Update:Maximising donations-in-kind


I have posted  before on making the world a better place.  These past few years have been difficult for us all, but  we are not running out of stuff.  Since I live in a very  high density (some people would call it the ghetto, or slum…but they haven’t been to urban Africa or Indian…) neighborhood, lots of multi-unit housing,  I find a lot of stuff.

People move all the time, & they  have some very nice things they no longer want. But they don’t have the time to sell it or take it to people who need it, so they  put it by their trash bins. We  alley entrepreneurs take the stuff  to use ourselves or  to give to people who need the stuff.

Shoes & used clothing are the most frequently put out items, but  often I find cookware, small furniture and appliances, and books and toys.  I manage  to  find people who need stuff because we have many non-profit organizations that   provide assistance to the needy.  Some  specialize in  serving  homeless women, some teen mothers, some the elderly.  One  organization (I do some volunteering for them),  Heartland Alliance for Human Needs,  provides resettlement services for refugees.

It used to be that virtually all these people were eligible for  some sort of welfare:  Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or Social Security. Well, the fact it, eligibility has been greatly curtailed since the Clinton era…no joke.  By making it harder to get welfare, he appeased the Republicans (at the time) &  balanced the federal budget.  He also gave people  an incentive to make a way for themselves.  They may not be on the payroll to somebody, but that does not mean they are not earning money.

That’s neither here nor there.  I  don’t know if  mental illness preceeds job loss & displacement, or job loss & displacement preceed mental illness.  No matter.  People are in need.

In the early 1980’s, I was a founding board member or Uptown Recycling Station, in Chicago. We board members were coming to recycling from different interests. Some of us were particularly interested in environmental conservation, and several were interested in job creation for entry level workers.  We got  a loan from a religious order,  some assistance from the father of recycling in Chicago, Ken Dunn, and some help from the city.  This was under the Harold Washington administration. I doubt we would have gotten the help from the administration of any other mayor.  We turned a cute, hippie idea into 3 full time and several part-time jobs for entry level workers, and advanced the cause of recycling in Chicago.

But we did not all live happily ever after. It’s been slow going.  We managed to get the city to pay us a diversion credit.   What that meant was…for every  cubic ton of waste we kept  from going to a land fill, the city gave us money.  We barely made a dent.  We had to nag out elected officials for years to take recycling—for import substitution, seriously.

So, now it is 2011, and an idealist with a plan, Brittany Martin Graunke, got an idea to  put up a waste exchange—or , rather, a clearing house for  donations-in-kind, online.  It’s called http://www.zealousgood.com   She gets nonprofits needing donations-in-kind to pay a monthly fee to post their wants.  I found her  by accident, but  I am hoping to help her  market the site an the idea to area non-profits.  This is not recycling glass/metals/paper/plastics, which is feedstock  for manufacturing, like we did at the recycling station.  It is  repurposing  value added stuff.

I have been self-employed  for a  good long time, and  the first thing my father taught me was, “Get a receipt.”  For years, however, I was  donating stuff  without thinking, and NOT  itemizing the receipts.   By chance, I found a book called, Cash for Your Used Clothing,” which is a client valuation guide approved by the IRS.  Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and yes, the IRS publish similar guides online.  If you itemize on your taxes, and aren’t an active stock/bond trader, you  must take advantage of every tax deduction you  can legally take.   If you don’t inventory your donations, you are most likely  undervaluing  your donation, and paying more taxes than you have to.  Your donation  is actually  whatever your taqx braqcket is.

Because I had managed  thrift stores for  two nonprofit organizations, I know how valuable the  donations-in-kind are.  Currently, Goodwill Industries  reminds their donors that by donating stuff, they are creating jobs for people.  It’s true. It’s a lot of labor to sort, clean, tag, and display stuff (I am sure anyone who works in a retail store will tell you this).  From a nonprofit perspective, I also know that  people donate cash to organizations that take stuff, as they have a social link with that organization.

From the perspective of a donor…I’ve just heard too much whining from  donors about how poor they are (this is a constant refrain), and they complain about their taxes, but I have to do a lot of ‘hand holding’ to get them to inventory and  categorize stuff to maximize a donation that can result in a significant tax deduction.

I know that, due to the  federal deficit, that  our lawmakers are looking to get rid of tax deduction loopholes, but I certainly hope the nonprofits  are vocal about the need to continue to allow this  transfer of ‘wealth’.  It is significant,  I am not in a position to give money at this time, but I know that generally I donate over  $2000 worth of stuff to area nonprofits. I know this, because I inventory and evaluate, and I sell a lot of stuff.

People give me stuff to donate all the time, as they know I would know  someone who could use it.  They ask what I will take. I tell them what I won’t take:  If it stinks, or sticks, we can’t use it.

If you support an  organization that needs more money, take the donations-in-kind and resell the items you  and your clients can’t use.  Encourage yur organization to network with other organizations.  Consider sponsoring a retail store, like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and  several other Non-profits in Chicago (The Ark, Brown Elephant, Save-a-Pet) do.  To me, if you throw away a usable item…you are throwing away money.

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