A simple fundraising idea has given millions of people a place to sleep and a hot meal. The Salvation Army's Bed & Bread Club has raised more than $100-million nationwide in the last 25 years by persuading people to give monthly.
The charity asks donors to give at least $10 a month, or $120 for the year. More than 19,000 people are now making gifts, and nearly 70 percent of them give additional gifts that exceed the minimum annual requirement.
The Bed & Bread Club is the brainchild of Barbara Antrim Bledsoe, who devised the idea while serving as director of development of a Kansas City, Mo., rescue mission.
Opening all the mail the mission received from donors, Ms. Bledsoe, who is now retired, says she was struck by how many people wrote notes to say they wished they could give more. Monthly giving, she realized, could allow them to do so.
Ms. Bledsoe's first letter about the Bed & Bread Club, sent to 4,000 people, prompted more than $300,000 in donations for the rescue mission. A handful of other missions imitated the idea, but Ms. Bledsoe eventually decided to share it with the Salvation Army.
"We were not good at public relations," she says of the missions. "I wanted to see how far the program could go with more PR."
She says she knew that the Salvation Army, which serves the same people as rescue missions, would do a better job of spreading the word about Bed & Bread. Indeed, more than 100 local Salvation Army units now have the clubs.
Ms. Bledsoe went on to establish a direct-marketing consulting company, Summit Marketing, that continues to help the Salvation Army establish and run Bed & Bread Clubs.
One of the most successful is the one in the Army's Eastern Michigan Division in Detroit, where Ms. Bledsoe first shared her idea. That city's Salvation Army added the Bed & Bread logo to its mobile food trucks, which helps publicize the club, and also started a Jr. Bed & Bread Club for elementary and middle-school students.
The Detroit Salvation Army uses direct mail to recruit new club members. Among the recipients of its first appeals was Dick Purtan, a Detroit disc jockey who decided to hold an annual radiothon to get people to join the club and give a year's worth of dues. The radiothon has since raised more than $26-million.
This year, in conjunction with the radiothon, the Detroit Bed & Bread Club held a "tweetathon" on Twitter. It generated 16,000 tweets about the club and a $50,000 donation from the Ford Motor Company. The Ford gift was matched dollar for dollar by Mr. Purtan, the now-retired disc jockey, which provided a $100,000 contribution.
Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.