Salvation Army debuts cashless “Kettle Pay” option

The Salvation Army wants to capitalize on digital payments as waning foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores diminishes its holiday fundraising, which historically has relied on shoppers dropping their spare change into the charitable organization’s signature red kettles. 

Those who wish to make a donation will now be able to use digital payment systems including Apple Pay and Google Pay when Salvation Army bell-ringers hit the streets starting the day after Thanksgiving. 

“Red Kettle” signs will display smart chips and QR codes that allow shoppers to “bump” or scan their phones to make donations. The Salvation Army has dubbed the collection process “Kettle Pay.” All 25,000 donation spots will be outfitted with the technology, a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. The organization will also continue to accept cash. 

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“We are becoming increasingly cashless, and many people in the past would come by our kettles and say, ‘I have no way to give because I don’t have cash on me,'” said national spokesman Dale Bannon. “When you bump or scan your phone, you can make a customizable online donation. We think this will be a good service for people who want a variety of payment options,” he said.

Some U.S. retailers have stopped accepting cash altogether, touting the speed and convenience of mobile payments. Meanwhile, some lawmakers contend that rejecting cash discriminates against lower-income people, and have proposed outright bans on cashless retailers. 

Shooting for $150 million

For its part, The Salvation Army just wants to keep up with the times. Funds received digitally will be distributed to local units based on donors’ billing ZIP codes, the organization announced Friday. 

Its goal is to make it as as easy as possible for everyone to contribute, as cash donations have plateaued in recent years. The philanthropic group raised about $142 million last year, and hopes to collect a total of $150 million this holiday season. 

“We believe offering an easy pay option will help us achieve our goal so we can serve 23 million people,” Bannon said. If around 5% of all donations came in via Kettle Pay, that would be “a win” for the organization, he added.

The charitable campaign is one of the largest in the world, with donations going toward providing toys for kids, clothing for the homeless, food for the hungry and more. 

Bannon also cited the shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year as incentive for the organization to roll out a mobile pay option. 

“So many people rely on the Salvation Army to help give kids a bright Christmas morning, and it’s important to emphasize Kettle Pay because we are making up for a deficit in terms of the calendar,” he said.

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