The Salvation Army's iconic bell ringers and red kettles have been a staple of the Christmas season for the last 120 years. But in a technologically advanced society, the ministry is now utilizing the help of digital bell ringers to solicit donations through the Internet.
"We're just trying to keep pace with technology, recognizing that the future donors – while they don't know a whole lot about us – the only way they're going to learn and become educated about The Salvation Army is that we're accessible through whatever channel they prefer to use,” said Maj. George Hood, National Community Relations and Development Secretary for The Salvation Army, in an interview with The Christian Post on Monday.
The nonprofit ministry developed a strong relationship with the veterans of World War I and II, who supported it and gave regularly during past holiday seasons, according to Hood. Those veterans then shared the “tradition of giving” with their children and grandchildren, telling them to never pass up an opportunity to drop some money into the red kettle.
But in the late 1980s and 1990s, Hood explained, the tradition began to wear off as that generation of veterans passed away, and The Salvation Army had to begin finding new ways to seek out donations and inform people of its purpose.
"We realized that we have to find a way to connect with the new generations – I like to refer to them as the emerging generations – so that we can educate and create brand loyalty with them,” said Hood.
Five years ago, the ministry introduced the Online Red Kettle campaign, which allows individuals, teams and companies to raise money for The Salvation Army by creating their own digital donation center. They then invite friends, family members, coworkers and acquaintances to donate to the cause through their kettle.
Anyone can create an online red kettle, and there are currently 2,616 of them – 500 created by teams, 322 by companies and the rest by individuals – in operation this Christmas season.
To make the experience more exciting for online red kettle volunteers, The Salvation Army offered two free tickets to last Thursday's Dallas Cowboys verses Miami Dolphins football game in Dallas to the individual who raised the most money prior to Thanksgiving Day.
The website onlineredkettle.org also keeps track of the top 10 online kettles which have received the most money. In first place, as of the writing of this article, is Jeff Olsen of St. Paul, Minn. with over $24,000. Olsen is a radio host with KOOL 108 FM and, according to The Salvation Army's blog, recently served as a bell ringer outside a local grocery story for a record-breaking 30 consecutive hours.
According to the radio station's website, Olsen said his gesture is “the least I can do for an organization that spends 365 days and nights insuring that the most vulnerable people in my community find comfort in a time of need. It is my hope that anyone who feels as blessed as me will use my record-breaking stunt as inspiration to volunteer or make a donation to The Salvation Army this holiday season. The need has never been greater."
In addition to dropping money into a kettle or donating online, donations can also be made via text message as well. Hood said the ministry is also experimenting with Square scanners – devices which allow individuals to make donations by swiping a credit card through a scanner attached to a mobile phone – this year.
The ministry has equipped 10 bell ringers in four different markets – New York City, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco – with the Square device, and will evaluate its effectiveness at the end of the holiday season.
Hood estimates that less than five percent of The Salvation Army's donations currently are given through the Internet, but says individuals have a tendency to give more when giving online as opposed to dropping a few dollars into a physical red kettle.
The Online Red Kettle campaign began Nov. 1 and will continue to run through Dec. 31.