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Salvation Army kettles going high-tech

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Short on cash to drop in the red kettles that seem to be everywhere this time of year? Don’t fret: The Salvation Army of Indiana soon will test a swipe-card option for curbside donations to its annual “Tree of Lights” fund-raising campaign.

Details are being finalized, but the local not-for-profit is planning to equip a couple downtown Indianapolis bell ringers with credit card machines to collect contributions from donors who are long on generosity but short on greenbacks.

“We’re a cashless society these days,” communications director Mike Rowland said. “So we thought we’d try this.”

Many charities are looking for innovative ways to reach out to new and existing donors, said Kris Kindelsperger, senior executive consultant at Greenwood-based Johnson Grossnickle and Associates.

“Lots of organizations are experimenting new new ideas, new techniques,” he said. “They’re trying to adapt to the lifestyles of their donors.”

Such efforts tend to add to more traditional fund-raising efforts rather than replace them, Kindelsperger said.

Indeed, Rowland said more than 140 of the traditional red kettles are in place throughout central Indiana as part of the group’s holiday campaign, which also includes a direct-mail appeal and special events like a December radiothon.

This year’s goal: a record $3 million. Tree of Lights raised a total of $2.9 million to support Salvation Army programs, he said. Officials hope the red kettles generate $840,000 of that total, up from $794,000 last year.

Individual donations are especially important this year because of an expected drop-off in corporate donations. Giving by companies has been soft so far, Rowland said, but demand for services in November is up 19 percent compared to 2008.

“We’re hoping Hoosiers will dig deep again,” he said.

The Tree of Lights campaign, which runs through the end of January, generates about a third of the revenue needed to support central Indiana programs—including drug and alcohol rehabilitation, shelters for women and children, and neighborhood community centers.

Although the bulk of gifts still are made by mail, the Salvation Army has been tapping technology for help in recent years. Contributions to IndyKettle.org, an online option launched in 2006, still represent a small slice of the fund-raising pie, but Rowland said it’s getting bigger.

That, too, is par for the course, Kindelsperger said. Groups that utilize technology for fund raising are reporting an increase in the amount and percentage of online giving, he said, but it’s not seeing the dramatic growth some observers expected.

“I’m not sure anyone knows why that is,” he said.

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