Philanthropy vs. Charity

The Salvation Army and the Balance between faith-based ministry and philanthropy

Editors’ Note: HistPhil’s forum on the split between philanthropy and charity continues with this post from the Salvation Army’s Jennifer Byrd.

On street corners, in front of shopping centers and businesses all across the United States, the yearly Christmas season ritual of The Salvation Army’s red kettles and bell ringers stands as one of society’s most iconic philanthropic symbols. Since Captain Joseph McFee, an enterprising, Salvation Army officer, placed the first kettle – actually a crab pot – in front of passengers exiting ferries in San Francisco 124 years ago, millions of dollars have been collected in the name of service, and in the name of God.

Faith and serving the underserved have always been the purpose of the red kettles. McFee was, after all, an ordained minister within The Salvation Army, a church first and foremost, with a mission “to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

Indeed, The Salvation Army, celebrating its 150th year worldwide in 2015, has always sought to maintain a balance between our faith-based ministry and philanthropy, merging theology with social programming, with much of it supported directly from the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters put into the red kettles. From our founding on the East End of Victorian London, the Army has waged its own brand of “war” on societal issues that today range from alcoholism to sex trafficking, drug addiction to homelessness, AIDS to domestic abuse.

Approximately 30 million people a year receive The Salvation Army’s assistance in the United States. How is that care provided, and more to the point of this discussion, who pays for it? A brief overview of Army history and protocol should be helpful. Our founder, William Booth, who became the first Army general, was a Methodist minister and devout follower of John Wesley, who preached that the foundation of a religious life is built upon caring for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized.

Gen. Booth adapted his own thinking to Wesley’s preaching, formed his army of followers who took to the streets of London – many times at their own peril – and started to work with those he termed “the submerged tenth”, or the poorest of the poor, whom he described as “beyond the reach of the nine-tenths in the midst of whom they live, and around whose homes they rot and die.

Philadelphia was the Army’s first, albeit unofficial, home in the United States when Amos Shirley, his wife Annie and their daughter Eliza began working the streets there in 1879, one year before Gen. Booth sent his first official delegation to New York City. Today, The Salvation Army in the United States is a $4.1 billion a year operation, managed by five separate corporations: the national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and four Territories with offices in Nyack, NY (East), Atlanta, GA (South), Des Plaines, IL (Central), and Long Beach, CA (West). The Territories each cover a specific geographic region of the country, which are further divided into more localized, community centers called Corps, which serve numerous functions, including providing human service and a worship center for the community.

Not only are our scale and breadth of services unmatched by any other nonprofit in the country, but we also consistently rank among the most efficient in terms of dollars spent on social assistance versus overhead. Salvation Army operations function similarly in the 127 other countries where we work.

The challenges of Gen. Booth’s, “soup, soap, salvation” call to action for helping the poor have moved the Army to continually adapt to the needs of those with few resources to help themselves. Each of our more than 7,600 centers of operation in the United States tailors the services it offers to the particular needs in its community.

Our programs are reflective of our founder’s vision and many have become integral parts of community social service networks – our Harbor Light programs for alcohol addiction; our Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) supported through the Family Stores; our Ray and Joan Kroc Community Centers built to reach the perennially underserved populations in 26 communities across the United States thanks to the largest individual philanthropic gift in the country’s history; our Silvercrest homes to provide affordable homes and care for senior citizens; our Pathway of Hope case management approach to help families break intergenerational cycles of poverty.

And faith is the underpinning for each set of hands reaching out with a bowl of soup, a warm coat, shelter from the elements, or a compassionate shoulder to rest upon. True to our founding mission, we are here to serve those in need to the best of our ability, with no other qualifying criteria.

Support for our programs comes from a variety of sources. In fiscal year 2015, 51% came from direct public support (with another 2% from indirect public support), 18% from investment income, 15% from sales to the public (primarily through our family and thrift stores), 8% from government funding, 4% from program service fees, and 2% from other revenue sources.

We are dedicated to serving others; this is our calling. And at the same time, as one of the most trusted nonprofits in the world, it is our moral and fiduciary responsibility to be as effective and efficient as possible in putting donated funds to use. Therefore, local donations are utilized in those very communities; disaster giving is applied to immediate relief as well as long-term recovery; we are transparent in our accountability. We also track our service data – and have done so since our very inception – which gives us a treasure trove of information that has been analyzed in partnership with researchers at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to create the Human Needs Index, which helps expand society’s understanding of poverty.

This accountability and passion for our mission of service, combined with the vast breadth of poverty-related programs we offer, have led us to be the beneficiaries of some extraordinary examples of philanthropy. Our long-time relationship with the Kroc family is one of the most visible examples of the Army’s donor relationships. Upon her death, Joan Kroc, whose husband Ray founded the McDonald’s fast-food franchise, bequeathed nearly the entirety of her estate – $1.5 billion – to the Army for the sole purpose of supporting community centers across the United States.

Mrs. Kroc’s vision was unveiled in her hometown, San Diego, with a $60 million donation that built the first Kroc Center. Her bequest to the Army – at the time the largest individual gift in the history of American philanthropy – specifically stated that the money would be divided equally among the four Territories and used to create community centers similar to the one in San Diego. The 25 communities were chosen based upon their ability to support the day-to-day operations of the Kroc centers. In fact, none of the bequest was to be used for construction or long-term operations of the centers. The final center opened its doors in late 2014.

What would Capt. Joseph McFee think today of how his “crab pot” philanthropy has helped transform The Salvation Army? He was trying to feed the homeless in San Francisco just as his leader, Gen. Booth, had sought to do in London. See the need. Adapt to meet it. Without discrimination. In God’s name.

Each of those statements is inextricably linked – faith-based charity to philanthropy, philanthropy to faith-based charity, whether it be $1 dropped into a red kettle outside of Macy’s on 34th Street in New York City, or a county seeking the Army’s help to manage a domestic abuse shelter.

For The Salvation Army, that faith component is critical. Our officers are driven to do the work they do by their faith. Indeed, while The Salvation Army always needs to be transparent with the public about how donations are spent, the officers will ultimately be accountable to their God. And it is those two charges that together make The Salvation Army a stalwart in the field of human service. Faith drives our mission. Philanthropy supports the goal.

– Jennifer Byrd

Jennifer Byrd is Director of Communications of the Salvation Army, USA.

2 thoughts on “The Salvation Army and the Balance between faith-based ministry and philanthropy

  1. There seems to be some confusion here about what is “philanthropy”. It is “private initiatives, for public good”, as distinct from business (private initiatives for private good), and government (public initiatives for public good). Note: not “the” public good, because on that there can be no agreement; without the definite article, it means whatever donors or benefactors consider a public good as distinct from good for themselves and theirs.

    Etymogically and historically, the word means “love of humanity” in the sense of cultivating, strengthening, or enhancing, humaneness or what it is to be human (cf. “philosophy” meaning the “love of wisdom”).


  2. If you’re going to discuss the Salvation Army in this blog, why not discuss the split between the Salvation Army and the Volunteers of America?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s