Madison-area businesses step up for the Salvation Army

For most of us, poverty and homelessness exist on the fringes of our daily lives. It’s the same at this time of year, when those cheerful Salvation Army bell-ringers — a staple of the holiday season for more than a century — begin to gently nudge us toward a spirit of giving.

But while hope and charity traditionally take center stage from mid-November through January, they’re actually in greater demand at other times of the year.

“Historically, we are busiest in the summer, which is kind of counterintuitive. Generally, the community believes that in winter we have the greatest need.” — Leigha Weber, social services director, The Salvation Army of Dane County

If there are two myths that those working on the front lines for the Salvation Army would like to dispel, it’s these: 1) the need for the organization’s services ebbs during the warmer months and 2) the improving economy has eased the overall demand for those services.

According to Leigha Weber, social services director for the Salvation Army of Dane County, and Chris Ziemba, the organization’s development director, the need for poverty relief is as acute as ever, and it doesn’t simply vanish when the calendar turns over to a new year.

“Historically, we are busiest in the summer, which is kind of counterintuitive,” said Weber. “Generally, the community believes that in winter we have the greatest need. I think the onus is on us to continue to educate our neighbors on when the need is greatest.”

Weber says she’s not quite sure why demand for the Salvation Army’s services grows in the summer. It could be that many families are more mobile then, or that their relatives are more likely to take them in during the winter. But whatever the reason, resources begin to trickle in more slowly just as demand begins to ramp up.

Ziemba estimates that more than half of the organization’s monetary and in-kind donations come in during November and December.

It’s a tricky and sensitive issue, because the Salvation Army obviously doesn’t want to discourage any donation at any time of year — and the organization leans heavily on the money raised during its kettle campaign. But it also wants to remind people that poverty doesn’t simply take a vacation during the summer.

Indeed, that’s a reality that at least one local business tries to keep top of mind throughout the year.

TeamSoft, a Madison-based IT consulting and recruiting firm, works with the Salvation Army year-round to help the charity meet its ongoing needs. Its Charitable Giving Committee meets once a month and works to help the SA fill its wish lists, while also contributing to its Family Stabilization Program.

This summer, it created a “farmers’ market family pack,” raising nearly $1,000 for gift certificates and bus passes to allow families to shop for fresh produce at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. It was the kind of creative solution that businesspeople are uniquely suited to come up with, but more importantly, says Weber, the company’s consistent approach toward helping Dane County families has made a huge difference.

“The need throughout the year is unrelenting,” said Weber. “And the support of businesses helps us address those needs. And they are very basic needs, I might add. These are not luxury items that we’re asking for. These are items to make every day a little bit easier.”

Spreading cheer — and goodwill

Of course, TeamSoft has also come up with a winter campaign. It focuses on moms’ and dads’ wishes for the holiday season, and it encourages contributions via the company’s Facebook page. At, people can find information on how to donate, and according to Zach Ellis, a marketing assistant with TeamSoft, the company’s goal is to fulfill 36 parents’ wishes — with each “wish” consisting of about three to five items. In addition, the company is hosting a drop-off event from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 at its office at 1350 Deming Way, Suite 250, in Middleton. (Those interested in donating can send an email to

But while Weber says she’d like to encourage more companies to follow TeamSoft’s model, Ellis is simply hoping his company can set a good example.

“I was kind of motivated to spread the philosophy that it’s really easy to give back, and especially through an organization like the Salvation Army that already does give back,” said Ellis. “I think what made [the farmers’ market program] successful is we did a lot of the campaigning on social media, and to get creative and to encourage other companies to get creative, you should be able to allow people who are donating the ability to see their progress. So we kind of put together an image of 10 grocery bags, which represented one family pack, and every time one was full, we would color it green, and we’d post updated pictures of this on our social media so if people were to give $50, for example, they’d be able to see that effect immediately. So I would definitely encourage companies, if they’re going to get involved, to allow people who are donating to see exactly the effect of their donation.”

But while TeamSoft has put much of its effort into brainstorming creative campaigns, the opportunities for businesses to contribute on any level are abundant.

One way to help is through the annual kettle campaign. With around 75 kettle locations throughout Dane County, there are plenty of volunteer hours to fill, and many businesses encourage their employees to pitch in. Around 35 companies currently participate in the bell-ringing campaign, and some go above and beyond.

“TDS Telecom, every year over the past few years, has given at least 70 hours at our kettles,” said Ziemba. “WPS Health Insurance has done 120 or more hours. So some companies really get into it and give lots of hours.”

Ziemba says that for many companies, volunteering kettle time is a more suitable approach.

“In some corporate cultures, like TeamSoft, they love to do something [more creative], and in other cultures, the ability to be more flexible and give time works well for a kettle campaign,” said Ziemba. “They use that as team-building time, because they all have the same experience and get back together and talk about it. … So I think different types of things need to be offered in order for companies to latch onto what seems to fit best for them.”



In addition, the Salvation Army currently runs a summer kettle campaign in July in order to keep awareness high and the organization’s coffers full during the warmer months.

“Traditionally, summertime is vacation time, and people aren’t aware of some of the other needs, and so the impetus behind doing a week of summer bell-ringing was obviously to raise donations during our slowest time of year and also to raise awareness for those needs,” said Ziemba.

While things seem to be steadily improving for Greater Madison businesses, Weber says that the demands on the Salvation Army’s services have not eased up.

“Not in terms of families or single women seeking shelter. If anything, the need continues to grow,” said Weber. “We’re a little unsure of why that is. Of course, there are lingering effects of the economy. There’s more tenant legislation that’s changed, making it much more difficult for families in some areas to secure affordable housing. And there’s a lack of affordable housing in our community. It’s sort of been a perfect storm, and the need continues to grow.”

Luckily, says Weber, local residents and businesses tend to have a generous spirit, no matter what time of year it is.

“We have a really generous community, and I think they just need to be made aware of what’s going on,” said Weber. “We have an image of what a homeless person is or looks like, and it’s very different from the people that we see coming through our doors. We have very small children; we have families. Those aren’t the people that typically come to mind when we think of a homeless person. So just continuing to remind people of what homelessness looks like I think will continue to rally support.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.