Experts who say consumers spend more on plastic can see active proof in Akron, Ohio.
Starting the day after Thanksgiving, holiday shoppers wishing to drop money in Salvation Army kettles there have found they can charge their gifts.
While using credit cards to accept donations is not new, the idea of using a Salvation Army kettle with a point of sale terminal inside is.
"People are surprised, and there is a lot of curiosity," said Maj. Frank J. Kirk, 48, who has been with the Salvation Army for 25 years and heads the Summit County chapter. "It takes about 20 seconds to complete the whole transaction."
The chapter has 42 kettles throughout Ohio, but decided this year only one should accept credit cards.
What's more, the high-tech kettle has attracted younger donors who give more.
The average gift?
"$24.91," Mr. Kirk said, and it can be used as a tax writeoff.
"We're usually really pleased if we find a $5 or $10 bill," Mr. Kirk said, noting that the typical donation is under $1.
"The typical cash donor (to the Salvation Army) is over 60," said Gene Lewis, president of Intraworx, the computer consulting firm in Akron that engineered the project. The credit card donors "are all younger people, maybe between 30 and 40, people who don't carry cash to malls for Christmas shopping."
The credit card kettle, placed next to one for standard cash donations, takes MasterCard and Visa.
The $3,000 terminal, donated by an Akron company called Telxon, has a keypad for donors to punch in account numbers and donation amount, and a printer that feeds the receipt through the kettle pot opening. It is portable and can be removed for use at other fund-raisers.
Card receipts are processed through First Merit Bank, a $5.5 billion Akron-based bank with 3,500 merchants throughout Ohio.
"We're not in it for the profit," said Stephen L. Brookbank, vice president and merchant business manager for the bank. "We're in it to help the Salvation Army increase donations."
Mr. Lewis said Salvation Army chapters nationwide have contacted him to implement similar programs next year.
The Summit County Salvation Army branch hopes to raise $160,000 this year, and Mr. Kirk said they are about 25% of the way there.