Three Ways to Avoid Being a Holiday Charity Nuisance

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November 24, 2013; Washington Post

When nonprofits and those who support them think of the holidays, most think of the wonderful spirit of giving and volunteerism that is heightened during this important time. For those who run nonprofit organizations, this wonderful spirit can also cause some challenges. The following areas, highlighted by the Washington Post, outline some of the areas troubling to the generous spirit and how donors and supporters can help make the holiday season easier for their charitable groups. Highlights from some of those areas include:

  • Use A Little Elbow Grease Before Donating. Catholic Charities and Miriam’s Kitchen both highlight the need for individuals who are donating items to ensure that the items are clean and useable. According to the article, “Charities say that undesirable items are the most frustrating donations to receive. While charities are grateful for the act of kindness, it can put the organization in an awkward position.” Some donations actually become downright revolting for the charities; the volunteer manager at Miriam’s Kitchen stated that “she received a donation of clothes so soiled that the case managers were ‘tied up for an hour picking through them, with masks and gloves on, ultimately having to discard everything.’”
  • Match Up Your Calendars. The holidays can be busy, and you may find yourself with just 10 minutes to put your donated items in a box and drive them over to the nearest thrift store. While that generous spirit is much appreciated, 100 people just like you had the same idea and have also come ready to leave their boxes, which can put an amazing amount of stress on the capacity of these often people-strapped efforts. I led a nonprofit in the Washington, D.C. region, the Good Shepherd Alliance, and during the holidays the donations were so overwhelming that the thrift store became too full to house all the items. Best bet is to reach out to the charity and coordinate a time that works best for both parties.
  • Meet Their Needs, Not Just Yours. The article highlights an example of someone wanting to donate the latest technological gadget, an item that one may believe would be of great value for the nonprofit, but ultimately is an item that the nonprofit cannot use. While the motivation is great, no one wants their donated item to not help the charity. One way around this is to either find out whether the nonprofit has a wish-list of items that they need, or simply call the nonprofit to check what they need most. Sometimes, the best item is just a cash donation.

Most nonprofits plan for a holiday season that shows both an increase in giving and in volunteerism, but also a season of increased work. Simple adjustments to how individuals give during the holidays can make for an easier time on both sides.—John Brothers