Pocketing DonationsIt’s that time of year when I pull out the file to prepare for our tax appointment and I’m always amazed at the number of receipts in there from Goodwill donations. How do we accumulate so much junk? Years ago I vowed never to host another garage sale and now I donate everything and take the tax deduction. Suze Orman and I agree on this and term life insurance.

Whenever I’m taking a load over to our neighborhood center, I’m always amazed at the amount and quality of the stuff that I see dropped off. On more than one occasion, Jeanine has wondered aloud about what gets filched first by the employees and volunteers. I typically don’t put that much thought into our trunk full of junk and have replied an equal number of times that if they were skimming off the top, it wouldn’t really bother me. Who am I to judge?

But apparently, Jeanine isn’t the only one questioning the ethics of those making a living or giving their time at the Goodwill store. On Sunday, The Ethicist column in The New York Times posed this exact thought by one reader:

My mother plays bridge at a senior-citizens’ center. Like many nonprofits, it accepts and then resells donated goods as a source of revenue. Recently, she wanted to buy a piece of lawn-care equipment but was informed that the center’s director had already bought it. Is it ethical for center staff members, much less directors, to purchase donated goods?

Randy Cohen, The Ethicist replied:

The center may offer its employees discounts or a first look at donated items, provided donors are informed of that policy, but it may not allow the people who price these items (or oversee those who do) to purchase them: that creates a conflict of interest. As staff members, their duty is to maximize the center’s profits; as customers, their desire is for low costs.

But while the current policy does not seem to be unethical, it is unwise. Who would come to a rummage sale if the best items have already been plucked? The staff should not be permitted to sift through the swag and pull out the pearls. Nor will it embellish the center’s reputation if its employees are spotted driving around town in donated Cadillacs they purchased for a nickel.

Do you agree? Disagree? What would you do if you were a staff member? As someone donating the goods or possibly buying them used, what do you think of the policy? Or are you like me and just happy to be getting rid of the stuff. Does it really matter if someone profits and interrupts its intended purpose of being a donation? Your thoughts are welcomed below.