A definitive guide to giving to charities.

I've just come from a morning at the storage unit, with one of the women I walk alongside, and while I'm glad to have spent time with her, I have had the urge to write this post since we got there, and I started going through the clothes with her. You see, about 18 months ago, a school got in touch with me and wanted to know if the Aunties would like all the stuff that was left over from their school fair. Their preference was that any charity should come and get everything. I told her that NO charity would want, or have space for, everything but I got her to send me a list of what they had, and I asked one of the organisations I work with if they'd look it over, and indicate what they wanted.

She decided she wanted most of what was on the list - I did warn her against it but oh well! - and because I knew we wouldn't have space for it, I rented another storage unit for that purpose, and hired a truck to drive over to the other side of Auckland to get the stuff and unload it for us in the storage unit. (There was about 120 banana boxes full of stuff. Clothes, shoes, etc.)They did that, and a couple of months later, I got an Aunties working bee together to sort it all out. We only got half way through and ended up throwing most of it away. And from then, till now, that storage unit has cost us around $4000 and hasn't been used at all.

The Board and I talked about it and it was decided we needed to let it go. We need a bigger space than our own storage space, and saving money on the 2nd unit would mean we might better be able to afford that. So a couple of weekends ago, I got some of the women I work with to come and take away as much of the stuff as they could. I wasn't sure of the quality because I hadn't looked at it. It had just been this huge albatross around our neck. The women came, they took most of it away, and last weekend, Aunties Mel and Ginny sorted out the rest of the clothes and took them upstairs. They threw a huge amount away, and now we just need to dispose of the banana boxes.

So today was the first time I'd actually seen this stuff that had been sitting downstairs for 18 months without ever being touched. And let me tell you that most of it was foul. Second-second-hand, loved-to-death and stained. Just not okay. So S and I threw most of it out.

I should have got rid of it a long time ago, it's true. But I wondered if there was hidden treasures. There was not. And this was from a Decile Ten school in a VERY posh area. Well, screw them.

And that's just one instance where people want to get rid of their stuff, and whatever happens to it is another person's problem, and I'm here to say ENOUGH.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Aunties, the regular donors, are a staunchly loving crew. They wash things before they give, they bark orders at their friends to do the same. They go shopping for brand new stuff, and they make their friends and family do that too. They label things. They give with love. So much love. But I'm afraid they're in a minority when it comes to this stuff.

So I thought I'd give you some guidelines to giving your old stuff to charities/other people. I know I tend to bang on about it but I'm not sorry. If we can revolutionise the way people give in this country, I will be very very happy. The reality is, at the moment, that organisations like the City Mission and Salvation Army spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year getting rid of shit. Money they could have spent on other far more important things. But they're afraid to say no. I understand that, but I'm hoping, as I said, to change that. So here's Everything A Charity Would Say To You About Donated Goods If They Weren't Afraid To Lose Donors.

  1. If you're holding a school fair, that's your load to carry. Make sure you organise it ahead of time so that there is sufficient time for after-fair clear up. Bag things (not boxes, they're an absolute pain to get rid of), make sure clothes are REALLY GOOD QUALITY, and for goodness sake, make arrangements with a company like Junk Run, or similar organisations who'll come and take your rubbishy stuff away. Do not expect charities to take boxes of your white elephant. What on earth is anyone going to need an old ASB elephant money box for? What am I going to do with your lamp that doesn't work any more?  Do not expect charities to take everything. Do. NOT. And do not expect whoever comes to collect the stuff to sort through it. That's your job. Do it. I, for one, will never ever take stuff from school fairs again. The last time, a lovely lady organised for me to go and collect everything needed. I sorted through, and left the rest, which GREATLY pissed off the organising ladies and you know what? I did not care. I wasn't taking their shit, and that was that.

  2. If you are giving computers, phones, cars, etc, please please please make sure that they are in working order. Get a diagnosis done before you pass them on, as to how long they're going to last. Cars are a great gift, and I know we are so appreciative, but a couple of times in the last year, they've cost us a great deal to get fixed. And that's not fair. We have limited resources and I don't want to spend it fixing shit.

  3. If you're giving furniture, please make sure it's in good repair. That mattresses aren't stained, and that the items are in decent condition. I find it mortifying when organisations tell me that a donation of furniture has been "yucky".

  4. Similarly, if you have furniture or large items to give away, YOU deliver them. If you drive, and you have a towbar, hire a trailer. If you don't, that's okay but the onus is on you to figure out how to get it to the women. If you have a houselot, and I have someone to give it to, hire a truck. Go out of your way. I know I'm demanding, but quite frankly, this is what giving with love actually means.

  5. If you give me anything that is stained, or unclean, or just in really shitty condition, I will judge you, and I'm not the only one. If you drop off anything ANYWHERE, and it's not in really good nick, well. You know. Yes. I'm looking at you.

  6. Don't be afraid to ask what's needed. Ring the organisation you're interested in giving to, email them. Ask: what do you need the most? And they will tell you. Also, they'll love you forever, I guarantee it.

So that's my definitive guide. I hope it's helpful, and I hope it answers some questions. I run a tight ship and I can do that because we're still just a grassroots organisation. I'm really hands on because I have to be. If I want the women I work with to get their shit, and that's a big part of my job, then I do what I need to do. Bigger organisations don't have that luxury. They have huge warehouses, with volunteers who end up spending alot of time getting rid of rubbish, and wouldn't it be better if they could focus more on getting people what they need? I think it would. I hope you agree. 

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