The science behind the Salvation Army bell ringers

Behind the scenes of the Salvation Army Bell Ringers
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 6:43 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Captain Jason Burns has been with the Salvation Army for 14 years - serving here in Richmond, and in six other locations, including Charleston, Atlanta and Memphis.

“I love ringing bells,” said Burns. “I ring at least two times a year. I go out by myself with our ringers one day, and I just encourage them and challenge them.”

The bell-ringing is an iconic sound that puts people in the giving spirit. A ringing reminder that Christmas is almost here. And to get there, there’s a lot to consider: The weather, the temperature, even how friendly a bell ringer is in front of those kettles.

“It’s kind of a mixture between art, science, instinct, being out and doing it,” said Burns.

Fifty ringers will don the red vests this December. Greeting shoppers in front of busy stores. The placement of the red kettle is vital. It’s all about location. It’s best to have them near the front doors, usually a grocery store, Walmart or high traffic shopping center.

“Depending on where you are in the world, temperature makes a difference. So, if you’re further north of us who are used to the cold, cold weather, they’re OK with temperatures below 30 degrees.”

In Richmond, below 50 but above 30 degrees is the sweet spot - where purses and wallets usually open just a little more.

Attitude also matters - the friendlier, the better for a bell ringer.

“If you have someone who is friendly, outgoing, they tend to do better than someone who’s just playing an instrument and not engaging people, or people like the instrument, it doesn’t seem to be as effective as just someone who talks to every single person coming, and ‘hello, Merry Christmas, how are you today,” said Captain Burns.

In some locations, even the gender of a bell ringer can play a role in how much is collected on a given day.

“Sometimes it’s age as well. So, we know there’s some locations that an older female will do generally better than an older male. We know some locations that younger individuals will do generally better than older individuals.”

All of these are strategies that could lead to more giving. The Salvation Army of Central Virginia hopes to raise $250,000 this season.

“We know that it’s a stretch for us to get that this year with a climate of employment. But we do believe that through volunteer engagement, and just some really good kettle days, that we should be able to get really close to that amount,” said Burns.

The window for the Salvation Army to raise money is short. The bell ringers will end for the season around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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