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Are you donating to a for-profit company?

Posted by Mitch Lipka  April 23, 2012 10:45 AM

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Q. I have a question about a so-called fund-raiser for a school using GotBooks.com. Now I am hesitant to give my books to this fund-raiser and would like to know what you think about this outfit. In the past, I have donated to church flea markets, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army and have felt 100 percent comfortable. But this one bothers me. What do you think?

A. The question you raise is a good one – not just regarding GotBooks.com, but the entire genre of outfits like it.
First, let’s be clear. These are businesses, not charities, although they typically donate some of what they make to schools, churches, and other non-profits that commit to collecting books, CDs, and DVDs (or something else) by using boxes placed on their property.
Quite a few other businesses, such as the Savers thrift-store chain, solicit clothing and other donations. Some sort and ship clothing around the world, often to poor nations, to be sold.
These businesses are becoming quite common. Drop-off boxes you might see around town – even those with the name of a charity on it – will often be the tool of a for-profit business that gives a percentage of its earnings to that charity.
Instead of sharing a percentage with charities that host its drop-boxes, GotBooks pays by the pound, with the average non-profit earning about $1,500 a year in the program, said owner Bob Ticehurst. “They don’t have to do any work for it.”
A lot of consumers don’t realize that companies are making money from their donations. These companies respond that they are taking things you don’t want and giving at least something to charity. It certainly isn’t the same, though, as simply giving your stuff to he Goodwill or Salvation Army.
Because these are businesses – GotBooks sells what it collects through its Used Book Superstore chain and online sales – they don’t have to be transparent, as charities do. In other words, you don’t know whether 1 percent or 50 percent of the proceeds go to the cause you’re supporting.
The next time you donate, figure out to whom you’re really giving your stuff. You can then decide if helping someone profit should be part of your charitable donation.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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