But this year, if the generous urge hits when you haven't got cash on hand, don't just walk on past, promising yourself you'll drop some money in next time -- you may still be able to do your good deed right then.
Yes, even the Salvation Army has embraced the smartphone mobile-tech revolution: At select kettle locations in and around Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, and New York, you can now swipe a credit or debit card to donate.
Citibank (C) is the first corporate sponsor of The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign in the Greater New York area. In addition to supporting the campaign financially, it will promote the cause by featuring Red Kettle screens on more than 1,000 Citibank ATMs in the region.
Bell ringers will use Android smartphones donated by Sprint Nextel (S), equipped with Square's postage-stamp-size card reader and two apps, one from Square and the other from The Salvation Army. Swipe, choose an amount, and the money goes into the Salvation Army's account. You can even get a receipt via text.
Why this marriage between the big financial institution and the Protestant charity? "We share two important goals with the Salvation Army: to help people live financially sustainable lives and to help communities grow and thrive," says Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Citibank.
Last year, more than 1 million people in the Greater New York area donated to the campaign, putting about $2.5 million into its coffers and helping provide basic necessities to 750,000 people.
For the Salvation Army, the hope is that ease of using the technology will make it harder for people to say no. "The needs are greater than ever," said Lt. Colonel Guy Klemanski, Divisional Commander for The Salvation Army Greater New York. "Some people who used to donate to us are now coming to us for help. People are hurting."
Ring-a-ding. Swipe. Smile. It could be the one time when you don't have to feel guilty about pulling out your plastic this season.