Salvation Army gets a tech boost
No cash handy? Donors can use Google Pay
After 129 years of ringing bells for pocket change and crumpled bills, The Salvation Army is now competing for increasingly fickle donors in a decidedly 21st century way — equipping its iconic red kettles for use with Apple and Google Pay or a quick credit card swipe, no cash necessary.
“The way we ring bells now was getting a little antiquated,” said Ken Chapman, commander for The Salvation Army in Orange and Osceola counties. “People just don’t carry around cash now. So as the culture changes, we have to change too.”
It’s a message many nonprofits are taking to heart, especially during the biggest giving season of the year and the biggest singleday donation drive — Giving Tuesday.
The global event, held annually since 2012 after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, brought in over $400 million for U.S. charities in 2018, and projections for this year are that the haul will total $502 million.
The money is critical. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, some charities
receive as much as threequarters of their annual individual donations.
“This time is also when we get most of our media attention,” Chapman said. “And those are impressions that sustain us during the year.”
Beyond the massive “Helpings from the Heart” Thanksgiving meal, the Salvation Army Angel Tree gift drive and the red kettle bellringers, the nonprofit relies on the good will generated during the holidays to run homeless shelters, fund feeding programs for families, provide disaster aid and keep the power on for its administrative offices year-round.
But as generational giving patterns change — from older, reliable donors who write monthly or yearly checks to millennials moved by celebrity endorsements and social media — charities have to find a way to stand out in a crowded field, especially on Giving Tuesday.
“We just started putting individual videos on YouTube,” said Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition, a Central Florida nonprofit that helps LGBTQ youth. The pitch this year comes from Kristian, a transgender male teen provided counseling by the organization.
“All it takes is one, two — a couple dollars — to help other youth that may need … counseling, housing, clothes, food,” he says in the video. Another video, by the parent of a client, was posted Friday.
“We raised about $12,000 last year on Giving Tuesday, which kicks off our yearend campaign,” Wilkie said. “What’s unfortunate this year is that it’s a week later than usual, so it’s a shorter window of time to persuade people to give. I noticed that some organizations started early, which I’ll have to keep in mind for the future.”
The charity also has begun publicly thanking donors on social media — a tactic increasingly used by other nonprofits.
Embrace Families — the child-welfare charity that manages adoption, foster care and mentoring for local children at risk — is using Tuesday as a daylong
“Thank-a-Thon” for supporters. Once an hour, it will be posting thank you messages via social media to companies and individuals that have given in the past — in the hope of spurring continued support.
And that evening, the staff — and some of the older youth who have been helped by Embrace Families — will host a live thanka-thon, calling donors.
Similarly, Second Harvest Food Bank will be manning the phones of a telethon all day Tuesday, working with WESH-TV during newscasts, featuring celebrity guests and offering occasional matching-gift opportunities.
“Last year, we raised about $100,000 on Giving Tuesday,” said Greg Higgerson, Second Harvest’s vice president for development. “We hope to do better than that this year, but just cutting through the news going on in the world is a challenge. You first have to get people’s attention.”
As always, experts advise donors to check out a charity before they give. Good tools include the Central Florida Foundation’s nonprofit search engine and Charity Navigator.
And expect more social media pushes in the days — and years — ahead. The Salvation Army, for instance, says the “Kettles for the Future,” part of a campaign launched Friday, will be virtual ones, operating on personal Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“We’re going to challenge 1,000 people, companies or groups to adopt a kettle and try to raise at least $500 each,” Chapman said. “If they can do that, it will raise $500,000. We’ll give them a link at the end of the campaign, and the money will be deposited directly into our bank account. You don’t even have to leave your home.”
“What’s unfortunate this year is that it’s a week later than usual, so it’s a shorter window of time to persuade people to give. I noticed that some organizations started early, which I’ll have to keep in mind for the future.” Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition
Harold Pierce sings while fundraising in 2018 in Jacksonville for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Christmas campaign.
On Nov. 15, a shopper donates cash to the Salvation Army’s annual holiday red kettle campaign, though there are other options. This year, cashless shoppers can use their smartphone or a credit card.