Saturday, February 09, 2008


Dr. Howard Rosenthal

Deceptive donations: No thanks I gave at the office parking lot!

Non-for-profit, not-for-profit, and charitable organizations are great. These agencies fight hunger, homelessness, child abuse, addiction, and hundreds of other ills that plague society.

And guess what, the impetus to keep these wonderful agencies running comes primarily from individual donors. That’s right, folks just like you and me who donate a buck here, a buck there, or perhaps an occasional $50 or $100 donation.

In addition, generous individual contributors like us give in another fashion known as gifts-in-kind (GIK), such as giving your old computer to the homeless shelter, or giving the exercise machine collecting dust in your basement to an adolescent treatment center. Simply put, a GIK is any tangible item that is not money.

Perhaps the most popular drawing card for GIK’s is the old shoes and clothes bin. The good news is that more and more of these bins are popping up across our great nation. You see them on the parking lots of grocery stores, churches, bowling centers, and even college campuses.

Victims of the charitable drive- by, they say jump we say how high!

The bad news is that many, though certainly not all of these bins (surprise, surprise, surprise), are run by for profit businesses. Hence, that cool pair of your Uncle George’s alligator dancing shoes is being sold to generate big profits in a state a thousand miles away or even overseas! Some experts now believe that this is a (gulp!) billion dollar business.
Now I know that you’re not stupid. When you pulled your car up to the bin you glanced at the message on the bin for a nanosecond and it said something about the donations they made so you falsely assumed it was legitimate. Well, duh, we all make donations. I just bought a box of Girl Scout mint cookies earlier today.

But if you read the entire copy which the firm is banking that you won’t read you could be in for a shocker. This message is often posted on the side right next to a mailbox or perhaps the side of a building to make it, well quite frankly, difficult for you to see.

For example, the newest bin in my neck of the woods says, “Donations are not for charitable organizations and will be resold for profit.”

I told a friend that I was writing this article. She was astonished and angry to discover that she had just been duped by this very bin.

Smoke, mirrors, and outright deception have no place in the business of social services. Read the complete message on the box before you make the drop.

Dr. Howard Rosenthal is Professor and Program Coordinator of Human Services at St. Louis Community College and a multi-book author. Professional counselors nationwide use his books