Donor Beware: Do Your Clothing Donations Go to Those in Need?

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You've taken the plunge and are cleaning out your closet. Now, where to donate? For many, the easiest option is to drop off the bags at one of those big dumpster-like donation bins scattered around grocery store parking lots and parks. Bingo. Easy. Convenient. And you can sleep better knowing the needy will benefit from your lightly used clothing. Or will they?

A closer look reveals that some of these donation bins are not all they claim to be. According to nonprofit watchdog service Charity Watch, a popular clothing collection charity called Planet Aid warrants closer scrutiny. According to Charity Watch, Planet Aid raises almost all of its funds by selling donated items, rather than giving them to needy people. It only distributed $8,000 of donated goods of the $8.7 million it spent in 2004, for example.

So, where to donate used clothes? Well, there are still some good (and well-vetted options), many of which will pick up donations from your home:

Dress for Success
American Red Cross
Salvation Army
Goodwill
Vietnam Veterans of America
• Local homeless shelters and battered women shelters are also good options. Donating to local organizations is sometimes safer because there is no middleman or complicated distribution process. You can simply take the clothes to the front door and talk to a real human being.

I give a lot of clothing to our cleaning lady, who has 6 kids and 12 grandchildren. She is part of a big Honduran family and says she can always find friends and families who are happy to take gently used clothing. Sure, there is no tax deduction but I am glad to support her in any way I can.

Tips on How to Avoid Scams
• Charity Watch is a reputable resource for information on charities nationwide and is a terrific resource for learning about charitable giving and donations in general. Check out the group's list of top-rated charities.
The Charity Navigator is an excellent resource for researching a charity you are considering.
• Also helpful are these two articles from Money Crashers and Money Under 30. It's also worth checking out this article from Consumer Search.

Image: Shutterstock

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