10/15/2012 12:34 EDT

What To Donate: Making The Most Of All Your "Stuff"


Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of Free The Children and Me to We, seek solutions to significant social problems. In this excerpt from their book, "Living Me To We: The Guide for Socially Conscious Canadians," they help offer easy, clear paths to positively impact the world to make your best decisions every day.

Notebooks and pencil sharpeners, coloured construction paper, tennis balls, soap, bandages and (unused) toothbrushes: this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to off-the-wall donations we receive at Free The Children. In the non-profit world, the big-hearted are not necessarily the big-walleted. Arts supplies are packed up into school kits and shipped overseas. Medical supplies are delivered to impoverished hospitals.

Kids, adults and corporations all donate in different ways, putting to good use what they have. A corporation might donate a personal accounting session for non-profit workers or offer up old, but still usable, office equipment. Once a child outgrows her training wheels, she can donate her old bike to a child without one. You might choose to give away those old glasses taking up space in your drawer or the sneakers kicking around your closet.

But keep this golden rule in mind: if you wouldn’t use that rusty old washing machine, then don’t give it away. Some things truly are meant for the trash. For instance, does anyone actually buy second-hand underwear at Goodwill?

Donating goods past their prime can even cut into a charity’s cash flow, doing more harm than good. The Salvation Army, for instance, was forced to shell out $30,000 to dispose of dumped garbage and wrecked donations in Woodstock, Ontario.

Next time you want to donate, get on the phone with your charity of choice and ask specifically what non-monetary donations they need. Who knows what garden, garage or home office odds and ends they could be after?

SEE: How to donate a variety of old goods:

Photo gallery What To Donate? See Gallery

• Ask a local school music department or a daycare if they accept instruments.

• If an organization can’t directly use or take a donation, sell the object at a garage sale, junk shop or online and donate the proceeds.

• Unused renovation materials, such as paint, windows, doors, lumber and lighting fixtures, can be donated to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores as well as other organizations.

• Look into getting the cash value of your donation assessed by a third-party.

• Even if the hunk of junk is broken down in the driveway, you can still donate it to a charity or someone in need through programs such as CharityCar, CarHeaven and others.

• Old electronics (computers, printers and the like) are often in high demand by cash-strapped charities.

• Ask if the charity will pick up the equipment for you.

• Animal shelters accept unopened wet and dry food as well as toys, pillows, leashes and other pet accessories. Make sure to check with your local shelter before dropping off your contribution.