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

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

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Kyler Corriveau, of the Eckville area, was found dead on Sunday southeast of Red Deer. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contributed photo).
Young Red Deer homicide victim is remembered as a caring friend

Police are investigating Kyler Corriveau’s untimely death

Sylvan Lake Winter Village. File Photo
3 charged in connection to vandalism at Sylvan Lake Winter Village

Sylvan Lake RCMP were able to identify the suspects thanks to community assistance

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read