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.

Just Posted

City of Lacombe passes revised 2020 Operating Budget

Average house valued at $380,000 will see an increase of $30.10 for the year

City of Lacombe council highlights – Dec. 9, 2019

The next scheduled council meetings is Jan. 13, 2020, at 5 p.m.

Lacombe FCSS forced to scale back programming

Alberta Ministry of Children’s Services announced the termination of a number of programs

PHOTO: AA Lacombe Generals support Food Bank

Food donations and $127 dollars raised

AHS: Spread joy, not germs: stay healthy this holiday season

More than 660 cases of influenza have been confirmed in Alberta

WATCH: CP Holiday Train supports Lacombe Food Bank

Madeline Merlo and JUNO Award nominee Scott Helman both performed

Thunberg ‘a bit surprised’ to be Time ‘Person of the Year’

‘I could never have imagined anything like that happening,’ she said in a phone interview

Toronto Raptors, Don Cherry top the list of Canadians’ Google searches in 2019

‘Champions’ was the theme of the last year, Google said

Day parole revoked for man who strangled wife, buried body in their Calgary home

Parole Board revoked Allan Shyback’s day parole after he had sex with a massage parlour worker

Alberta plans to reduce surgery wait-times by building operating rooms, using private clinics

Health minister says goal is to have 80,000 more surgeries done over the next 3 1/2 years

Sylvan Lake woman charged with fraud over $500,000

Rimbey RCMP launched an investigation in July 2019 with the suspect turning herself in on Aug. 30

VIDEO: Calgary man narrowly escapes from avalanche while running at Lake Louise

Bryon Howard caught the entire wild experience on camera

No jail but big fine for Alberta store owner convicted of illegal gun sales

At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, the Crown stayed the remainder of the charges against the father

Anti-money laundering agency warns casinos to watch gamers playing with bank drafts

Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as Fintrac, issues operational alert

Most Read