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Dos and don’ts of donating items to charity

Donating gently used household items, toys, furniture, and clothing to charity has many benefits. Such donations can help the less fortunate, while donors can take advantage of tax benefits while decluttering their homes.

There is also an environmental advantage to donating items rather than putting them in the trash. Goodwill Industries International, Inc. says that, over the last few years, generous people have helped to keep billions of pounds of clothing and household items out of landfills.

Organizations that collect donations put them to use in many different ways. A portion of donated items may be sold in charity shops and other retail centers. This provides an avenue for less fortunate individuals to purchase items that are steeply discounted from regular retail prices. Some clothing donations are sold to recycling manufacturers who turn them into rags or industrial cleaning materials. Donated clothing and other items may even end up in the hands of private enterprises, who then sell it in developing nations at costs lower than regularly imported clothing, providing an affordable way for people living in poverty overseas to purchase items for themselves and their families. The organizations then put the money made from such sales toward their operational expenses and to develop programs to continue to help the less fortunate. Charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army indicate on their websites that proceeds from charity and thrift shops go directly to support education, work and drug rehab programs.

Individuals who choose to donate goods to charity can follow a few tips to ensure their donations go as smoothly as possible.

DO walk around the house and gather items that are no longer being used. Look in basements, closets, garages, sheds, attics, and anywhere you are inclined to stash items to get them out of the way. Pay special attention to materials that you haven't used in months or years.

DON'T donate just anything. Ensure that items are in working condition and are in good repair. Don't give away things with rips or stains. Make sure electronics you plan to donate are operational.

DO call first to find out any rules or restrictions regarding donations. Some groups won't accept items that have been recalled or do not meet current safety standards (think some baby gear). Specialty items like computers, vehicles or mattresses may have specific requirements for donations.

DON'T overlook the idea of selling items privately at a garage or yard sale and then donating the funds to the charity. This way the organizations save time sorting and refurbishing donations, and they still benefit from the financial donations.

DO see if the charity will pick up large items. Many organizations have their own fleet of vans and trucks and will have specific pickup windows during certain months. This helps make the donation process more efficient, and can reduce the hassle on donors.

DON'T forget to receive a market value of the used items donated to the charity and a receipt. This will help you when it comes time to claim charitable donations during tax season.