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Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time
credits and disclaimer

It's a wonderful thing to donate cash or to donate time (volunteer) for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, charities, etc. - mostly. But some organizations actually do NOT want such donation of things.

Donating things -- in-kind contributions -- may be of value to others. However, please note:

  • Many organizations have restrictions on what they accept. For instance, toy-distribution charities for poor children usually require that toys be new and in their original store wrapping. This is to ensure that the items are in perfect working condition and will make children feel just like any child, not someone worthy of only the castoff of others. Same for coat drives, shoe drives, pajama drives, etc. Please respect these restrictions.

  • Most nonprofits cannot pick your items up. Most nonprofits lack the equipment, the staff, the cars or trucks and the money for gas or postage to transport your items.

  • There are very few organizations who ship clothes, food, shoes, blankets or school supplies overseas or even across the nation anymore, even if those items are new. This is for two reasons: (1) It's much more expensive to ship those items overseas than it is to simply buy them in the country itself, or in a country right next door. (2) The donation of these free items can take away desperately-needed local jobs. For instance, a lot of Haitian rice farmers had no market for their products because of all the donated rice to the country brought in from outside the country after the Earthquake, which made even more people impoverished. A lot of clothing donations have to be thrown away because people don't want them - they would rather buy cheap, NEW clothes. More on why more and more organizations don't send donated items overseas.

  • Also see Logistics and Disaster Relief: How to Help (and Not Hurt) Relief Efforts When You Donate or Volunteer, a blog from the UPS Foundation on how so many in-kind donations don't meet the needs of the relief agencies that are helping victims of disasters.
Donating Things Items/In-Kind Contributions

If you have secure, weather-proof storage space, contact your local Girl Scouts of the USA council office and let them know you would be willing to allow the Girl Scout troops in your area use the space to store their camping supplies, dutch ovens, camping ovens, arts and crafts, posters, tables and other items. You can sign prepare and sign paperwork to say that you will not be held responsible for the items, that you want only one or two people to have access to the storage (as opposed to various people), that you have to be called each time someone wants access to the space, and that the offer is good for only one year, with renewal to be discussed within 60 days of the end of your agreement.

If you have a meeting room at your company or organization, you could allow a nonprofit in your area to book the room once a month for their board meetings or member meetings, depending on how many people the room can fit. For instance, Girl Scouts has troop leader meetings once-a-month for adult volunteers. Lots of nonprofits need a space to have a board meeting or a volunteer training once-a-month.

One of the best places to donate new or clean used clothes, clean used toys, clean dishes and cookware, electronics (VCRs, TVs, stereos, CD players, computers) and clean used furniture is Goodwill, which uses its store both to train people who are entering or re-entering the workforce and to raise money for its programs. By giving to Goodwill, you are helping to train people who want to work but need training and experience in order to get a job, you are helping the organization raise money for their programs, and you are better ensuring your items will get to someone who really wants them. Note the emphasis on clean items - please do NOT donate dirty, soiled or worn clothes, nor broken electronics, to Goodwill.

Used, clean, completely-stain-free business clothes for women would be welcomed at a woman's career closet. You can find these throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Call your local YWCA, United Way and Goodwill to find a career closet for women in in your area (note that your area may not have such).

Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old, worn-out athletic shoes for recycling, transforming them into a material used in creating athletic and playground surfaces as well as select Nike products. You can drop off athletic shoes of any brand for recycling. Sandals, flip-flops, dress shoes, boots and other types of shoes are not accepted. Shoes containing metal such as cleats or spikes also cannot be accepted. You can also recycle LIVESTRONG wristbands from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Bring up to 10 pairs of shoes to any Reuse-A-Shoe collection location, which can be found at all U.S. Nike retail stores as well as some global Nike locations, as well as places like universities, athletic clubs, special events and community recycling centers.

Clean, gently used shoes that are NOT in need of any repairs whatsoever can be donated to Goodwill or Soles4Souls or Donate Your Old Shoes.

Books can be donated to your local library, which will use them either as part of their lending collection or to sell and raise money to make purchases for its collection (libraries subscribe to several periodicals, databases and academic journals, and these subscriptions are VERY expensive!). Your local Goodwill also accepts books.

Donate non-perishable food to your local food pantry. Dry pasta in unopened boxes, canned goods, and anything else that does not need to be refrigerated and has a long shelf life (but has not yet gone past the expiration date) would be welcomed by your local food pantry. Find your local pantry by typing in the name of your city and state, and the phrase food pantry into Google, or call your local United Way and ask.

See if your community is served by an affiliate of AmpleHarvest.org, which allows you to share produce that you have grown in your own garden with those in need. Find your local food pantry/ies and find out if they are registered with AmpleHarvest.org; if they are not, encourage them to do so.

Donate CDs, DVDs, iPods and MP3 players to US troops based overseas via Tunes4thetroops.

