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Salvation Army Bell Ringers Now Accepting Credit Cards

Dec. 8, 2011
Credit Cards
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Declining to carry cash will be no excuse for withholding donations this holiday season. The Salvation Army can now accept credit card charges in select locations. With the help of Square, passing a red kettle without contributing will fill shoppers everywhere with guilt and shame. Before, you could pretend not to have cash and onlookers could only assume you were heartless. Now, they’ll know you’re heartless.

How they’re doing it

Square is a tiny magnetic-stripe reader that connects to your smartphone through its headphone jack. Coupled with a downloadable app, it converts your phone into a portable credit card terminal. Square charges 2.75% of every transaction to pay for the service, which isn’t unreasonable.

Square is the first device to put the power of plastic into the hands of the average consumer. You don’t have to operate a business to receive payments. Anyone with a Square “dongle” and its corresponding app can put the system to use.

Sprint Nextel donated a number of smartphones to the Salvations Army for collection efforts. So far, 40 locations in San Francisco, New York, Dallas and Chicago are equipped with Square and accepting credit card charges.

Three years ago, the Salvation Army installed credit card terminals at a number of locations. Though they were a bit of a flop, the Army has high hopes for Square. “The credit card terminals really haven’t been a blockbuster, I’ll be candid,” Salvation Army spokesman Major George Hood told the New York Times. “The winter elements have been a negative, people have to go through the process of entering data, and it’s just generally more cumbersome than we think Square will be.”

Nonprofits get with the times

Nonprofit organizations are generally pretty ineffectual when it comes to implementing social media strategies. But with the Salvation Army riding on the crest of some of the newest and hippest technology on the market, charities may finally start to realize the importance of keeping current with social media and mobile apps.

Time will tell if the Salvation Army’s technological upgrade will actually increase donations. It will likely be a slow process, as most shoppers won’t realize they can donate without cash. But once the word’s out, people may be inclined to make larger donations, especially with credit cards like the Chase Freedom offering 5% cash back rewards for charity through December.

Last year, the Salvation Army raked in more than $142 million. A whopping 82% of that sum went to support services in 5,000 communities worldwide, providing food, clothing and toys to folks in need. Hopefully the new technology will bring even more much-needed donations their way this holiday season.