The Ideal of Donation Making a donation is a feel-good decision that is win-win-win: you help another human being, you keep something out of landfills, and you avoid being recommended for Hoarders. You imagine some child in need skipping about in your child’s cast-off clothes playing with a toy he no longer wanted, but then you are shocked to learn that the organization to which you donate these things might sell it. Get over it!
The Reality of Donation The services most organizations provide go beyond handing out clothes and toys to less privileged populations. To fund those services, they need money. Even organizations that do redistribute used items to those in need can’t use everything that comes their way, and they can’t be paying rent to store it for later use. I learned to let go of my indignation and see it from a broader perspective: we were no longer using something that we considered to retain some value, and we did not want to add more garbage to a landfill, so these organizations allow us to bypass the garbage truck and allow for recycling or reusing what we have discarded. If they sell our discards to pay wages and overhead for the services they provide, that only increases the amount of people helped by our donations. After all, when you write a check to the American Red Cross, every single penny does not go directly to help victims of disaster.
The Cardinal Rule of Donation Knowing, then, that what you are donating will probably be sold, ask yourself, “Would I buy this in this condition?” A blueberry stain that is good enough for someone who can’t afford a onesie turns the garment into an unsellable rag when resell value is considered. Some places that accept clothing donations in fact sell unsellable textiles to be made into rags, while others just throw the items into the trash. Clean your junk. Nobody wants stained clothes reeking of regurgitated Cheerios and essence d’enfant. The same goes for things that are broken: if a stroller with a bad wheel no longer can serve your family, get the wheel fixed before you donate the stroller (try a bike shop!), or list the item on freecycle or Craig’s list as a freebie to whoever is willing to invest in repairing it. The response you get will be indicative of the value of the item in its current state.
Do No Harm Even if we are willing to clean up what we are giving away, we may balk at the idea of researching the item’s safety. Some items cannot be accepted as donations due to safety reasons. Then there is the R word. If you have owned any piece of children’s gear for more than a day, you have experienced a recall. If you haven’t, then you just didn’t know about the recall. Resell shops have to look up every single toy and piece of gear to see if it was ever subject to a recall. Volunteers at a donation collection center may not have the time or resources to do this, meaning they have to throw out what you just virtuously lugged over there.
Some items have an expiration date, like car seats and helmets. Cribs purchased before 2012 may predate the most recent regulations (read more) and not be acceptable. You may NOT donate, resell or give away a drop side crib, period. You are going to clean up the stuff you are donating anyway, so while it’s drying, why not research recall information yourself at www.recall.gov or at Safer Products.
Tax Benefits of Donations How do you get a tax deduction for your donations? You might first want to ask yourself it taking the steps to deduct the items is worth the effort. Charitable contributions are deducted on a Schedule A (Schedule 1 for 1040A filers). If you already file a Schedule A, then it is worth deducting contributions. If you take the standard deduction and have no changes like the purchase of a home or an increase in medical expenses, you probably won’t deduct enough to exceed the standard deduction. Check out this article from H&R Block comparing the standard deduction to itemization of deductions.
How to Determine the Value of your Gift The organization will give you a receipt or letter when you drop off a donation. That receipt or letter will probably be blank. You have to fill it out, and most places will at least let you do that at home after the fact. You get to deduct what the resell value of the item is in a second hand shop. That means if you spent $50 on a Zutano outfit, you cannot declare it as worth $50. Income tax filing software like TurboTax usually has a component to track your donations and determine the value for you. Another option is to use online guidelines such as these:
Goodwill Industries International
The clothes must be in good or excellent condition. How will Uncle Sam know this? He probably won’t, but if you get audited, you need something to back your case. Take a picture of the items donated. The picture will help you remember what you gave away when you have to list it on the receipt, and a decent picture will show an auditor that you behaved in earnest.
Where Can I Donate? Before you donate, check what items the organization will take. Stuffed animals, toys, and gear that holds kids are some items that some places won’t accept. Always call to donate larger items to see if they have space.
