By Richard Carlson, President and CEO
A recent USA Today article revealed the fact that castoff clothing dropped off in parking lot donation bins doesn’t always end up with charities devoted to helping the poor. More and more, clothing collection bins are being operated by for-profit recycling firms or non-profits that give only a tiny portion of their proceeds to charity.
While these quickly proliferating donation bins may appear to be charitable in nature, they are not, and the resulting profits garnered by these operators leave our communities along with the goods they collect. We have monitored the significant growth of these collection bins in Michigan over the past year and recognize their prolific increase in our own West Michigan communities as recent as the past two to three months.
Goodwill Industries and other organizations in the charitable sector rely heavily upon the generosity and kindness of donors to help us achieve our mission. For Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, over 90% of the revenue from our sales of donated items through our network of Goodwill stores goes directly toward our employment and training programs and services that in 2012 served 20,916 people who were unemployed or underemployed right here in West Michigan.
In contrast, the most recent federal tax return from Planet Aid – an organization whose yellow donation bins are now beginning to dot our community landscape – shows that just 28% of its $36.5 million in spending went to its international aid programs in 2011. The bulk of its spending went to collect and process clothes for recycling. Planet Aid states its mission focus is the “protection of natural habitat by collecting and recycling 50,000 tons of used textiles.” But the low percentage of money going to international aid programs earned Planet Aid an “F” from ratings organization Charity Watch, which examines how nonprofits spend their money. Charity watch gave an “A” to Goodwill Industries and the Better Business Bureau gave our Goodwill organization an “A+” rating. As for Planet Aid, the Better Business Bureau has stated that they did not meet the 20 criteria to be accredited as a charity.
In addition, we are seeing other dubious organizations entering our communities with donation bins including the Cancer Federation’s dark blue bins and the bright green collection boxes of for-profit company Better World Books that donates a “confidential” undisclosed percentage to charity.
Our overall message for donors is to know who they are giving to and what they are supporting.