Clearing Clutter? Here's how to Donate Responsibly
As the new year begins, we’re clearing the clutter from our closets and homes. Donations spike - but that’s not always a good thing. Much like shopping on Etsy, buyer (or giver) beware; sometimes our intended help actually does more harm than good.
Those items you think are helping your community may end up lining the pocket of a CEO, or being sold to developing countries. Here's how to make the most of your donations, helping only the most worthy organizations.
Skip the Donation Bins
While filling your gas tank or heading out of the grocery store parking lot, you’ve probably seen “donation” bins conveniently waiting to accept your gently used clothing and home items. These bins seem like a great idea. In reality, though, the organizations who own the bins are profiting from them and your old sweaters might end up baled and shipped to a developing country to be sold.
In fact, in 2014, the New York City Council introduced legislation that would keep the donation bins from popping up all over the city and require that those who run these “charities” to register the bins and provide an annual report outlining just how much they take in.
One of the more popular “charities” guilty of placing the bins is Planet Aid. Charity Watch investigated the truth behind their giving (or lack thereof). Further investigation found that they may be connected to a cult-like group whose leader is running from the FBI. There’s enough questions raised that I just won’t donate to them.
PS: Those nonprofit donation pickups that happen at your house - you know, the ones that send you a plastic bag in the mail? They're doing the same thing.
Our Favorite Places to Donate
1. Local "Buy Nothing" or Freecycle Groups
The phrase "one person's trash is another person's treasure" is so truly accurate when it comes to your local Buy Nothing groups on Facebook. This is a great place to start when you have items that may not be a good fit for any of the other options listed below.
2. Animal Shelters - Old towels, sheets, blankets, pet beds, collars, leashes, pet coats.
These items will be much appreciated here, especially in winter! You can find a shelter near you by checking out Shelter Animals Count.
3. Dress for Success - Women's professional clothing.
This is a wonderful organization that helps provides gently used office appropriate clothing items to women who are working to improve their lives. A clean, professional outfit can mean the difference between employed and unemployed. If there’s not a chapter near you, look into local women’s shelters. Your favorite suit could just make someone look fabulous for their first interview!
4. Homeless Shelters - Hotel-size toiletries, old casual clothing and shoes.
All of our excess toiletries, wearable old casual clothes and shoes go to our local homeless outreach center where they provide showers, meals, and counseling assistance.
5. Local Charity “Clothes Closets” - Nicer casual clothing, office attire, housewares, linens in good condition, children’s goods.
I donate these things to our local charity-run “Clothes Closet” which lets truly needy families “shop” for free. I prefer this over taking things to the local thrift store.
6. Domestic Violence Shelters - Work clothing, household items, children’s items.
These organizations help women and children in one of the most difficult situations life can throw at them. Often, when these women flee a dangerous relationship, they don’t have time to take anything but their children.
7. Local Schools - Art supplies, craft supplies, fabric, musical instruments.
Many public school art teachers will gladly take old art, craft, and fabric supplies for use with their students. The music teachers will often take old instruments and sheet music, as budgets for these programs are notoriously small.
Watch Out For: Unique Thrift and Savers
Unique Thrift is a popular donation-based thrift store chain, but in reality it’s owned by the billion-dollar retail company Savers. A small line of text on their website states “TVI, Inc. d/b/a Savers and Value Village is a for profit professional fundraiser.” They boast that they are saving clothing from the landfill.
In reality, Unique and Savers are a billion-dollar, for-profit business selling the inventory you’ve given them for free.
They donate a meager amount to local charities in order to state that they’re “giving back.” (In California this was as low as 0.02% of profits. Just say no!)
How to Donate Wisely
Luckily, giving to worthwhile charities and organizations can be as simple as a few clicks. Both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator will help you find organizations in your area that will take your well loved but still fabulous clothing, furniture and household items and you can rest easier knowing that your donation helped those in need in your community.
Here are a few tips from both of these organizations to get the ball rolling:
- Charity Watch - Tips for Giving Wisely
- Charity Navigator - Spring Cleaning
- Charity Navigator - Guide to Donating Noncash Items
- Charity Navigator - How to Donate Safely
I also loved this infographic from Charity Navigator. Especially important to me was question number 1 - Is it worth donating?
Title image credit: Laura Metzler Photography