As you visit your local retailers during the holiday season, you are almost certain to run across at least one Salvation Army red kettle near a store's entrance. Helpful bell ringers man the stations and are happy to greet you and your donations of change, dollar bills, and ... $500,000 checks.
Over the years, donors who enjoy giving along with the element of surprise have placed large donations and gold coins into the red kettles throughout the nation. However, one kettle in Rosemount, Minnesota, was recently graced with a record check of $500,000 by a generous couple who wishes to remain anonymous.
Surely, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee never envisioned donations of $500,000 when he began the red kettle campaign in 1891 in the San Francisco Bay Area. McFee modeled the idea after a large iron pot in Liverpool, England, placed near the docks to collect donations from maritime travelers. The first donation kettle was placed in Oakland with a sign: "Keep the Pot Boiling." Within six years, the idea had traveled to the East Coast. More than 100 years later, red kettles are used around the world, from Japan to Europe and even South America.
There are more than 25,000 red kettles throughout America standing at the ready for your holiday donations. Most gather modest amounts of cash, with typical reports at around $30-$60 per hour or $150-$300 per each bell ringer's five-hour shift. All that hard work adds up (buoyed by the periodic $500,000 check or gold coin). The last Salvation Army campaign raised a total of $144.7 million for those in need.
While kettles are found in many retailing locations and street corners, over one-quarter of that total comes from kettles stationed outside the stores of one corporate partner — Walmart. The kettles outside Walmart and Sam's Club stores raised $40.5 million in 2014 and are likely to do even better in 2015.
The Salvation Army has done a wonderful job marketing their red kettles. Publicity is not limited to local news programs anymore. For the last eighteen years, the campaign has officially kicked off on Thanksgiving during halftime of the Dallas Cowboys' nationally televised football game, featuring performers and entertainers as well as football players. The 2015 and 2016 campaign was kicked off by country music star Luke Bryan.
Appearances on national shows like NBC's Today and special events such as the Rock the Red Kettle concert in California, help to spread the word. For those with compelling backstories, the Twitter campaign #RedKettleReason offers a platform for people to share their personal reasons for donating.
Adapting to the times, the Salvation Army has accommodated changes in habits and technology. People used to dump their change into the kettles, but who uses cash these days? In response, the Salvation Army now has "dip jars" in some cities — red kettles equipped with card readers that can accept donations via credit or debit card. Statistics are not available, but anecdotal reports suggest that donations by card tend to be larger than cash ones.
The use of technology doesn't stop at the modified kettle. Through the Salvation Army website, it is now possible to set up an "online red kettle" for yourself, a team, or company in order to collect donations from others. Online kettles are perfect for friendly competitions and challenges. The Salvation Army even provides tips and tools for helping you acquire online donations.Please help the needy in your area by participating in the Red Kettle Campaign however you can, whether it is through volunteering time or giving money — or preferably, both.