How to Decide Where to Donate Your Items, and What Thrift Stores May Not Tell You


In 2013 the largest form of charitable donations came from individuals, more so than foundations or corporations. As consumers we accumulate so much but as it turns out we are also very good at giving it away. From clothing and shoes, to toys and books the list is endless with the amount of items that are dropped off at donation centers across the country. From personal experience with helping others declutter, and continuously loading my car up with boxes and bags of items, I have seen first hand just how generous and giving we are as a society. Seeing so much generosity from others prompts me to always ask the question - where does this all go? Who is benefiting from this? What percentage of the donations are going to those in need? Is it better to consign my clothing or other items and write a check to my charity of choice? 

Here's how the major players in the donation world that have the most drop off centers specifically here in RI, Savers and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, shape up.

BBBS will pick up gently used items at your doorstep—including resalable clothing, coats, jeans, small household items and toys. The BBBS Foundation turns these items into cash by selling to thrift stores in bulk. They do not sell on a percentage basis. They then donate up to 100% of net profits to mentoring organizations that help children. Their programs are positively impacting the lives of many children and make an incredibly difference. The amount of acceptable donations they take covers almost every category. I have had the opportunity to speak with BBBS adult mentors and heard first hand the impact they make on children and teens and its humbling to hear. 

Now let's welcome in the middleman. This is where things seem to get a bit complex. One of the more popular thrift stores BBBS sells to is Savers. Savers is a 225 privately owned thrift store chain. In an article from the NY Post according to their goodwill spokeswoman Lauren Lawson “84 percent of the collective revenue of the sale of donated goods is funneled right back into community programs.”  It is true that half of donations to Goodwill end up in landfills, versus just 10 percent at Savers. Please keep in mind however if you are dropping of anything other than clothing it's not considered a charitable donation as this is profit for the thrift store chain. 


How do they determine what the clothing is worth?

Savers weighs the clothes and sends the charities a check for the value as bulk rags. The middleman then can sell the clothing for 10, 20 or 30 times the rag value. A ladies coat for example worth 80 cents measured by weight could bring $20 in the store. What the charities actually get is about 4 percent of their retail value. Not much.  As someone donating clothing you would have to give 25 bags of clothes through a middleman to match the impact of one bag given directly to a charity. Something tells me its better to give directly to a non profit charity.

Deciding What to Do With your Donations

It seems by eliminating the middlemen and donating directly to local charities you may be having a bigger impact on your community. Local homeless shelters, battered women shelters, libraries, religious institutions, etc are all great resources to give to. You may even want to reach out to your community and ask if there is a family in need. Children's hospitals, cancer care centers and even schools take donations. Taking a few minutes to make some calls to find out where you can drop off your unwanted items may be your best option if you are in fact concerned with how much of an impact your are making. Charity Navigator is a great tool to determine how charities rank. If you are a Rhode Islander and looking for a listing of local charities please visit this link for more info. Two of my personal favorite charities that collect from all over the globe are Souls for Soles, for shoe donations, and Free the Girls for bras. Yes there is a bra charity ladies!

We are givers and we want to give in a way that feels right for us. Once you do find a list that you feel comfortable donating to post it up on your fridge or mark the name of the organization on a donation bin your home. This will make giving easy knowing that it is going into the hands of those who need it.

If Consigning is Your Choice 

Maybe donating directly is not a road you'd prefer to take and consignment might work better. If you are interested in consigning your clothing and using that money, or a portion of it, to donate to a charity of your choice I have some great consignment tips for clothing over on my YouTube channel that will ensure you make the most from your clothing. Click here to view.