Rev. Brad Whitaker

The Salvation Army fundraising goes virtual in K-T Division

By: David Ibata

The Salvation Army in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had grand plans for their 2020 gala banquet. They’d rent a hall in a local convention center and have speakers, sponsors, table hosts, a silent auction, entertainment and upwards of 600 guests. The same script has been followed by organizers of nonprofit fundraisers for, well, as long as anyone can remember.

Then COVID-19 happened.

“Rather than postpone or cancel, we said all right, we’re going to go virtual,” said Holly Reeve, development director for The Salvation Army Chattanooga Area Command.

The coronavirus outbreak effectively put a lid on luncheons, dinners and other networking-type get-togethers. So, the Kentucky-Tennessee Division has gone all-in on distance meetings.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee, went first with a “Beyond the Bells” virtual luncheon on Aug. 31. Chattanooga’s “Healing Together Virtual Banquet & Online Auction” will be Thursday, Sept. 10; “Fight for Louisville” Friday, Sept. 11; and “Gathering of Angels” in Nashville, Thursday, Nov. 5.

“Healing Together” takes its theme from two recent emergencies: the Easter tornadoes that left hundreds homeless; and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“After experiencing some virtual banquets on Zoom, we decided that with our constituent base, let’s televise this to make it easier on them,” Reeve said. The organizers partnered with WFLI/The CW in Chattanooga to televise the event.

They learned that the cost of an hour of TV time and producing the show would be less than what they would have spent on an actual gathering. “Our costs at the convention center would have been about 25 to 30 percent of our gross; here, we’re talking about 15 percent of our gross,” Reeve said.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Brad Whitaker, will talk of his own experience as the first COVID-19 patient in Chattanooga, and how the community can heal together after the storms and through the pandemic. Corporate sponsors have been lined up, and an online auction is planned.

Watch party hosts will have small groups of friends at their homes. Block party hosts will be watching with neighbors, kids and big-screen TVs in the streets in front of their houses. Each host will have a unique web site where people can give.

“We’ve got the advisory board and women’s auxiliary on board and we’re building this out right now; if we have 40 hosts altogether, we’d be thrilled,” Reeve said. “If we were at the convention center, that would have represented 40 tables.”

“Fight for Louisville,” now in its third year, would have had up to 350 area business and civic leaders for lunch. As that’s not currently possible, the Army decided on a virtual luncheon, live-streamed, from noon to 12:30 p.m., Sept. 11. Virtual hosts will each invite eight friends to join them for a viewing party from office or home.

“This year, the Fight for Louisville theme is, ‘You Are Here,’” said Kelly Hutchinson, development director for the Louisville Area Command. “We’ll walk the viewer through our work and let them know that whenever we’re helping someone, in hunger or homelessness, the viewer is there with us because their donation made it possible.”

Captains Jimmy and Lacy Parrish, area commanders, will give a welcome and blessing, followed by a message by Johanna Wint, executive director of the Center of Hope, and client testimonials and a video overview of The Salvation Army serving Louisville. Video segments are being handled by G-Lab Media and WAVE3, the local NBC affiliate.

“Anybody who wants to watch can go to our website,, at we’ll be right there on the front page at noon on Sept. 11,” Hutchinson said.

For the Nashville Area Command, the recent Beyond the Bells in nearby Murfreesboro – using Crowdcast online software – was a dress rehearsal for Gathering of Angels.

“Both Nashville and Murfreesboro have had table-hosted events,” said Misty Ratcliff, development communications manager for The Salvation Army in Nashville. “You have a table host invite eight or 10 of their friends with hopes they’ll all give a donation at the end.”

Murfreesboro had planned a luncheon in May, but when the coronavirus hit, the event was moved to August, made virtual and carried on Crowdcast.

“Crowdcast is an online platform where you set up an event, invite people, and livestream prepared videos or people talking through the platform,” Ratcliff said.

Table hosts were lined up to ask friends to tune in and watch a 25-minute video with a welcome, prayer, client testimonial, “mission moment” with newly arrived Captains Michael and Patrishia Knott speaking of their hopes and plans for the corps, and message from Honorary Chairman Ted Batey.

“I hope you join me at to contribute today,” Batey said, “and encourage two or three of your friends to go to make a contribution to The Salvation Army, because together, we can work to help those in our community who are in great need.”

The video can be viewed here.

Murfreesboro’s fund-raising goal this year was $125,000. As of the morning of Sept. 1, the corps had received $102,389 from 25 sponsors and 190 individuals.

Nashville’s Gathering of Angels is planned as “a mid-morning coffee break kind of event, 20 to 30 minutes maximum,” Ratcliff said. It hasn’t been decided yet if it will be all recorded, as in Murfreesboro, or a combination of live and recorded content. Crowdcast allows both.

The software has worked so well, the Nashville Command may continue using it as a virtual add-on to actual fundraisers to reach smaller donors who might not attend a formal evening soiree. “We think virtual is a good alternative to the way we’d normally do an event,” Ratcliff said, “something we’ll keep doing even after we go back to in-person events.”