not as appealing to some people. Maybe if you're not very outgoing, it's not going to be easy for you, or if you have to stand outside in the winter, it's not as appealing either.
So, how do we engage new volunteers? We try to find groups, like youth groups, church groups, and specific organizations. We've even ventured into high school, because they have community service hours they have to fulfill. So we've had to be a little more creative. We've partnered with other volunteer organizations in town and supported other organizations. We went and did a volunteer fair for HandsOn Central Ohio, because we knew, "Hey, if we want other organizations to send us volunteers and help us, we need to help them." So much of it is partnership throughout the year.
We even have some corporate partnerships. Like if we are going to meet with a new company and ask for financial donations then we're also going to say, "Hey, if you want to volunteer, we have all these great opportunities to get your workers engaged and giving back to the community. Here's some volunteer opportunities." I think you just have to really kind of package and offer an experience to people. Columbus is a very volunteer-centric place. There's just a lot of volunteering.
What do you look for when hiring or recruiting staff and volunteers?
For volunteers, I think we just engage enthusiastic people. We have a volunteer coordinator that gets a lot of calls from the public and she really tries to find the right fit for a person. She asks a lot of questions, like, "What are you interested in?" “Do you want to work with kids, tutoring in our After School Learning Centers?” I think by matching people with their area of interest will ensure a more successful outcome and volunteer partnership.
Even with scheduling Christmas volunteers, there's so many different parts to the well-oiled machine. You know, "Do you want to work in the food area? Here's what that entails. Do you want to shop with the families? Here's what that entails." Really just giving people an idea that they will have a good experience. And hopefully return when we put out an SOS and say, "Hey we really need help in our food pantry. One of our trusted volunteers is sick and we need help with a huge shipment of food in the pantry. Please help! “ Then hopefully if they've had a good experience they'll say, "Oh, I've got two hours on a Friday afternoon. I'm going to the dentist and then I can come over and help you." It's all about creating a positive experience so that people are engaged and will help. Because, we do have a lot of those times when we just, for whatever reason, we have some event, and we don't have enough volunteers. In those times we have to reach out and we usually have a really good response. I think a lot of our volunteers are repeat volunteers and then they ask a friend to come along, and it just grows organically.
What is your philosophy on building and managing a non-profit?
It's a big question. I can tell you the mission statement of The Salvation Army.
"To meet human needs without discrimination"
Anyone who walks through our door is helped as long as it's within our ability to help them and they get treated with dignity. A lot of our programs, even our food pantry, is set up so our clients are treated with dignity. And they're not just handed a box of food that their family may or may not like. Instead, they get to shop for food in our food pantry. That's a very different model that we've rolled out in Columbus and it's really been embraced.
It's more about the clients that say, "Thank you," or "it's so wonderful I got to pick what I know my family will eat." At Christmas, we don't just hand them a toy for their age-range of kid; they get to pick it out. Again, it's dignity of choice. We're here to help you make your decisions but you have a choice. It's very empowering. So, I think most of it comes from the volunteers seeing that and embracing it. That's why they want to be a part of it. A lot of feedback we get from clients is that we made them feel good and that we didn't make them feel bad about their situation.
What do you think the future of non-profits will be and how will it be different from today?
That's a good question, because I think we're all competing for volunteers and funds vital to fulfilling our missions. And there's so many great causes out there. I just think it'll become more robust with time. If you think about five years ago, even in Columbus, there's a couple of huge, really amazing charities or non-profit causes that weren't here five years ago. So I think we'll just keep continuing to evolve. Probably not so much for us in how we care for people, because I think that has stayed the same and it's now best practice and we're so respected for how we run programs as evidenced by repeat grant funding and the donations that come in the door. But I do think as the majority of our donors continue to age, online and social media use is going to just continue to increase. We need to be able to ask millennials and younger generations for donations.
What are the skills that students should be acquiring today to prepare them to be future Non-profit leaders?
Well-roundedness, I would say. You have to wear a lot of different hats. You're not going to just do one job, and I think that's appealing. I think a lot of young students today have a lot of different skill sets and that's what you're going to have to bring to your position. It's really a good asset for an organization if you can do a bunch of different things, because you'll be asked. And some things you won't know and you’ll just have to figure it out. So initiative is huge. Willingness to learn. Humility. I don't know how you teach that or find that. It takes time sometimes.
The good thing about students this age, I totally believe they're compassionate, engaged people. I think the non-profit world will be in good hands, seriously. They may not have the financial resources, but most kids or students today realize the value of giving back. It's almost part of their culture to be volunteering and to be involved. I think they're kind of going to have that built into their DNA as they move forward. But to just kind of look at any work experience, you never know how it's going to come back to be helpful. So be diverse. I think it's important.