Freecycle vs. Donate

I’m a big fan of Freecycle. I’m subscribed to two groups for my area. Being that it’s tax season right now, it’s on the forefront of my DH’s mind that we get no tax benefit from freecycling. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the US tax code that we get no tax benefit from directly giving stuff to someone who needs it versus giving it to a third party (so that they can theoretically get it to someone who needs it). I know the limitations are there to prevent abuse, and I certainly can’t come up with an abuse-proof (within reason) way to manage it in taxes. Freecycle is necessarily minimalistic in terms of administration.

So, it presents this dilemma as to when to freecycle and when to donate. Me personally, donating doesn’t please me. We did a donation of stuff yesterday to Goodwill, but it didn’t make me feel good the way freecycling does. When I freecycle, I know that the person who is getting the item wants it and will likely use it (or give it to someone who will). The person has gone to the effort of coming to me at my convenience to get the item, which proves some level of commitment. Oh, and I’m lazy, so that I have to do nothing but post and manage some e-mail to get my stuff gone makes me happy. When we donate stuff to other places, it requires effort on our part to bring the stuff to somewhere and/or to package the stuff up, and the donation is at the convenience of the receiving party. Thus, it does not appease my lazy side. It also represents no commitment on the part of the recipient and thus I have little trust in their interest in my items. I suspect that some percentage of the stuff that I give to these places will get trashed or misappropriated. In the case of our Goodwill donation, it will go through some level of processing and then go to a shelf where it will sit for some period of time with a price tag on it, waiting for someone to be willing to buy it. I don’t love the idea of my stuff getting sold (even for a good cause) instead of going freely to a person who needs it. Freecycle (my groups at least) strictly manage re-sellers. Re-sellers have to state that their plan is to re-sell the item in their request for the item, and if someone is caught re-selling freecycle items, they get banned from the group. There’s also the personal interaction that helps me to know that the item is being used, not sold. For example, I freecycled Scott’s old (really old) ski boots yesterday, with his permission, and the woman who picked them up was thrilled with them, tried them on as soon as she got home, and dropped me a note letting me know that they fit perfectly. That’s pretty cool to me, and it makes me happy to know that our stuff isn’t going to waste or ending up in a landfill (at least for the time being).

Unfortunately, we need every bit of tax help we can get, so I’m going to have to suck it up and start donating instead of freecycling. With that in mind, how do you decide when to freecycle versus donate? Is it a pure valuation of the item? Do you only freecycle items that you can’t easily donate? Or is there some other criteria you use?