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Salvation Army rolls out more card-reading red kettles

Jeff Herman

The Salvation Army’s red kettles, a hallmark of the holiday season, now have a high-tech, card-swiping twist at more locations.

No cash or coins to drop in the traditional kettle? No problem.

In addition to bell ringers collecting coins and bills in the kettles, much smaller red Salvation Army devices accept plastic.

How do the digital kettles compare to the bigger kettles?

“People give more with their cards,” says Kimberly George, director of marketing and development for the Greater Chattanooga Area Command of the Salvation Army. That’s not unusual, she notes. “Even when we’re shopping, we spend more when we use our cards.”

The Greater Chattanooga Salvation Army Command used the digital kettles, made my DipJar, at its Angel Tree event last year and then at its banquet. At the Angel Tree event, the digital kettle raised nearly $4,000 for the Tennessee charity.

Salvation Army digital red kettle

Salvation Army digital red kettle

Red kettles then and now
In 1891, Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee created the kettle donation tradition when he placed an iron kettle in San Francisco’s Oakland Ferry Landing that read, “Keep the pot boiling.”

The money dropped in the kettle helped pay for a Christmas dinner for the poor in the area. The Salvation Army’s red kettles soon spread across the United States and the world. I saw a red kettle and bell ringer in Belize during a holiday cruise a few years ago.

Starting this weekend and running through the holidays, the digital red kettles will be attached to some traditional red kettles in front of stores in the Chattanooga area. Instead of dropping a few coins of bills in the big red kettle, donors can give $10 with their credit cards.

The Salvation Army has about 500 of the digital kettles across the U.S., DipJar Chief Operating Officer and product engineer Jon Fraser says. That’s a 250 percent increase from the 200 that were part of a pilot program in the Salvation Army’s Western Territory two years ago and builds on a 2008 trial of credit card donations for the Salvation Army.

DipJar collects “a small processing fee” from the amount donated for the transactions, then CEO and now board chairman Ryder Kessler said in 2015. The device reads the magnetic stripe of a donor’s credit card.

Another difference between the traditional and digital kettles is an online dashboard showing card charges in almost real time. “The Salvation Army can see if donations peaked on a given day, such as Black Friday or Giving Tuesday,” Fraser says. No waiting for the donations of coins and bills to be collected, sorted, counted and tallied.

Digital kettles help reach younger donors
George says the digital kettles are helping the Salvation Army reach new donors, who tend to use their cards more than cash.

“Anytime you’re dealing with millennials and Gen Xers, crowdfunding, social media, anything that they can attach a #SalvationArmy to helps build awareness,” she says.

Those giving via the digital red kettle even hear a sound similar to that of coins dropped in the traditional kettle. Boston-based DipJar worked with music student at Emerson College, who developed and tested about 15 sounds before everyone landed on one.

The digital equivalent of the sound of coins hitting the bottom of the red kettle? It’s an electronic ka-ching like that of change in a jar. “People really love the sound,” Fraser says.

See related: 4 apps that make it easy to help others, Giving to charity at the click of a button, How a desire to help can lead to overspending

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