Saturday, 28 July 2012

Charity collections - or are they?

We regularly get clothing collection bags pushed through our door. But I've calculated that about 90% of them aren't really charity bags, even if they have a charity logo on them.

Collection bags - can you tell the difference? *
(Image: Howard Lake)
Many of the collection schemes are run by commercial companies. They make a profit on the donated clothes, either by shredding and recycling them, or by selling them overseas in developing countries (yes, I said sell, not give away).

The charity gets a percentage of the takings, and this is usually printed on the bag. Something like £50 per tonne of clothes is not uncommon. Imagine: if the airlines gave you a 1 tonne weight limit for your luggage, how much could you take on holiday? Answer: about 50 suitcases full - and that's a lot of clothes to only be worth £50!

There are some genuine charities who rely on legitimate commercial collections. Times are hard, and it's difficult to find funding, so some charities will enter into partnerships with well-run commercial collectors. £50 is better than nothing, especially if you're a small charity.

I use the following general rules of thumb for telling the genuine charity bags from the commercial collectors' bags:
  • Charities will always state their charity number. Commercial collectors will state a registration number as well - although usually in a different place. If it doesn't say the word "charity" next to the number, then you're usually dealing with a business.
  • Commercial collectors working on behalf of charities will state how much of the profit they're donating. Usually the statement is not as noticeable as the charity logo or their publicity photos. Look closely.
  • Look for the Charity Retail Association logo. This guarantees that the charity gets a fair share, and that no-one else is exploiting your generosity.
In addition, there are some fraudsters operating collections, who are nothing to do with any charity. So in addition to the above:
  • Look for a contact address or landline telephone number. Fraudsters won't be keen on giving out details that allow them to be traced. On the other hand, an email address or mobile phone number are easier to hide behind.
  • Remember that, on their own, none of the following make an organisation legitimate: photos of sad-looking children, pictures of kittens, pleas to "help the needy", promises to "help create jobs", asking for donations.

These are all just general tips that I use myself, but they're far from perfect. I find the best way around all these problems is to take old stuff straight to the charity shop ourselves. That way, the charity doesn't have to pay someone to collect it, and they'll keep more of the proceeds - up to 50 times more, according to one source.

Incidentally, thanks to the endless supply of "dodgy" collection bags, we haven't needed to buy any bin bags for nearly 2 years. There's always an upside!

* As always, the examples given above are generalisations, and are not intended to portray any particular organisation or person.
(Credit: "Donated goods bags" by Howard Lake, CC-BY licence, obtained via )

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