Thinking Outside The (Yellow) Box

Recently the local media had a few go rounds with the donation boxes popping up around town.  The big yellow boxes from Planet Aid solicit used clothes and shoes and allegedly fund charitable works in the Third World.  As Ed Griffin-Nolan pointed out in the Syracuse New Times, the charity behind the boxes was highly suspect.

According to Griffin-Nolan’s article,  the American Institute of Philanthropy has determined that only 31% of Planet Aid’s spending actually goes to charitable programs.  To be considered an effective charity, an organization should spend at least 60% of its funds for programs.

What made this an interesting media scrum was that the Syracuse Newspapers, just a couple days after the New Times story, editorialized on the good intentions behind the boxes.  To save face, the paper later ran its own investigation of the boxes and Planet Aid, running the piece as the lead article of the day.

SUN was actually approached by Planet Aid’s sales rep. and asked if we wanted to put a box in our parking lot.  I took the information, said I’d have to run it by our Board of Directors and promptly recycled all the information as soon as he left our office.  It just smelled fishy.  The sales pitch was mainly about the money we could make.  I had read about the booming business of used clothing in the New York Times awhile back, so I just put one and one together and assumed: SCAM.

It is interesting to note that almost all the boxes are placed in low income neighborhoods, usually next to the small corner stores that plague our neighborhoods.  These  stores serve as one-stop addiction shops: alcohol, tobacco, lottery, drug paraphernalia–and the drugs themselves out in the parking lot.  The corner store owners are ethically-challenged, money-grubbing thieves, so it’s no coincidence that they’d be interested in a cheap exploitation rip-off like Planet Aid.  The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the stunted tree.

One of the other interesting parts to this story is the claim from established charities that they have seen a reduction in donations since the yellow boxes appeared.  This may or may not be true.  If it is, I attribute the drop-off to the attitude of the established charities.  Most drop off centers for clothing are outside the inner-city.  The thinking may be that folks down here don’t have much to give.  The charity is given to inner city folks, not accepted from us.   But what if we have always had things to give and Planet Aid was the first to recognize that to tap a new market you make donations as easy as possible?  They may be crooks, but they’re not stupid.    

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