The Twin Cities Salvation Army hopes that fresh young recruits will breathe new life into its traditional Christmas­time red kettle campaign, which started Friday.

Nearly 100 Cristo Rey Jesuit High School students have volunteered for the 31-day red kettle campaign to see who can ring up the most donations.

“We need to get more of the younger generation involved in philanthropy and nonprofits,” Salvation Army board member Debbie Beck said. “This is a fun way to see who can do the most good.”

Last year, the Twin Cities Salvation Army fell $100,000 short of its holiday fundraising goal — bringing in $2.6 million from the kettles and an additional $8.9 million from other efforts.

Beck said she and fellow board members brainstormed ways to promote the red kettles and realized it might be as simple as passing the bell to a new generation of volunteers.

The Salvation Army has always welcomed volunteers of all ages — those 16 and under need parental permission, and teens 14 and under need to be accompanied by an adult. But this year there’s a concerted effort to attract teens and young adults.

“I believe in the mission. I’ve seen the numbers and what goes back to the community,” Beck said. “The funds that people give actually goes to do good.”

Beck — who happens to be one of the Salvation Army’s most successful and flamboyant ringers and is known to dance in an elf costume for donations — trained the students on how to ring.

First the serious stuff: Put away those smartphones, she said. Smiling, greeting people, expressing gratitude are key skills for successful ringers.

“Make sure they understand they are representing the Salvation Army,” Beck said.

Now for the fun part: Festive, family-friendly attire is welcome. Santa hats, elf ears, reindeer antlers and sparkly scarves will catch the eye of potential donors. Peppy bell ringing, singing a carol, even a few dance moves can help close the deal, Beck said.

Beck said her dancing elf routine is so popular she’s had people walk past her into a store, then turn around and drop a few bucks into the kettle. “They enjoy that silliness. It makes people smile,” she said.

The red kettles are often a young child’s first lesson in giving.

“The fun thing is seeing the kids come up and wanting to put something in the kettle. That is starting out small, and good for parents for encouraging their kids to do that,” Beck said.

The average red kettle collects about $30 an hour, but a friendly ringer at a popular shopping spot can easily double that. About 84 cents of every dollar donated goes to people in need, said Salvation Army spokeswoman Julie Borgen.

One of the biggest challenges for ringers is that people carry less cash these days, Beck said. The Salvation Army has adapted with the times, including online giving and text-to-give campaigns.

But the charity still enjoys fundraising success with some of its traditional efforts, including mailers and the red kettles, Borgen said.

“For the foreseeable future, there will be red kettles. It’s an iconic symbol of the Salvation Army and we still take in a substantial amount of money in the kettles,” Borgen said.

This year, the Salvation Army’s Christmas fundraising goal is $11.7 million, with $2.6 million of that anticipated coming from the kettles.

A symbol of the holiday season, red kettles date back to 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee set out a pot to raise money for a Christmas Day meal for a thousand of San Francisco and Oakland’s poor.

The Twin Cities Salvation Army was founded in 1886, and Borgen said she believes the red kettles have been used in Minnesota for more than a century; today more than 500 are put out around the Twin Cities. The local nonprofit relies on 22,000 volunteers each year.

All the money raised stays local. Each year, the Twin Cities Salvation Army helps 155,000 people in the metro area, serving 1,100 hot meals daily and providing shelter to more than 600 every night.

To volunteer, go to salvationarmynorth.org/bellring.

 

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804