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Salvation Army in W.Pa. uses social media campaign | TribLIVE.com
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Salvation Army in W.Pa. uses social media campaign

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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
William McCue, of the North Side, selects some canned goods from the shelves at Northside Food Pantry, Wednesday, Nov. 26,
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Dee Tolbert, of the North Side, prepares an order for a client at Northside Food Pantry, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. She has been a volunteer at the location for more than 10 years.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
William McCue, of the North Side, laughs as he thinks of creative ways to use some of the food offered at Northside Food Pantry, Wednesday, Nov. 26,
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Volunteer John Brown, right, assists client Zach Johnson, of the North Side, with selections at Northside Food Pantry, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014.

The Salvation Army this year introduced the social media campaign #RedKettleReason , urging people to share online stories about why they donated money to the agency.

The Northside Food Pantry is in its second year of accepting donations ordered and shipped directly from online retail giant Amazon.com.

Charities and nonprofits said online giving and social media sites are an important tool to get messages out in a time when agencies are fighting not only for money but also for attention in a crowded field.

“We’re trying to reach younger audiences,” said Anne Hawkins, chief development officer with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne. “They identify with issues and a cause, rather than an agency. They want to fight hunger, but might not naturally associate with a food bank.”

Charitable donations are expected to rise 7.6 percent from 2013, with total giving just under $500 billion, according to The Atlas of Giving, a Dallas-based research group that tracks charitable giving.

Of $12.5 billion in donations tracked in 2013, 6.3 percent came from online giving. That was up 13.5 percent from online giving in 2012, according to the Blackbaud Idea Lab, a Charleston, S.C.-based company that develops software for nonprofit, charitable and educational agencies.

Several charities said they expect fundraising to be nearly even from last year, or slightly up, with no significant increases. They’re counting on help from the Web to reach their goals.

The Salvation Army Western Pennsylvania Division lowered its goal in the 28-county region for kettle collections, which officially started Friday, to $2.487 million. Donations failed to reach the $2.7 million goal in 2013, said agency spokeswoman Donna Fencik. The Allegheny County goal is $577,000, since donations last year reached nearly $574,000.

Virtual donations

Along with the national hashtag campaign, which the organization said will help spread the word about its services, it has virtual red kettles online where people can donate, Fencik said.

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania is participating in the third annual #GivingTuesday next week, saying in a statement: “While donations to our retail stores help support our programs, monetary support is also needed to subsidize the gap when retail is slow.”

The Northside Food Pantry will receive six to 12 boxes a day from Amazon filled with needed goods, including canned tuna, through the end of the holiday season.

“Instead of someone bringing food, it gets delivered, and that’s to try to attract a different demographic,” said Jay Poliziani, the executive director of Northside Common Ministries, which oversees the pantry.

Charitable-giving experts said the ALS Association offered a valuable lesson about what social media can do. Its “Ice Bucket Challenge” raised more than $34 million for research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” with videos about the challenge on Facebook and other sites this summer.

“Studies have shown over the last three years that 98 percent of nonprofits didn’t raise a dime through social media,” said Viken Mikaelian, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Plannedgiving.com in Chester County.

‘New comfort level’

Downtown-based Catholic Charities, with an annual budget of $10 million to $11 million and serving people in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, Lawrence and Greene counties, isn’t utilizing social media yet, Executive Director Susan Rauscher said.

“We’re trying very hard to get there,” Rauscher said, noting the organization was happy when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto about three weeks ago posted on Twitter and Facebook about the organization’s annual coat drive, which distributed nearly 300 coats.

“It’s a whole new comfort level, or connecting level,” Rauscher said of social media. “People are still comfortable getting an appeal in the mail and writing a check. But there are whole new groups of people (and) how they connect.”

When United Way of Butler County cut funding to charities, the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen in Butler lost $13,000.

Fencik said a “Feeding Families Campaign” — which included spreading the message about the cuts on social media, and a public service announcement produced and broadcast for free by Armstrong Cable — helped the organization meet a $50,000 goal.

“We need to engage a younger demographic because they’re our future donors, our future volunteers,” Fencik said.

The Westmoreland County Food Bank has noticed steady increases of $10,000 to $15,000 a year in online donations, said CEO Kris Douglas. For 2014, the agency expects about $130,000 in online donations. Its annual budget is $3.5 million.

“Social media is really becoming important,” Douglas said.

Bill Vidonic is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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