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Charities Get Choosy

Charitable organizations don't accept all the items they once did

Planning to turn your clutter into end-of-year donations? Not so fast. Many human-service charities won't take certain items — or will require you to transport them yourself.

See also: 10 tips for making charitable donations.

Charities may not want your old TV sets

Charities may not want your old TV sets. — Illustration by Leif Parsons

Patricia Donovan, of Buffalo, New York, tried to donate furniture sets and 500 near-new books. "The charities I called either didn't have a truck or wouldn't come into my second-floor apartment," says the 64-year-old editor, whose home goods also were turned down on-site. "There's a gap between what charities say they need and what they will accept."

With fewer people giving to charities — blame the economy — being denied can be puzzling. But these groups usually say no for a reason. Nonprofits weigh a donated item's potential for generating income versus the cost of accepting it, says Major Man-Hee Chang, who oversees The Salvation Army's western region. Charities try to be donor-friendly, but if they can't sell items, they often won't take them, adds Drew Meyer, a senior director with Habitat for Humanity's ReStores. And policies vary. While The Salvation Army tends to take everything, stores operated by Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity can decide what to take based on factors like safety standards or area buying habits. That means a Denver Habitat ReStore may accept only flat-screens, and an Omaha store may not want TVs at all. (That's why you should call before schlepping your stuff across town.)

So what should you do if your items aren't accepted? "If larger nonprofits turn you down, try local churches or refugee-assistance centers," advises Gary C. Smith, president of NAEIR, an organization that collects and redistributes excess inventory from corporations. That was Donovan's solution. She convinced her local rescue mission to pick up some items and paid for the rest to be hauled to a dump. The takeaway: Don't give up on giving back. "The smaller the organization," says Smith, "the hungrier it may be to get your stuff."

You might also like: 5 keys to smart charitable giving.

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