With donations down and expenses up, Twin Cities charities are working harder to get your used junk.
Wally Norlander gives his old clothes and household goods to whichever charity gets to his Edina house first.
There's a long list of them.
Norlander gets at least one solicitation a week from the Lupus Foundation, the Epilepsy Foundation, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Salvation Army or the Courage Center. They're among at least 30 charities that offer curbside collection in the Twin Cities, according to Smartgivers.org, an independent charity review resource in St. Paul.
"It's a bit of a nuisance," he said. "For every 10 calls, I put out a bag to donate. I like getting rid of the stuff."
All that stuff has become big business for charities. It fuels 60 percent of the Salvation Army's revenues and 45 percent of the take for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.
But rising gas prices and increasing competition for castoffs are muscling some charities out of the business of picking up old pans, souvenir coffee mugs and outdated clothing.
In late May, Arc's Value Village pulled its famous blue trucks from residential streets. The charity, which serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, now only makes household stops when someone has a large donation they're unable to bring in themselves.
At the same time, the recession has put a crimp on donations. More people are holding onto their stuff or opting to sell it at garage sales or online sites such as eBay and Craigslist. And local charities have felt the hit.
Instead of finding four or five bags left at the curb, the Epilepsy Foundation often finds only one or two, said Vicki Kopplin, associate executive. "We have to be strategic if we want to collect the same amount or more than we used to," she said.
Being strategic for the Epilepsy Foundation -- and others still in the pickup business -- has meant adding trucks to expand their territories and guarantee quicker service to donors like Norlander.
This year, the Salvation Army added five trucks, bringing its fleet to 15, and has moved beyond the Interstate 494/694 beltline to collect in Buffalo, Monticello, Big Lake and Hastings, according to Bill Price, an administrator with the organization. Disabled American Veterans (DAV) of Minnesota also has added trucks.
"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for donors," said George Ebbers, business manager for the DAV in Minnesota. "If people spend a weekend cleaning their closets, they want to get rid of the stuff within a few days."
Charities are doing what they can to increase loyalty among donors and make donating more convenient. Some allow donors to arrange a pickup online. Those that don't offer collection services have increased the number of drop-off sites and extended their hours.
"Our donation centers all have added after-hours donation bins for donor convenience," said Laurel Hansen, Arc's business director. "You can donate 24-7."
Enter the middleman
Every donation counts, but those dropped at the charity's door produce more money than those picked up curbside. "It's the most cost-beneficial way to collect goods," said Martin Wera, program director at SmartGivers.org.
Many thrift stores with a single location and small budgets collect dropped-off donations during store hours. Charities with wider-ranging missions often form relationships with for-profit partners, such as Savers or Apogee Retail, which operate their own secondhand stores. The for-profits pick up, sort and sell donations given to a charity, then pay the charity as little as 30 cents per pound.
Still, the partnership can be a significant source of income for charities such as the Lupus and Epilepsy foundations, DAV and Vietnam Veterans of America, which don't have stores of their own. Those that do have stores, such as Arc, Goodwill and Salvation Army, can generate more cash by selling the goods at retail than selling it wholesale to Savers.
People who care that a charity gets the most out of a donation can cut out the middleman by taking donated goods directly to a charity that has a store, such as Goodwill or the Assistance League Thrift Shop in Richfield.
But when it comes to cast-offs, givers may not be so choosy.
"People view clothing donations as different from financial donations," said Kelly Buttler, director of in-kind giving at the Courage Center in Golden Valley. "Some just want to clean out their closets."