No spare coins or cash are needed to drop a donation into the Salvation Army’s red kettles this year.
The kettles are going high-tech, adding new mobile pay technology so people can “bump” or scan their smartphones to make a digital donation via Apple Pay or Google Pay.
For more than a century, the red kettles staffed by thousands of bell ringers across Minnesota have accepted mainly cash and coins to support the charity’s work feeding, sheltering and housing Minnesotans in need. But starting this week, the more than 500 kettles statewide will be outfitted with the technology, which is being rolled out nationwide in hopes of boosting donations by an increasingly cashless society.
“That absolutely is the trend — that people don’t carry cash. So we have to adapt and change with the times,” said Brian Molohon, the executive director of development for the Salvation Army Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and North Dakota. “We’re hoping it will bring more dollars in … and inspire a younger generation to maybe give for the first time.”
Other nonprofits are also making the digital switch. In Chisholm, Minn., the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota added Apple Pay for accepting donations. And this year, some Girl Scouts going door-to-door to sell cookies accepted credit card payments via a mobile app for the first time.
Tammy Freese, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts River Valleys, which spans mostly southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, said credit card payments are increasing, but most cookie purchasers still used cash or checks.
Research, though, points to less use of cash. About 30% of adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center for a 2018 study said they had made no purchases with cash in a typical week and half of 18- to 49-year-olds said they don’t worry about having cash on hand.
More businesses, from grocery stores to retailers like Target, have started accepting mobile pay such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. So it’s time for nonprofits to join the digital wave, Molohon said.
The Salvation Army has accepted online giving for decades and used to allow people to text in donations, but found that wasn’t used much, Molohon said. Last year, the kettles featured QR codes that people could scan to direct them to the mobile donation site, but he said the QR codes were “minimally successful.”
He said he hopes the new “bump pay” technology will better boost donations, especially among younger generations. The Apple Pay and Google Pay donations come with credit card transaction fees, but it’s no different, Molohon said, than what the nonprofit is charged when somebody gives online.
‘This is a make or break time’
Like a lot of nonprofits, the Salvation Army is dependent on individual donors, who make up the bulk of the $30 million it brings in per year.
That’s why the Salvation Army, which started more than a century ago, aims to bring in $12 million in the Twin Cities between now and the end of year — including $3 million from the more than 300 red kettles in the Twin Cities. The rest of the fundraising comes from grants, special events and program fees.
“Just like every nonprofit, this is a make or break time,” Molohon said.
The red kettle campaign, which runs until Christmas Eve, officially kicks off Friday, though some kettles were deployed last week.
‘Really at a crossroads’
The donations support the organization’s $28 million annual budget for staffing, youth programs, family mentoring, disaster relief, addiction counseling, food shelves and other social services. The Salvation Army helps 155,000 people in the metro each year, serving 1,100 hot meals each day and providing shelter to more than 600 people every night.
Molohon said the kettle campaign has grown over the years but the rate of growth has slowed, even with some big anonymous donations over the years. In 2017, the nonprofit fell $100,000 short of its goal, citing fewer donations during the frigid winter and a drop in the number of volunteers bell ringing. When the nonprofit failed to reach its fundraising goal in 2014, it had to make cuts to a Christmas program.
With a growing number of people seeking help from the Salvation Army as homelessness reaches a record number in Minnesota, Molohon hopes the new technology will help spark more generosity.
“Our community is really at a crossroads; we have significant issues around poverty, homelessness and hunger,” he said. “I’m hoping that [new technology] inspires folks who don’t have cash in their wallets.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141
HOW TO HELP
Go to centralusa.salvationarmy.org/northern to donate or sign up to volunteer for bell ringing; the Salvation Army says a third of the slots are filled for two-hour shifts between now and Christmas Eve.