Used cell phones and PDAs might be accepted at your local domestic violence shelter. If your local shelter doesn't accept such, try contacting domestic violence shelters in cities and counties around where you live. Hope Phones, IntraHealth, and Medic Mobile together have a phone donation campaign to support health workers in Africa. Doing a search on Google will also help you find where to donate your used cell phones and PDAs.

Donate a musical instrument to the Roots of Music, for children in the Gulf Coast, or call your local elementary school, middle school or high school and ask if they accept donations for students who cannot afford such. Your local Kiwanis Club may have a program to donate musical instruments as well.

Local college or university drama departments may accept clean hats, clean scarves, clean men's suits, and vintage clothes, as well as period-looking furniture, carpets, lamps and other home furnishings.

Your home-made sewn or knitted items can go to a variety of places:

    Afghans for Afghans

    Mother Bear Project, provides crocheted and knit bears to children with HIV/AIDS

    Binky Patrol is an all volunteer, national, non-profit organization making and distributing homemade blankets to children born HIV+, drug-addicted, infected with AIDS or other chronic & terminal illnesses, those who are abused, in foster care or experiencing trauma of any kind. A binky is a homemade blanket that can be sewn, knitted, crocheted or quilted. the blankets range in size from three feet square up to twin bed size.

    Project Linus, making blankets and crafts for sick children

    Quilts of Valor (QOVs), making quilts for soldiers.

    Adopt a Soldier, allows volunteers to send letters and items to soldiers.

    Shawl Ministry (Christian volunteering)

Your unused hotel toiletries (shampoo, soap, etc., still in their original packages and NEVER used) might be welcomed at your local domestic violence shelter - call and ask if they would like these items. A local homeless shelter might like them as well. Note again: these should be unused.

If you are in Los Angeles, lightly-used car seats, strollers, clean baby clothes and toys can be donated to A New Way of Life, helping formerly incarcerated women and their children. Otherwise, these can go to Goodwill (all items should be clean and, as appropriate, fully-functional).

Adventure 16's Donate-A-Pack Foundation exists to benefit at-risk, low income, or disabled youth in Southern California by enabling them to partake in an outdoor wilderness experience. The foundation accepts all types of outdoor gear in usable condition, in addition to backpacks. The most needed items are sleeping bags, pads, tents and backpacks, but we also accept cook sets, stoves, water filters, footwear, apparel and more. Unless an item is badly damaged or falling apart, you can bring the item to one of the Adventure 16 stores in Southern California (they also accept shipped items - see the web site for details.

The Help Kenya Project accepts donated computer systems and ships them to Kenya, where they are donated to qualifying schools. You will need to pay for the shipping of any computer equipment you want to send to the organization, which is based in New York. You can also donate used computer equipment to Goodwill.

You can donate your car to Wheels of Success, which in 2009 distributed nearly 400 donated and refurbished cars to low-income, working individuals. They are based in Tampa, Florida. Your local public radio station, your local television station, or Goodwill will also often accept donation of used cars, even cars that do not operate anymore.

There may be a bicycle recycling intiative in your area. Find out by typing in the name of your city and state, and the phrase bicycle donation, then again with the phrase bicycle recycle, into Google, or call your local United Way and ask.

You can donate a used brace, crutches or a prosthetic to PIPO Missions, which refurbishes donated items and then custom-fits and delivers them to people in need in rural Mexico.

Donate used eye glasses to Lions Club International. Volunteers at Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centers (LERCs) clean, sort by prescription strength and package the glasses. Most of the recycled glasses are distributed to people in need in developing countries where they will have the greatest impact.

You can donate bone marrow as part of the Be the Match national registry, or donate blood to your local American Red Cross blood bank. Note that donate means you are NOT paid.

You can designate now that your organs and tissue be donated after your death to people in need. OrganDonor.gov has complete information.

You can designate now that your entire body be donated after your death to people in need. MedCure is a nonprofit that accepts these donations.

And note that you can advocate for any of the aforementioned organizations, or any organization you want to support, using your own online networks. Read more on how you can advocate for an issue important to you.

Also see: Fifty Five Ways to Repurpose a Material Donation, a long list of ideas from the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), which guides and informs the public, diaspora and community groups, embassies, nonprofits, corporations, and government officials about the most effective ways to support international disaster relief. "When disaster strikes overseas, the generosity of the American people can be inspiring. Individually and in communities, people are quick to organize to help those in need. But many times, our good intentions do not have the desired impacts. CIDI was formed to educate American about the smartest and most appropriate ways to help international disaster victims. When they give responsibly, Americans provide support that is most beneficial to disaster relief and recovery efforts overseas."

Also see Logistics and Disaster Relief: How to Help (and Not Hurt) Relief Efforts When You Donate or Volunteer, a blog from the UPS Foundation on how so many in-kind donations don't meet the needs of the relief agencies that are helping victims of disasters.

Also see (& download!) this SWEDOW chart:

Click on image to download PDF, print, laminate, and avoid the wrath of Bill Easterly.

More blogs to convince you not to send items overseas:

Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor

Giving the Wrong Way, an excellent blog from a colleague in Ukraine

Also see


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