The Salvation Army is pivoting its annual fundraising this year in the midst of the pandemic and a national coin shortage.
The Red Kettle fundraiser, known for its signature bell ringing outside of stores that cues the official start to the holiday season, will kick off early this year as the organization faces what could be the greatest risk to its fundraising goals.
While a resurgence of coronavirus cases poses a major threat to brick-and-mortar shops come November and December, consumers have less change in their pockets due to a decrease in coin circulation nationwide. With fewer ringing locations, reduced kettle traffic and a dramatic decrease in requests for services, The Salvation Army is concerned that kettle donations could drop by as much as 50%.
Last year, the campaign raised $126 million through about 30,000 red kettles. That number is expected to significantly decrease this year.
“The seriousness of the situation has caused us to take action, by launching our holiday campaign early,” commander of the Salvation Army Northern Division, Lt. Colonel Dan Jennings, said in a statement. “The pandemic’s impact will severely limit our ability to raise funds through our traditional holiday kettles and, combined with the dramatic increase in demand for assistance, we felt the need to start the campaign now to raise awareness in our communities.
The pandemic has created somewhat of a double-edged sword for The Salvation Army.
On one hand, the economic slump has spurred an unprecedented increase in demand for services, with a 155% surge in the number of people served since March. At the same time, the ongoing pandemic has raised concern among potential volunteers for the Red Kettle initiative, which has been evident through reduced volunteer registrations this year.
“Our ability to raise vital funds to serve those in need this Christmas and beyond is at risk,” national commander of The Salvation Army, Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, told FOX Business. “We need everyone who has the capacity to come alongside us and ensure that the holiday season is bright for millions. We’re asking Americans to help rescue Christmas with us by providing support in any way they can. Our hope is to offset these challenges to meet the increasing demand for services across our nation.”
Since The Salvation Army raises 40% of its annual funds during the holiday season, this year’s shortfalls put the nonprofit’s bottom line at stake. However, the charitable organization is finding new ways to meet people where they are and circumvent the coin dilemma by pushing for digital donations.
Payments through Apple Pay and Google Pay are now accepted at any red kettle across the country through a QR code. Other stay-at-home ways to make contributions include using Amazon Alexa, by saying, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” as well as texting KETTLE to 91999.
Even though The Salvation Army anticipates fewer red buckets, ringing bells and tangible donations, its approach to embracing digital formats can nonetheless expand its reach to many more consumers who are shopping online this year.
The coin shortage comes as more people shift their shopping habits from cash purchases to online transactions and ditch their spare change. The Fed has even taken measures to up the flow of coins through the launch of the Coin Task Force, made up of representatives from the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Mint, banks, merchants, industry groups and credit unions, among others. The #GetCoinMoving campaign aims to bring awareness and promote strategies to resolve the coin supply chain issue.
However, with the grim outlook for in-person shopping this year, especially as many cities reenter stay-at-home orders, the circulation of coins could be further disrupted.