Gifts-in-Kind … 10 Guidelines for Fundraisers

Gifts-in-Kind … 10 Guidelines for Fundraisers
Photo by Gwen Chapman

This Teddy was a touching gift to my husband when he was going through chemo.  We’re not ready to part with Teddy yet. But when we do, I hope we will find a grateful recipient who will love him as much as we do.

I recall my anger when I immigrated to Canada and the righteous call for charity drop-off toys was for “new, unused toys in original packaging” – my rude awakening to our Western obsession with germs.  Of course, I’m “westernized” now. And as a fundraiser I understand why charities are so fussy.

A few years ago, Agents of Good posted an outstanding Secret Agent Report entitled “Your Donation is Garbage”.  At the time it really ruffled my donor feathers. So much so that I didn’t trust myself to submit a comment. The post and the comments are well worth a read. It includes fundraiser rants and some excellent advice. You can read it here.



1. People who are passionate about your cause and feel “called” to make a difference. These donors probably make financial donations to your organization too.

2. People who want to make room in their closet and do good at the same time. Great new donor prospects.

Whether they realize it or not, the charities that specify “brand new items” are calling out only to people who are already passionate about their cause. The primary motivation for the gift is quite different than for the person who donates a gift-in-kind to make room in their home or office for more stuff.

All my life, I’ve been a Gift-in-Kind Donor, and I probably fall into the second category. As you’ll read below, I recently tried to gift a gift-in-kind to a charity I am passionate about. I thought it was about time I made a bigger effort to fit into the first category of Gift-in-Kind Donor.  But it went horribly wrong.

In this post, I’ve included a few of my most memorable gift-in-kind experiences because they illustrate how a donor decides to give a gift-in-kind, and what can go wrong – or right.

At the end, I’ve included a list of 10 Guidelines for Fundraisers.



My piano was a family heirloom, and I had such a deep emotional attachment to that piano that it was the only thing itemized in my marriage contract as not being “joint” property. It was crafted in Germany in 1895. Walnut veneer. Ivory keys. Steel frame.

Before I moved from Toronto to San Francisco, I realized I had to part with my piano. I was ready to say goodbye. I decided to donate it to charity.

But no-one wanted it.

Years later, before I moved from San Francisco to Dubai, I sobbed with joy when I finally found a big charity that said they would accept my piano. But when the guys arrived to pick it up, they told me they wouldn’t take it. Because that very morning they had dropped three pianos off at the dump. They didn’t feel it was morally right to take the piano. Damn right!

piano keys

So when I moved from San Francisco to Dubai, my much-loved but unwanted 1895 walnut veneer steel framed ivory key piano moved with me. The story does have a happy ending. Because before I moved back to Toronto, I finally found a new home for my piano – a couple with two young children. I sold it to them for $25. They were thrilled. And so was I.

It’s highly unlikely that I will ever give a gift of any kind to that well-known big charity. Not only because they first said they’d accept my gift, then didn’t. But because they had accepted the other three pianos and then taken them to the dump!



Over the last decade, I have downsized my home, upsized to two homes, and then downsized again. I’ve also closed down my home-staging business. As a result, I have had loads of things to give away.

Since moving to Victoria, BC a few years ago, I have found one charity to be the most grateful recipient. It’s not really even the charity that shows gratitude – in fact, they’ve never sent me a thank you letter. It’s the happy guy who comes to pick up my stuff.

He tells me how delighted the volunteers are when they unpack my stuff in the warehouse. He even knows the name of my dog! I guess you could say we have a relationship.

Yes, people give to people. Even us fundraisers.

But I don’t have a passion for that cause.

So recently, after researching other local charities, I found a charity that I would be keen to support. And I was pleased to see they clearly list online what gifts-in-kind they need and accept.



So I checked their list, saved a bunch of items from my home-staging inventory, got in touch with the Director of Development and arranged a drop-off. She said she’d likely be in a meeting when I dropped off the items and I was to leave the gift with the person at the front desk. I did.

Were they grateful? I don’t think so. I’ve never heard a thing from the Director of Development nor anyone else at the charity. In fact, the person at the front desk didn’t even make a note of my name when I dropped off the items. Perhaps she took the items for herself? How am I to know?

What went wrong? Did the Director of Development not brief the front desk person in advance? Does the person at the front desk understand that a gift-in-kind donor is a real donor?

I regret making that donation, and I probably won’t be donating to that charity again.



Sadly, I have spent the last 30 years crossing charities off my list.

Right now I need to create more room in my closets, and I have about 25 framed artwork prints of varying sizes that I want to get rid of. It’s the last of my home-staging inventory.

I feel that I have only two choices – call the charity I don’t feel passionate about (at least I’ll get to see the smiling guy who knows my dog’s name) – or (with a bit more effort on my part) sell/give them away online. I think I’ve made my decision.



If your organization accepts gifts-in-kind, you can streamline your internal processes, avoid donor disappointment – and even strengthen donor relationships – by following these 10 guidelines:

1.  Make sure you have a Gift Acceptance Policy that includes a section on gifts-in-kind. Say what you can (and cannot) accept.

2.  Don’t keep your Gift Acceptance Policy a secret. Post a donor-friendly version of your Gift Acceptance Policy online. And brief frontline staff and volunteers.

3.  Remember that the Donor has good intentions and may even have an emotional attachment to the item(s) s/he wants to donate. Be gentle and sensitive.

4.  Provide guidance to staff and volunteers who are on the front line. Train them to engage donors in conversation and find out more about the donor’s motivation for the gift.

5.  If you pre-screen a donor’s gift-in-kind with a set of questions, remember that your tone is as important as what you ask. “Are the items you want to donate leftover from your garage sale?!?!?!!” could be couched less offensively in conversation “Gosh, it sounds like you have lots of items to donate. Are you moving house, or perhaps you’ve been doing some spring cleaning.” Use the opportunity to engage the donor in conversation.

6.  If the donor is gifting any imperfect or damaged items, ask the donor to deliver them in a separate bag for quick sortation.

7.  Consider establishing a volunteer craft working group to re-purpose the function of imperfect or damaged items for re-sale in a new format to benefit your charity.

8.  Arrange to pass unsuitable gifts to another organization that can use them in some way. Even after communicating to donors that there are some things you cannot accept, you will sometimes receive items that may not be useful to your charity.

9.  Always acknowledge receiving the gift. Perhaps a dedicated volunteer could write a personal thank you note to the donor. If the gift was a result of a family member passing away, or you know the donor had a particular emotional attachment to the item, be sure to handwrite the thank you note and reference the circumstance of the gift.

10.  Find a way to engage your Gift-in-Kind Donors after they’ve made the gift. And I don’t mean throw them into the direct mail pool. For example, invite the donor to personally witness how the gift is being put to use. Your regular gift-in-kind donor may even be a good volunteer candidate for your new gift-in-kind craft working group or thank you team. In all the years that I have been a Gift-in-Kind Donor, not a single charity has followed up with me beyond their apparently optional thank you letter.

Please submit a comment below and tell us what guidelines you have in place to show gratitude for gifts-in-kind. And what do you do to keep Gift-in-Kind Donors engaged with your organization?