You can make a donation and not have to leave your home. Some organizations will send a truck to collect your items:
Big Brother Big Sister They will pick up an item and offer online receipts for tax purposes. This organization resells items rather than redistributing them. Click here for a list of items they accept and here for list of those they don’t. Stuffed animals accepted. Drop-off boxes at 60 Everett St Allston in the Stop & Shop parking lot, Drop off station (manned by personnel) at 700 Pleasant St Watertown in the Stop & Shop parking lot.
Vietnam Veterans – Schedule a pickup online. You will need to leave the items outside somewhere, so consider where you could leave your items during the day while you are out.
Epilepsy Foundation Schedule a pickup, and be sure to check out their guidelines on acceptable donations.
Furnishing Hope furnishes homes for people in crisis. Send them a picture of the furniture you want to donate, and if it is acceptable, they will pick it up.
These organizations do not pick up, and most are not even in Brookline, but you are less subject to their availability than with a scheduled pickup:
Cradles to Crayons Only new or near-new items are accepted as they redistribute items directly to those in need. Click here to see what is accepted and be sure to check out the guidelines on condition. Modest variety of used items accepted. The nearest location for drop-off is in Brighton, and most locations are hosted by other businesses that might collect during specific times, so please check hours. CTC also supports donation drives which you can check out on their website or organize yourself!
Goodwill Online receipting, Attended center at 33 Austen St Newtonville (truck in parking lot across from Shaw’s) and 1010 Harrison Ave Boston (Roxbury). While they accept clothing and books, they do not accept children’s toys or baby gear. Click here for a list of items. There is a fee-based pickup available as well.
Room to Grow Acceptable donations are new or nearly new items as they are redistributed directly to those in need. Click here to see what items are accepted. Fair variety of items accepted. Items accepted at locations in Boston and Needham. Donation drives can also be held to support the organization.
Boomerangs supports the Aids Action Committee with proceeds from the sale of donated items. They pick up furniture free of charge and you can drop off items at locations in Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, Cambridge and Boston. No used toys or gear that holds children (car seats, strollers, etc)- click here for what is accepted.
Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts (link opens to acceptable baby items) HGRM accepts more types of baby items than any other organization. They emphasize how the items must really be clean and in good condition. Car seats, strollers, crib mattresses, high chairs and port-a-cribs are some of the large hard-to-donate items that they accept.They are, however, in Acton, and don’t pick up yet in the Brookline area. May be worth a trip-chain to the Acton Discovery museum after making a donation!
Restore 1580 VFW Parkway West Roxbury MA (617)327-1170 Habitat for Humanity’s Home Improvement Outlet. Restore accepts donations of used appliances (no more than 8 years old though), furniture, home decor, building supplies, flooring supplies, hardware, plumbing supplies, cabinets, lighting, windows, and a few other home items. CHeck the list for what they take and don’t take. No baby items are accepted.
LovingHugs Their website is more clear and explains in detail what can be accepted and what cannot. They can pay for shipping, but in the spirit of charity, please consider paying for shipping to help this organization with its expenses. CLEANED STUFFED ANIMALS.
Savers This store has locations in West Roxbury and Natick/Framingham near the mall. They resell items and distribute the proceeds to a variety of charities. The store takes just about everything at anytime, so if you are doing a big purge and need to drop off a lot of stuff when it is convenient for you, this may be the place for your donation.
Freecycle Freecycle has the disadvantage of your needing to deal with individual responses and coordinating with an individual for pickup, but if you have an item that is hard to give away or something that could work if someone were interested in fixing it, you could give it a shot. I have had great luck with Freecycle, and someone who is willing to schlep to your place to pick up something will appreciate it and you.
Brookline Public Library The BPL has a drop off box where you can leave books, CDs, DVDs, tapes, videos, audio books, LPs, magazines, but for a receipt for tax purposes you need to go weekdays from 9:00am-4:00pm. Anything not added to the library’s collections will be resold by the Friends or donated to other organizations.