Monday, November 17, 2008

No cash to donate? Then use your card!

The New York Times reported on Friday that the Salvation Army is experimenting with a plastic alternative for people who do not have cash to throw in a holiday red kettle.

This season, five bell-ringers in El Paso County, Colo., will be the first to test accepting debit and credit cards along with spare change and bills. Salvation Army officials say the kettle tradition needs to be tweaked as consumers increasingly carry only plastic.

When I first read this I thought it was a terrible idea. Just what the economy needs, people donating money they don't have, on top of paying off debt they shouldn't have charged. Brilliant. But the more I think about, the more it makes sense -- as long as the card in question being swiped is of the debit variety, where the cash will come straight out of your account.

Like I said before, I never really carry cash, so a set-up like this would more fit my lifestyle. There have been times when I've wanted to drop a few dollars into a shiny red Salvation Army kettle, but came up short with some lint, a hair tie and a couple bobby pins from the bottom of my purse. Unless it was a charity for Macguyver, I don't think they'd appreciate my offer.

On the other hand, charging donations just doesn't seem like a kosher thing to do, especially in the current state of the economy. What do you guys think? Can you picture a bell-ringing Salvation Army elf with a card swiper affixed to the inside of his jacket? I think I've seen stranger things.


Anonymous said...

This could be a win-win. Those who are disciplined and pay the full credit card balance off every month could benefit from their charitable giving by earning rewards as per their credit card reward plan - assuming the contribution shows up as a purchase and not a cash advance. A cash advance would be bad....very very bad

paisley penguin said...

I just heard on NPR tonight you will be able to do a similar thing by sending money via text message.

Anonymous said...

Ooo, thanks for that, Paisley P - hoping that's not just for charity and opens up possibilities for my business (I'm 95% cash, 5% CC by PayPal).

Back on topic...I don't think it's a bad thing, though I doubt it will be terribly successful. How much do most people drop in the kettle - pocket change? $1-2? You're going to feel like a cheap-ass swiping for anything less than $5, which, I suspect, is more than most folks want to give in that particular situation. On the plus side, it might get some people to think a bit more about giving, and who they really want on the receiving end. And while that may not be so good for the SA, it is good for the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

I'd be all over that! at least i think i'd's always hit or miss when time to donate ;)

i don't like "hanging out" when i donate, thus making the dropping of money quickly much easier for me - if i had to charge, then wait for a receipt, and *trust* that all works out okay, might get a bit daunting.

but the potential of catching people in great moods could REALLY bring in some money!

Anonymous said...

I think that this was pretty inevitable -- and definitely ingenious on the part of Salvation Army. People tend to be very cheerful and giving during the holiday season, and paying with plastic is definitely more amenable to impulsive spending (or donating, in this case).
As it is, I try to curtail my credit card spending and favor using my debit instead -- it allows me to keep track of my spending. If I do ever encounter donations of this sort, I will most certainly just use my debit.

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