11/27/2019 11:24:00 AM No cash? No problem, Salvation Army offers option
CHICAGO (AP) — 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.