salvationarmy (35K)

T ODD BASSETT makes only $13,000 a year heading up the Salvation Army, a $2.1 billion enterprise. And until now you’ve probably never heard of him. His organization is the “most effective in the United States,” says Peter F. Drucker, a longtime professor at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. “No one even comes close to it with respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication and putting money to maximum use.”

The group’s distinctive red shield is right up there with the Coca-Cola bottle and Nike’s Swoosh logo as one of the best-known and most trusted of branding symbols worldwide. By virtually every measure, the Salvation Army is the most admired and most successful charity in the land. And the world found out why on last September 11. 2001.

IT WAS ONE OF the Salvation Army’s largest mobilizations ever on U.S. soil. Within a half-hour of the terrorist attacks, 200 officers in their epaulet jackets and blue caps started scrambling to Ground Zero, soon assisted by 5000 more volunteers. All offered the Army’s unique kind of balm: coffee, hot meals, clothes,

 words of comfort, an occasional prayer. And more: American flags to drape over trucks bearing the remains of fallen policemen and firefighters, hundreds of teddy bears to comfort the children of victims, Vicks VapoRub for rescuers to smear under their noses to cover the acrid stench of death. Small things, but for the grateful recipients, they made all the difference.

To handle the influx of donations from Americans eager to help, the Army commandeered 24 buildings to provide about a million square feet of space. Trucks lined up by the hundreds with goods: 10,000 sandwiches, 400 50-pound bags of food for the rescue dogs, half a million cases of water, thousands of bottles of eye drops. Its trucks, bearing the distinctive red shield, were symbols of order amid the wreckage.

WITH ITS 9,222 centers and 45,000 employees coast to coast, the Salvation Army is best known for its work with the homeless, the addicted, the poor. But the Army also offers lesser-known services. It acts as the probationary arm for county judges in Florida; up to 50,000 people on probation report annually to Army staff. Its summer camps reach 156,000 children, and about 100,000 kids drop by its community centers and boys and girls clubs to swim, shoot pool or do homework. Nursing home, hospital and prison visits touch another five million. In all, Salvationists served 38 million people last year.

Some might assume the Salvation Army is a branch of the military, or that it’s a social services agency. In fact, it’s a Protestant church whose theology is close to Methodism. Most Salvationist community centers contain a sanctuary, where officers preside over Sunday worship services. And although it may seem as local,

and as American, as the nearest firehouse, the Salvation Army is an inter- national organization—headquartered in London—that operates in 108 countries. An activist Victorian named William Booth formed the order in 1865 to offer “soup, soap, and salvation” to London slum dwellers. By 1880, a party of eight set foot in New York City’s Battery Park, planted its flag and claimed America for God.

Starting with the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900, the Army has been at virtually every U.S. disaster, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Oklahoma City bombing. Over two weeks this fall, when Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Liii one-two punched the Gulf Coast states, the Army sheltered 900 displaced people and served up about 100,000 meals.

SUCH HIGH-PROFILE good works have proved to be the best form of advertising. For nine straight years, the Army has owned the No. 1 spot on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the country’s most popular charities. More impressively, with $1.4 billion in private contributions in 2000, it took in nearly twice as much as the national YMCA, the No. 3 charity. An extraordinary 84 % flow-through rate of contributions is applied to charitable services, making the Army a leader in dispensing funds (the acceptable minimum is 50 to 60 %).

A good deal of the Salvation Army’s fabled fiscal efficiency is attributable to its religious dedication as well as minimal salaries. Like monks and missionaries, the Army’s employees believe it is compensation enough to do God’s work. As for Commander Bassett’s small salary, well, it’s a fraction of the $450,000 Marsha Evans makes as president and CEO of the American Red Cross. Moreover, the Army’s vast organization is not structured as the usual pyramid. It is more like a giant ball that rolls about depending on circumstances, putting virtually anyone at the top on any given day. After the World Trade Center attacks, it was Moises Serrano who made command decisions, despite having accepted his position as director of disaster services in greater New York only the month before. All the way up the chain of command, the only question from superiors was, “What do you need?”

ACROSS AMERICA the Salvation Army quietly soldiers on. “Some people think we just mushroom out of the ground at Christmastime with a kettle and a bell, and go to sleep on Groundhog Day,” says Lt. Col. Tom Jones, the Army’s national community relations secretary. “But you’ll find us in your local communities 365 days a year.”


Reader’s Digest

December 2002

Published in 48 editions, 19 languages and Braille

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