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‘Plastic kettles’ allow for debit donations

Fri., Nov. 27, 2009

Salvation Army adds credit card option in more than 100 cities

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — There could be less jingle in the Salvation’s Army’s hallmark red kettles this season. The charity is testing kettles that take debit and credit cards.

The growth of so-called “plastic kettles” comes as fewer shoppers carry cash. Bell ringers who stand outside stores during the holiday season say that more and more shoppers are shaking their heads and smiling as they pass by, apologizing for not having spare change or cash to drop in the red kettles.

Last year the Salvation Army tested the credit machines in Dallas and Colorado Springs. This year the plastic kettles will be tested in more than 100 cities, including Spokane, which received one card-swipe device that will be placed on a kettle next week.

Plastic kettles also will appear in Seattle, Bremerton, Boise and Portland this year.

In Colorado Springs, fundraising last year went up $64,000 from the year before, an 11 percent increase. About $5,000 of the increase was from donors using credit or debit cards at the kettles.

“It used to be people would spend their money at the store counters, walk out and drop their change in the kettles. They don’t shop that way anymore,” said Major Don Gilger, coordinator of the Salvation Army of El Paso County.

The kettles that take credit don’t look any different. But next to the metal red kettles are wireless card readers that resemble do-it-yourself readers at gas stations. The machines print two receipts, one for the donor and one to drop in the kettle. Salvation Army pays credit-processing fees.

But the plastic kettles take some getting used to. In Colorado Springs, volunteer bell ringer Dave Flack wasn’t sure what to make of his first day ringing bells next to a credit machine. The 61-year-old keeps a three-ring notebook full of Christmas carols handy to sing to shoppers outside the grocery store where he volunteers, but he needed to borrow a pen from the Salvation Army manager who showed him how to take donations using the machine.

Flack said he’d be willing to give it a shot. “I’ve been doing this five years, and I hear people say they’d like to help but don’t have any cash. I don’t know if they’ll use this or not. But the need is great, so whatever it takes, we’ll try it.”

The charity says its red kettles brought in more than $130 million nationwide last year, an increase of 17 percent from 2007. Salvation Army officials aren’t sure how much of the increase came from credit or debit donations.

Anecdotal evidence indicates people who stop to make credit or debit donations make larger gifts, at least a few dollars. Major George Hood, spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based charity, said that the donation sizes are similar to online donations, which average about $75.

The charity says that the old-fashioned kettles aren’t going anywhere because shoppers and especially children enjoy dropping coins as they shop for the holidays.

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