GREENFIELD — A switch to online registrations for bell ringers left the Salvation Army of Hancock County with fewer volunteers — and ultimately less money collected — during the 2014 Red Kettle Campaign, but improvements to the same sign-up website and an earlier sign-up window should help the 2015 fundraiser run more smoothly, organizers said.
The Salvation Army recently started scheduling bell ringers for the 2015 holiday season. For the second year running, interested volunteers can visit the organization’s Register to Ring website to choose a time slot, said Dave Medved, Salvation Army of Hancock County Advisory Council Board chairman. But this time there shouldn’t be as many snafus as improvements to the site have made it more user-friendly, he said.
Volunteers commit to two-hour shifts between noon and 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays for six weeks, said Jim Peters, a Salvation Army volunteer.
If the majority of those shifts are covered, it creates more than 1,300 hours during which the public can make donations, Peters said. Organizers usually bank on having volunteers at storefronts for at least 1,000 hours during the fundraising season, he said.
But local bell-ringers were in place only 600 hours in 2014, compared to the 900 hours staffing buckets in 2013, Medved said. The organization’s statistics showed passers-by gave well at an hourly rate, but the group took a hit when no one was there to collect, he said, and the drop in volunteers led to a drop in donations.
The 2014 Red Kettle Campaign fell about $8,000 short of its $50,000 goal. By comparison, roughly $46,500 was raised in Hancock County in 2013.
The group had prepared to an extent for less funding because a statewide trend showed a decline in donations. Lacking volunteers hurt the group worse, Medved said.
Medved believes a clunky online registration form turned away some of the volunteer groups in 2014 the Salvation Army has come to depend on during the Christmas season. Last year, the website wouldn’t allow a group representative to sign up for a block of time, instead requiring individuals to register for each individual time slot. An appeal to the online vendor to improve the group sign-up process should make for a more effective 2015 fundraiser season, he said.
The Red Kettle Campaign began in the 1890s in California and has since grown into a worldwide effort: Bell ringers can now be found in Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries, according to Salvation Army website.
The Indiana division has volunteers stationed at more than 140 locations each year. Those include the Kroger and Walmart in Greenfield and Marsh locations in Greenfield and New Palestine, Peters said.
Bell ringers are set to take up their posts at some locations starting Nov. 19 and should be in place everywhere by Black Friday. They will remain in place until Christmas Eve.
There are few requirements to becoming a bell ringer, said Laura Russell, the county’s campaign coordinator. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old or have a parent or guardian there to supervise them. A caring attitude and a desire to spread joy always help, too, she said.
Bell ringing is a great way for individuals or organized groups to give back, and families can benefit from the time together as well, Russell said. She said she and her children have been volunteers as bell ringers from many years.
“It’s become one of our traditions,” she said. “My family is so blessed. I wanted to show my kids there are easy ways to give back.”
The Red Kettle Campaign is the organization’s only annual fundraiser, Medved said. Every penny dropped in the buckets stays in Hancock County, he said: 70 percent of the donations are used to assist individuals and families in financial emergencies; 20 percent is used to fund local nursing home programs, children’s summer camps and school supplies distributions; and the remain 10 percent covers operational costs.