Don’t shut out Salvation Army’s drive

Simone Viola volunteers to ring the bell for Salvation Army donations outside the Farrell Smyth office in the Village of Arroyo Grande.
Simone Viola volunteers to ring the bell for Salvation Army donations outside the Farrell Smyth office in the Village of Arroyo Grande. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Like Santa Claus and Christmas trees, the Salvation Army’s red kettles are a holiday tradition, as well as a powerful fundraising tool.

Locally, kettle campaigns raise tens of thousands of dollars for a charity that’s often the last resort for desperate families in need of food, clothing, help with rent and utility bills and other necessities. But as Tribune writer Cynthia Lambert reports today, this year, those efforts are hampered by new restrictions on fundraising at certain locations.

Two shopping centers in San Luis Obispo County — one in Arroyo Grande and another in Paso Robles — no longer allow Salvation Army to set up kettles outside of stores.

In Arroyo Grande, the ban on soliciting donations affects not only Salvation Army, but also scouting groups and other nonprofits that go to high-volume shopping centers for candy and cookie sales and other fundraisers. (The company that manages the Paso Robles center could not be reached for comment on its policy.)

For the Salvation Army, this is a serious financial blow; the three kettle locations affected — Walmart and Albertsons in Arroyo Grande and Vons in Paso Robles — collectively generate as much as $35,000 per season in kettle donations.

A representative of Santa Barbara-based Investec Management Corp., which manages the Arroyo Grande shopping center, says the company is enforcing an existing “no soliciting” clause in contracts because tenants complained that some solicitors — not Salvation Army — were bothering customers with their aggressive tactics.

The property manager suggested that Salvation Army supporters mail in donations instead, or that Walmart allow the bell ringers inside that store.

Certainly, those are options. But the reason the Salvation Army kettle campaign is an effective technique is immediacy and convenience. No need to find a stamp, or an address or to write out a check. Simply drop a donation in the kettle and the donation is made.

As for moving the kettles and bell ringers inside, there would be less visibility, and that could involve legal obligations that individual stores aren’t willing to assume. And frankly, some “sales tactics” — ringing bells, singing carols — are not suited to indoor venues.

We believe the simplest solution is to stick to what’s worked in the past: Allow bell ringers to set up kettles on outdoor walkways and allow other nonprofits — Girl Scouts, Camp Fire, etc. — to carry on with their fundraisers as well.

To guard against overzealous solicitors, why not write up guidelines that nonprofits must follow? Make it clear that if they violate the rules, they will be banned.

We strongly urge property managers and owners to reverse course and allow fundraising to continue — with limits.

In this season of giving, permit Salvation Army to carry on its long tradition of providing a safety net for community members in need.