Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaigns Struggle To Cope With Drop In Shoppers As Online Sales Boom

A Salvation Army volunteer takes donations as part of the charity's Red Kettle campaign.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

More shoppers are choosing to stay home and go on the internet to finish their holiday shopping, and the Salvation Army is taking a hit because of it.

The charity’s annual Red Kettle campaign has thousands of red-vest wearing bell ringers stand in the cold outside stores, taking donations from holiday shoppers. But many campaigns have reported new difficulties in reaching their targets as fewer people look to do their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. That has been the case in Upstate New York, where WWNY-TV reported that donations have taken a sharp drop.

The Watertown Salvation Army reduced its goal this year, aiming for $60,000 instead of the $80,000 target it aimed for in the past. They are still about 20 percent short of that goal, Major Karen Smullen reported.

Smullen said that fewer people are going to the mall to shop, so there are fewer chances for donations.

“The foot traffic is not what it was last year; after a certain time at night during the week it’s basically very quiet there,” she said.

Some reported that with a slew of new options to pay for gifts — including mobile apps — fewer shoppers are carrying cash. Others cited changing habits among donors, as many are making more of their donations online, where they can spend more time researching charitable organizations. The Salvation Army has increased its online giving options as well, though it has not been able to offset the effect that a drop in shoppers has had on the Red Kettle campaign.

The trend has been the same across the country as more shoppers stay home and avoid the malls, which means also avoiding the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign workers. As Fortune reported, the in-store traffic on Black Friday saw a decline this year. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally when the Red Kettle campaign starts, but the weekend has seen a sharp decline.

“According to a poll commissioned by the National Retail Federation to look at American consumers’ behavior over the biggest shopping weekend of the year, some 165 million people made purchases either online or in stores over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend that ended on Cyber Monday (Nov. 26). That’s down from the 174 million who did so on the corresponding weekend last year.”

The situation has led some local Salvation Army branches to ask donors to dig a little deeper. As KTVZ reported, the charity’s branch in Bend, Oregon, has made a public plea for help in its 2018 campaign, which is still roughly $61,500 short of its $115,000 goal.