Two years ago, we reported that the Salvation Army, a charitable brand best known for its red kettles and bell ringers that appear outside stores during the holiday shopping season, was implementing credit card processing in 120 U.S. cities. The reason? Shoppers just didn't seem to carry much disposable cash around anymore.
The experiment was a bold one for an organization that started 150 years ago. Truth be told, it wasn't a smashing success. Major George Hood of the Salvation Army tells the New York Times, "The credit card terminals really haven't been a blockbuster, I'll be candid. The winter elements have been a negative, people have to go through a process of entering data, and it's just generally more cumbersome."
But that isn't stopping the Salvation Army from keeping up with the times. During this year's holiday shopping season, the kettles will be ever-present, but the Salvation Army hopes to cash in on a new idea — a variation on accepting credit cards that should make it much easier for the consumer.
In ten locations in Chicago, Dallas, New York, and San Francisco, Salvation Army bell ringers will be equipped with Android smartphones, donated by Sprint Nextel, that have a kind of micro-terminal attached to them powered by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's Square.
Consumers simply swipe their debit or credit card through Square and their donation of any amount they choose goes to the Salvation Army. The tiny reader is portable and allows secure transactions, just like any retail credit card terminal. As the Salvation Army noted in a blog post, "With more families in need of Salvation Army services this year than ever before, we hope implementing this new technology will provide ease and incentive for new and existing donors."
The Salvation Army isn't the first charity to use Square, as the Girl Scouts tested the portable payment system during their 2011 cookie drive. But the Salvation Army's test, if successful, could have much broader implications for nonprofit fundraisers. Lucy Bernholz, who has special expertise in technology usage by nonprofits, tells the Times, "It's frictionless and will make it so easy to give that if the person ringing the bell can get your attention, there's no excuse any more because chances are you've got a credit card in your pocket."
Square CEO Dorsey adds that the technology "doesn't require [consumers] to learn anything new and it doesn't require the merchant or organization to learn anything new."
The connection came about because William Raduchel, who sits on the Salvation Army's national advisory board, is a technology start-up investor who was familiar with Square. He secured an introduction to Square through another investment firm. The Salvation Army's top management, says Raduchel, "were very fast to conclude this made sense for them."
"We're basically trying to make sure we're keeping up with our donors and embrace the news technologies they're embracing," says Major Hood. It's also a good way to reinforce that the Salvation Army can remain relevant — while still relying on those well-known bell ringers.
In addition to donating the Android smartphones, by the way, Sprint is supporting the Red Kettle campaign by making a $5 donation to The Salvation Army for each new line of service activated through the Salvation Army’s private online store between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
You can activate a new Sprint smartphone and help the company donate to The Salvation Army by visiting sprint.com/salvationarmy.