The Salvation Army's 122nd annual Red Kettle Campaign officially got under way at halftime of the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game. Country music star Kenny Chesney launched the drive with a performance at the half. Technology, in the form of the online kettle and use of social media, is now part of the holiday tradition.
Rich Draeger, assistant director of development at The Salvation Army division headquarters in Peoria, said money given online is growing but it won't soon replace the familiar bell-ringers in front of stores.
"The larger context is I don't think the regular kettles will ever go away,"
He said the red kettles are one of the most prominent visual reminders to people of the annual Red Kettle Campaign.
"One of the pluses of the online campaign is the gifts tend to be larger," Draeger said.
While people may typically drop a buck or two into the kettles, he said online gifts tend to run more in the $25-30 range. Last year, Online Red Kettles raised nearly $2 million. According to The Salvation Army Web site, more than 25,000 volunteers rang bells last year. In 2011, the campaign raised $147.6 million nationwide.
For the eighth year, The Salvation Army allows individuals to become online bell-ringers by signing up to host an Online Red Kettle at www.onlineredkettle.org.
Draeger said the challenge is to engage younger people and to come up with new ways to keep the public interested in the Red Kettle Campaign.
"There's a whole larger generation that is largely cashless," he said. "There are some locations that actually have a credit card swipe machine at the kettle."
Draeger said he believes the closest cities that technology is used are Springfield and possibly the Quad Cities.
"The only problem we run into, if you're in an outdoor location, if the batteries get cold and you're not near an outlet, the batteries tend to die out," he said.
For instance, of the 40 kettle locations in Peoria, only four are indoors, a real challenge during a typical Illinois winter.
Social media is also being used to help the kettle campaign. There will be a free concert at 5:30 p.m. CST Dec. 15 in Los Angeles featuring Owl City. The concert will be streamed live via Cambio on The Salvation Army's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SalvationArmyUSA. Pandora will feature a branded Salvation Army Rock the Red Kettle music station, featuring songs from Owl City, as well as other Rock the Red Kettle performers.
Draeger said Christmas is an important time of year for The Salvation Army.
"Christmas is generally the largest single fund-raiser for any location," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - In addition to allowing people to donate to the Kettle Campaign online — Draeger said the online donations appear to be true additional funds, rather than taking away from the traditional kettles — a number of promotions are used to draw more interest to the traditional Red Kettle Campaign. In Galesburg, Bears/Packers and University of Illinois/University of Iowa challenges have been held in the past. In the Peoria area, Draeger said there is a Peoria/East Peoria mayor challenge.
"Obviously there are a lot of people out there asking for charitable donations," he said, explaining that is why it's important to raise awareness of the Kettle Campaign. " We're just trying to find unique ways to bring attention to the kettles."
Money raised by the Red Kettle Campaign not only pays for Christmas programs, Draeger said "it would go to support our youth programs, nursing home visitation," for instance. "As a matter of fact, the money we are spending this Christmas was raised last year."
The campaign uses a combination of volunteer bell-ringers and those who are paid. While Draeger said the fewer paid bell-ringers there are, the more money goes for The Salvation Army's programs, even those who are paid to ring bells tend to be people who need a helping hand.
"The people we hire really need it, so we really look at that as part of our ministry," he said. "Instead of just signing up (for help) they're working."