In the last decade or so, the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza has extended well beyond the original Black Friday sales to include a special days focusing on various segments of the consumer economy, such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Over the last five years, however, the addition of a new day has moved people to focus not on buying things for themselves, family and friends, but to donating to causes that help others during the holiday and throughout the year.
Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 by a host of technology companies, charitable institutions and online media outlets. In 2016, approximately $168 million was donated to various nonprofit organizations on Giving Tuesday alone, and that amount is set to increase significantly this year.
But Giving Tuesday is not just about giving money. Many people are using it to donate toys, clothes, furniture, educational supplies, and other things many people desperately need but do not have access to. These “gifts in kind” are an important part of the giving economy, and as Giving Tuesday continues to grow, these tangible donations will increase as well.
If you are planning to drop off items at your nearest Goodwill, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, or Toys for Tots this Giving Tuesday – or any time during the holiday season – it is important to keep in mind that there is more to donating material goods than just clearing your attic of all your old stuff. Making sure your donations are safe for others is a critical step in helping those in need, and it will make you feel even better about your gift knowing that you donated responsibly.
Charities Are Not Your Landfill
If something is broken, worn, dirty, or otherwise unusable, do not donate it: Throw it away (or recycle it, if possible).
The sad truth is that many charities spend vast amounts of money to sort through donated goods and weed out all of the items that are unsafe to give away or sell in thrift stores. Not only do they often have to train and pay workers to go through all these items, but they also then have to pay to have the unwanted items shipped to a landfill.
Never Donate These Used Items
- Used sports safety equipment (helmets, shin guards, etc.)
- Used infant safety items like car seats
- Used toys with bite marks, broken pieces, or small pieces
- Used cloth toys that are difficult to sanitize, like stuffed animals
If you really want to donate items like the above, purchase them new—especially when there are small parts that could be dangerous for babies. Chances are that you no longer have the original packaging with the required age recommendation and choking hazard warnings. But before you buy new, keep these things in mind…
Research Needed Items
Just because you want to give a particular item doesn’t mean such items are in need. When looking to help others, it’s not enough just to give them what you think they want – you need to find out what will actually be useful to them.
“Research” here can be as simple as calling up the charity you want to donate to and asking them what the people they help are most in need of. Most charities will also list needed items on their websites.
Also, don’t be afraid to donate outside the box. If a charity says they need medical supplies more than toys, don’t hesitate to buy a case of bandages instead of the latest action figure. Toys are certainly nice and in high demand, but they are also not necessary for children who are in need of warm, clean clothes and medical supplies.
Commonly Needed Donation Items
- Toilet paper
- First aid items (bandages, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, etc.)
- Diabetes supplies (test strips/kits, unexpired and unopened insulin, etc.)
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Underwear and socks
- Blankets, pillows and towels
- Spices and seasonings
- School supplies
- Bags and boxes
- Reading glasses
Note that many of these items are things that shelters and donation centers need year-round. Consider stocking up when you see sales – watch for BOGO deals and give away the one you get for free. Also, look for specials during Back to School season and post-holiday discounts.
Consider Just Giving Money
I know, this post is about donating gifts in kind, but when it comes down to it, nothing beats the flexibility of good, old-fashioned cash in hand. And it really may be the best option for the charity, anyway.
In many cases, charities are able to buy things they need in bulk – possibly with discounts and without having to pay sales tax. In that sense, giving money will make your dollars stretch much farther than you could stretch it on your own.
Furthermore, charities can use monetary gifts to pay for things that can’t otherwise be donated, such as utility bills, building maintenance and payrolls for their often overworked and underappreciated staffs.
If you were hoping to give away your used stuff, consider selling it on eBay, Craigslist or an old-school yard sale, instead. Then, give the money you earn to the charity of your choice.
Give Safely This Giving Tuesday
Whatever you end up giving, make sure that you think about how to do it safely. Many people need help – but putting them at risk of injury or health hazards is no help to anyone!