In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo money gets dropped into the kettle during the Annual Salvation Army Red Kettle and Angel Tree Kick Off outside the Hobby Lobby store in Augusta, Ga. Canada’s Salvation Army is testing out a new and faster way to allow cashless donations to its kettle stations via debit and credit card, making the process as quick and easy as dropping a toonie in the bubble. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File

No cash? Salvation Army USA’s red kettle campaign now accepts mobile donations

Charity’s leaders hope adding Apple and Google payment options will boost giving to the red kettle campaign

Carolyn Harper made her pitch for donations to the Salvation Army with a smile on her face and a bell in her hand, trying to convince shoppers along Chicago’s busy Michigan Avenue that there was “no line, no wait.”

Despite her prodding, half a dozen people apologetically explained they had no cash to drop into the bright red kettle. Most passed on before Harper could explain there’s a new way to donate to the classic fundraising campaign this year: with a smartphone.

Heather Bishop, 35, was among those who did wait to hear about the non-cash option. She quickly completed her electronic donation while keeping an eye on her two young children after a stop at the American Girl store.

“It was fast, very easy,” Bishop said, adding that she was visiting the city from Wisconsin and doesn’t carry cash while on trips. “All of my giving is online.”

The charity’s leaders hope adding Apple and Google payment options will boost giving to the red kettle campaign, which makes up 10% of its annual fundraising. Those donations fund programs providing housing, food and other support to people in poverty.

“Those red kettle campaign funds help us throughout the entire year housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and helping families overcome poverty,” said Dale Bannon, the assistant national community relations director for Salvation Army USA.

“I think the future is bright, but we have to be flexible and provide multiple options for people to give.”

Americans’ dependence on physical cash to make purchases has declined over time, especially among people who make more than $75,000 per year, according to the Pew Research Center. The same survey found about 46% of Americans “don’t really worry much” about leaving home without cash because of all their other payment options.

Nonprofits of all types have increased their focus on online fundraising in response, but campaigns that rely on spur-of-the-moment donations outside stores directly feel the effects of consumers’ cashless lifestyle.

The organization has tested other cashless options in recent years, including a text message-based program and credit and debit card readers that plugged into bell ringers’ phones. But both were time consuming compared to dropping cash into the kettle.

Donors preferred “an easy and quick” option, Bannon said.

The physical change to the kettles is subtle — a tag containing microchip has been added to the Salvation Army sign attached to each red kettle stand.

Donors tap their phone to the tag, opening a donation form that suggests giving $5, $10 or $25. Donors also can type in a different amount.

People whose phones aren’t compatible with contactless payment systems can use their camera to photograph a QR code, opening a similar donation form.

Any mobile donations are sent to the Salvation Army chapter nearest to the donor’s billing zip code.

This year marks the 129th campaign using the bright red kettles, staffed by bell ringers outside grocery stores and popular shopping spots. For at least five years, it has been clear that cashless shopping was affecting donations, Bannon said.

The organization tested Apple Pay and Google Pay in four cities last year, and officials decided to roll the options out nationally this year as they aim to raise $150 million.

This year’s holiday calendar shaves six days off the Salvation Army’s typical window for the red kettle campaign, and officials hope the mobile options will help make up for that lost time. Bell ringers will be out in force starting the day after Thanksgiving, though many chapters launched their efforts in early November.

Anecdotally, nonprofits believe donors could wind up giving more via mobile than they would in spare change or dollar bills. They reason that someone pulling out a phone will choose one of the suggested dollar amounts, likely exceeding a few singles or loose change from a coat pocket.

A digital donation also gives the non-profit information about donors that lets the organization follow up by email. Creating that opportunity for future giving is impossible with cash, said Una Osili, associate dean for research at Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy.

“Anytime you can expand opportunities to reach new donors, that’s a win for the organization,” Osili said.

Non-cash gifts have one financial downside though. They trigger financial processing fees, said Rick Cohen, a spokesman for the National Council of Nonprofits.

Small businesses can try to offset processing fees in the cost of their goods. Nonprofits don’t have that option, though some organizations do ask donors to voluntarily increase their total gift and cover fees, he said.

“You always want to meet the donors where they are, but there’s an opportunity cost,” he said.

Bannon said there is a processing fee for mobile donations at red kettles, ranging between 2 and 2.5% depending on which card a donor connects to their Apple or Google Pay account.

Harper said she hopes the new options will increase donations to the Salvation Army. Her only concern is cold temperatures in Chicago and other parts of the country discouraging people from stopping to use the mobile system.

“Right now, it’s easy,” she said. “Hopefully it works out when it’s really cold out. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

ALSO READ: Salvation Army sending record number of kids to camp

Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Council approves reduction to leisure services monthly pass rates during COVID-19

Passes will be discounted while COVID-19 restrictions are in place, and will return to normal after.

Overall house sales drop in the northwest

COVID-19 pandemic slowed market activity

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

Northwest Indigenous governments form new alliance

Alliance intended as way to share resources, maximize opportunities

Authorities urge residents to manage garbage after having to dispatch another bear

RCMP and Conservation officers had to deal with another bear after it got into a residence’s garbage.

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Ex-Okanagan Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Almost 99% less land in B.C. burned this year compared to 2018

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires

B.C. tent camps persist as hotels, housing bought for homeless

Current estimate 40 camps, homeless counts stalled by COVID-19

Most Read