Thursday, December 13, 2012
Consumers can now donate to The Salvation Army using a smartphone
Some red kettles in suburbs north of Dallas have personalized QR codes.
MCKINNEY The Salvation Army in DFW is ringing bells for QR codes.
Passers-by may rely on plastic, or just have pennies for cash, but they no longer have an excuse not to give a little this holiday season. They can donate to the nonprofit from their smartphone.
"This method is very, very cost-efficient for us," said Pat Patey, public information officer for The Salvation Army DFW Metroplex Command. "And, just knowing the trend for more people using credit cards instead of cash, this allows them to put their compassion in action, too."
Between now and Christmas Eve, local red kettle stands will display two QR codes accessible via smart phone apps, one for a $5 donation and another for a $10 donation. Scanning the code opens up a text message to a number that allows users to text their donation directly to The Salvation Army.
About 14 red kettles are spread around McKinney, with close to 30 potential locations in Frisco and Allen. Each kettle's QR codes are specified to the area, thus donors' contributions will benefit their own communities, said Maj. Robert Winters, corps officer for the McKinney Salvation Army.
"It's very practical," Winters said. "And folks know right away that they're giving their money for specific use in their city."
Salvation Army services are being felt in DFW by thousands, from all walks of life. In 2011, the DFW chapter served more than 947,000 meals and distributed more than 20,000 grocery bags and boxes. Shelter was provided for nearly 6,000 homeless people, including about 266 domestic violence victims, 700 children, and 400 veterans, according to the DFW chapter's annual report.
Almost 2,000 children participated in camps, sports, and after-school programs with Salvation Army aid, and 215 low-income senior citizens live in two Salvation Army-operated apartment complexes, the report says.
Some services, such as the sports and after-school programs, are made possible largely through red kettle donations, while others benefit from grants, thrift store sales, and direct donations. Thus, The Salvation Army is open to any option that could garner more donations over the holidays.
A smart phone-friendly red kettle campaign was initially rolled out in California, Patey said, but this is the first year for the method at DFW-area kettles. The Salvation Army has implemented it at about 400 kettle locations across Collin, Denton, Dallas, Ellis, and Tarrant counties.
Kettle credit card machines were tried at 12 area locations a few years ago, giving passers-by a chance to make a donation via credit or debit card. Patey said that option proved cost-prohibitive for The Salvation Army because of money spent on the machines, receipt paper, and workers needed to recharge the machines.
"They turned out a little complicated for folks," Winters said of the machines. "They were not as user-friendly as we'd hoped."
Despite a widespread shift from green paper to plastic, red kettle donations in the area have stayed "pretty flat" over the past few years, Patey said. The North Collin County chapter raised about $178,000 last year, close to $20,000 less than it did the previous year, but Winters said that resulted from The Salvation Army manning more kettles. Thus, the net money spent on actual Salvation Army services was nearly the same in both years.
Winters, who took charge of the McKinney-area chapter two years ago, said changes in leadership may have contributed to lower donations last year. The Salvation Army is determined to break down such donation barriers over the holidays, this time with convenience.
Winters said North Collin County again doesn't have as many manned kettles as typical, but that number is picking up. Patey said that area kettles have raised a little more than $315 since the QR code-accessible campaign began less than two weeks ago.
"The week leading up to Christmas is always the best week," Patey said. "So, the real story will be told later."
Nielsen, an information site that measures what consumers buy and use, reported in July that 55 percent of U.S. mobile users had smartphones, and that two out of three Americans who bought a new phone over the previous three months purchased a smartphone.
Winters will not see the official report that shows the percentage of smart-phone donors, but he's confident the campaign's practical new method will at least keep donations steady. Kettle workers have already told him several people have made donations using their phones.
Even if they're penniless, they may pay heed to the bells this Christmas.
"Red kettles are usually so cash-dependent that too many people walk right past it," Patey said. "This is a brand new thing, so it could take awhile for people to adjust to giving this way, but we're hoping it's something that really catches on."
For more information, and to make online red kettle donations, visit www.salvationarmydfw.org.
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