The Red Shield Appeal is adapting to a different Australia, and helping meet the same pressing needs, writes David Goodwin.
It’s a sight that has become a part of Australian life, as regular as clockwork. Everywhere you look, thousands of Australians will be doing their part to help collect money to support the work of The Salvation Army during the annual Red Shield Appeal.
It might be people rattling a collection tin at the footy or train stations, friendly faces at the shopping centre, or volunteers in some states donning hi-vis vests at busy intersections, waiting for a red light so they can grab the donations of people stuck in traffic.
But perhaps the most visible part of the appeal, and the one that may be the point of contact for most people, is the doorknock that takes place over the course of the week of the appeal—including two weekends. It’s a miracle of logistics that sees an army of volunteers, directed by tireless team leaders armed with maps and lists, knock on almost every door in Australia, asking for their support.
And, for more than 50 years, Australians have answered generously, allowing the Salvos to continue to help those most in need. While that need is just as strong as ever, perhaps even stronger, Australian society has changed since the first doorknock in 1965. The Red Shield Appeal has needed to change— along with society—to keep up.
“The Red Shield Appeal was one of the first mass participation events raising money for charity in Australia, and is one of the most well-known,” says Andrew Hill, community fundraising director for the Salvos. “But since it first began, it’s become a crowded marketplace and the public are being asked to support a large number of great causes. We need to find a way to stand out.”
Lifestyles have also changed significantly, with many Aussie families living busy lives, leaving Sunday one of the few days they have for family outings. Where once the majority of people would be home during the main weekend of the doorknock that’s not the case now. This has meant it’s become harder for collectors to fully cover whole neighbourhoods.
While increased collection at public places such as intersections or shopping centres, as well as direct mail and phone campaigns, have helped partially cover the gap, there is another issue that has had an impact on the campaign. With the increasingly cashless nature of society there are many people who want to make a donation but are not able to because they aren’t carrying money with them.
“We found people would come up to a volunteer, tap their pockets and say, ‘I’ve got no cash to put in your bucket’,” Mr Hill told The Daily Telegraph. “As a result we noticed a substantial fall in cash donations in our main collection and high-traffic areas including the shopping centres.”
It’s something that many of us may have experienced as we rush to the shops or are just out and about. However, the Salvos have introduced a number of methods to help resolve this challenge for those who want to give so that others can have hope.
Recent years have seen the roll-out of ‘tap-and-go’ machines at shopping centres and train stations, allowing people to donate with a simple tap of supported cards. This easy-to-use and hassle-free method has been extremely well received by the public. It’s helped increase overall donations, raise awareness of the appeal and has had a knock-on effect, with an increase in cash given at these collection points.
The Salvos are also beginning to introduce another technological innovation that will not only make it simpler to give, but also make life a whole lot easier for hard-working volunteers. It can be hard juggling collection bags and donations while trying to fill out receipts—especially when you are being rained on—but a new system might make that a thing of the past.
Volunteers can now register for a secure web app that allows them to use their mobile phone to record donations and issue receipts, accepting a variety of payment methods. It can be used at any location, whether at someone’s front door or at an intersection, and throughout the year.
As well as its ease of use, this new technology has other benefits, including a social component, that have caused it to be eagerly embraced by volunteers. This social aspect allows groups of friends who sign up together to view a leaderboard, thereby seeing who has collected the most donations. And, a little friendly competition certainly assists the fundraising.
“Research has shown that younger people, especially, respond really well to ‘gamifying’ activities, whether that is health and fitness or even study,” Mr Hill says. “It creates a sense of community, because they can see they are working together with others, but it’s actually fun being able to see what you are achieving.”
As well as the fun competitive aspect, this new system is also able to remind both volunteers and the public of the importance of the Red Shield Appeal and the meaning behind it. Every time someone makes a donation, they can see exactly what sort of difference it is making.
“The app shows people the real change their generosity is making in people’s lives,” Mr Hill said. “Instead of simply being a dollar amount, it will tell them that they have just made it possible to provide someone with a meal or a bed, or help a victim of domestic violence start a new life. It shows them where their money goes and that it actually makes a difference.”
It’s also a way of reinforcing for volunteers the reasons behind why they are giving up their time. Many will spend hours of effort outside of the actual appeal itself, and often brave nasty weather or hilly terrain to collect. Being reminded that they are changing lives can be a welcome boost as they face starting up yet another steep street or still have many houses to visit before they can go home and put their feet up.
It’s clear that Australians have more demands on their time these days and are being asked to give to more charitable causes than ever before. The Salvos don’t take your generosity for granted, and are not unaware of the significance of knocking on people’s doors or interrupting their shopping. This is why reminders of the pressing need in Aussie society are so important.
The founder of The Salvation Army, General William Booth, summed up the heart of why the Salvos do what we do when he said:
While women weep, as they do now,
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight—I’ll fight to the very end!
The Salvos will keep fighting to transform lives, work for justice and build healthy communities in Australia, but it’s something that we can’t do on our own. We are thankful that Aussies are willing to stand alongside us in support of the work we do.
That’s why we will keep braving the weather, and knocking on doors, continually adapting to changing lifestyles and finding new ways to make it possible for you to support the Red Shield Appeal—just as you have done so generously for so many years.
To find out more about Salvos’ Red Shield Appeal visit redshield.salvationarmy.org.au