You’d think charities would do back flips over your unwanted items. But unless you have the ability and strength to get them out of your home, you’d be wrong. When I recently combined two households I called all the biggies (Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity), anxious to donate quality furniture to a worthy cause (and hoping for a tidy receipt come tax time). Each asked the same question: What day can you have it out on your front lawn? “Huh? I’m 5-foot-1 and barely weigh 105 pounds. And you want me to just move that sofa bed across my living room and out the front door?” In frustration I finally paid my movers to haul everything off, destination unknown.
No more pick-ups
Donating goods used to be easy. You either dropped items off or called the nonprofit to schedule a pickup. Staffers would even enter your home and haul out that sofa bed or heavy television console. No more.
The cost of fuel, staff and equipment makes stuff expensive to pick-up. Add in the liability factor, say a vase knocked off a table or even an accusation of theft, and it’s no surprise many of the larger social service groups have abandoned or scaled back pick-up services.
Even if a charity does have a truck, you better live in the right zip code. The Salvation Army told me I lived in an “undesirable” neighborhood, based on my zip code, and it didn’t send trucks there. My neighborhood is brand-new, built on the remnants of a closed military base. No amount of cajoling could change their mind.
At least I got rid of my stuff. After repeated attempts, some donors simply give up. One friend in Brooklyn waited three weeks for the Salvation Army to pick up her parents’ bedroom furniture. Then the driver rejected it because of a few dings. A single flight of steps put off other organizations. Her lesson: New York City sanitation will take anything. And that’s who got the donation.
The dump is not the answer
Charities say it’s not capriciousness but economic reality — if they can’t sell it, they shouldn’t take it. Resale stores generate revenue for that nonprofit’s mission, be it job training, adult rehabilitation or building homes. While they are grateful for donations, all the charities I spoke to said anything they can’t sell has to be recycled or trashed. Get this: In 2010, the Salvation Army spent $10.5 million in landfill costs.
But your stuff doesn’t have to end up in the dump. Smart donors know what will and won’t be accepted by resale stores can vary wildly, even from neighborhood to neighborhood. That’s because even though they may be branded Goodwill, Salvation Army or Habitat For Humanity, resale shops are set up as independent nonprofits, each with its own 501(c)3.
This allows store managers to set their own rules based on local buying habits. Before you donate, call around and ask about policies. That way you’ll know if your nearby Goodwill won’t take downhill skis (citing liability issues), but welcomes roller skates.
Tips for successful donating
Holding onto unused goods you’d like to sell or give away? Here are some ways to do so.
- Visit potential nonprofit outlets to find a good match. Note what they stock, be it furniture, appliances or mostly clothes.
- Inform the charity what you are donating, its location, dimensions and any obstacles (like stairs or narrow hallways).
- If you can’t move items to your garage or front porch, a requirement for some pickups, see if friends or family can lend a hand. Or ask the charity if it partners with local movers who can safely remove goods from your home at a discounted rate.
- Try smaller nonprofits, such as rescue missions, churches, or public schools. Often they are willing to go the extra mile for your donation.
- Let the Internet help. A new website, WebThriftStore, is an easy way to sell your unique treasure with all proceeds going to your chosen charity. Buyers make their payment to the charity, not to you. You get a tax deduction, the buyer gets a bargain, and the charity gets cash. Or try eBay Giving Works which lets you donate 10% to 100% of your sale to a charity.