Saturday, February 19, 2011

Donating Your Stuff to Non-Profits: Finding Donation Information on the Web

Shelter Network web site

Information about donating physical items was often hard to find and rarely sufficiently specific. As a result of the low usability for non-monetary donations, users typically bounced between many non-profit organizations before finding one that they wanted to give their items to.
-- Jakob Nielsen, writing about usability test results for non-profit organizations' web sites.

Looking to find non-profits that could use the things you're ready to donate? You may come across the same problems Nielsen writes about.

My local non-profits must be better than average - while I used to see these problems a lot, things have definitely improved. It used to be that the big "donate" button almost always took you to information about financial donations only - but now, with most of the sites I've looked at, it also provides information about donating goods. For example, take a look at that Shelter Network page; it couldn't be much easier to find the information.

But that doesn't mean the problems are entirely gone.

1. Problems in finding the information

I've seen cases where the word Donate doesn't appear on the home page; in that case, look for something like Support Us or Get Involved. Sometimes it's much less obvious; I've seen donation information buried under About Us or Contact Us.

And if there's a home page Donate link, it won't always be the link you want; it might indeed be financial donations only. Here are some other places I've found information on non-monetary donations:
- How You Can Get Involved
- Ways You Can Help

Once you've found the donation section, you might find the information you want under titles like these:
- In-Kind Contributions
- Wish List

2. Problems with lack of specificity

My local non-profit thrift store has a nice brochure it hands out listing what it accepts and what it doesn't - but the information on the store's web site is nowhere near as detailed.

Another site says simply: "Goods - Donations are gratefully accepted, including clothing." That's nowhere near specific enough to be useful.

And then there's the site that says only this: "The Foundation also welcomes in-kind donations. Please telephone our Executive Director at (xxx) xxx-xxxx to discuss your particular situation." (The actual phone number was included on the web site, but I saw no reason to include it here.)

If you're at all in doubt about what the organization accepts, call first - so you don't wind up wasting a trip. And confirming the hours makes sense, too.

Musuem of Children's Art web site

Let's give a big "thank you" to all the non-profits who do good work in the world; how wonderful when we can help them out by donating things we no longer need, even if their web sites are sometimes lacking. Let's close with this very clear message from the Museum of Children's Art: "Give Us Your Stuff."


Dallee said...

Don't forget that a FreeCycle give-away posting can put "non-profit or charity only" in your offer line. Alternatively, one can ask responders to describe their need of reason for wanting the object.

With the first approach, you are likely to hear from groups you never knew about, as well as get a nice tax deduction receipt if you prepare it and ask the recipient to sign it on pick-up. Two examples: gave away my too-large suits to an abused women's project after a weight loss; and, gave away an IBM selectric to a not-for-profit opera group whose volunteers like to use typewriters for mailings (who knew!).

As to finding an individually worthy recipient, you need to ask in the text of your post for the reasons or a statement of need. I had dog-related items after my 17-year old canine companion departed from this life. I picked a retiree who fosters dogs for a rescue group, which helped her and will let her foster more dogs. Win-win.

Generally, be security conscious and meet the person outside your front door.

FreeCycle is a national group and you can find one in your locality at -- some localities run as a Yahoo group and others have their own web pages.

FreeCycle can be a great choice.


Mary Nolan said...

I like Dallee's comment. I've been a Freecycle member for some time but didn't know I could specify non-profits or charity! My tip would be to check out local or national charities at to see if they are legitimate and how they allocate their funds if you choose to donate money.

Jeri Dansky said...

Dallee and Mary, I'm a huge fan of Freecycle, too, and have written about it many times: here and here, for example. I'm also a moderator for my local group.

Many Freecycle members don't realize they don't need to give to the first person who asks. The member FAQ says: "Generally, you'll wait until you get a handful of responses or maybe overnight, and then you can pick whomever you like! That's half the fun. I always ask that people consider giving your starving local charity preference if one should respond."

But as much as I'm a fan of Freecycle, there are times when I give directly to a local non-profit - and some people will never become Freecyclers. So I wish every non-profit's web site made it easy to find out what donations they welcome.

The Road Taken said...

Jeri, what an excellent post. I suspect many charities are mostly supported by volunteers who may not have the web skills to build and maintain a site, and some may not have the ability to to pay for professional services (especially the more "front-line" charities)

It is useful to educate the would-be donor on how to navigate less-than-perfect sites so everybody wins!