Value Village Is No Charity

“Money often costs too much.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Value Village is no value. At least if you expect most of your donated items to result in money going to local charities.

Value Village, along with it’s sister company Savers, are for-profit entities, which take your donated items, give you a tax write-off, then put them on a shelf and resell them at a substantial profit.

A flamingo for a rich guy.

When I went to the store tonight, along with my kids and their friend, I had intended to write a post up about donating some clothes to Value Village and how that, and my purchase of a light-up flamingo, would send some money back to charities. And it does. Just not very much.

I couldn’t find much information, but I did find this article from the Los Angeles Times, dating back to 1987. According the Times, Value Village can do this by accepting donations under the names of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, California Council of the Blind, the Arc, many veterans charities, and associations for mentally-challenged children, then giving back a percentage to the charity. Often Value Village gets well over 60%, sometimes up to 90% of the value of the donated goods.

This article, from March of 2012 in the New York Post, says that Savers is poised to record over $900 million dollars in revenue this year. Touting investors on Wall Street, it’s even trying to poise itself as the more charitable between itself and Goodwill.

Another article here, sadly without any source material links, talks about how many charities which accept your donations of goods, simply are letting Value Village and Savers use their name. The charities make money, but the vast majority of the profits go to the private thrift corporation.

Still, it’s not at all bad. From what I read in this article on the Charity Review Council website, a lot of shoppers are just happy the clothes are recycled and that they get lower prices than at Goodwill or Salvation Army. And to be fair, some money does go to the charities that work with Value Village and Savers.

The bottom line for donating goods seems to be  –

  • If you want the most charitable bang for the buck, drop your goods off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
  • If you just want the goods to be reused by someone else, and don’t mind someone profiting from your donation, take them to Value Village or Savers.

The bottom line for shopping at thrift stores seems to be –

  • If you want more of your purchase to go towards charitable activities, go to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. It does cost more.
  • If you’re more concerned with the price, go to Value Village or Savers. They are generally cheaper than Goodwill, and a small portion does go to charity.

I won’t argue that one should or should not shop at Value Village or Goodwill. That’s your choice. But if your expectation was that your donation or purchase at a for-profit thrift store was going mostly to charity, then that is a mistake. As for me, the next time I go to Value Village, I will go knowing full well who I am buying from.

I was hoping this post would be how buying a light up flamingo was going to help a charity put some clothes on the back of a person who needed it.

Instead, I’m pretty sure I bought a flamingo for some rich guy.

Today’s gift of time … Bought a flamingo for a rich guy, but learned a lot about charity and for-profit thrift stores.

Update (11/9/14) – A reader employed by Value Village who has asked to remain anonymous provided me with some anecdotal evidence that charities who provide goods to Value Village often will receive a full percentage by weight of a donation even if that donation is not re-sellable. 

About Eric Winger

Our perception of time is key to how we use our time. The most fundamental way to change that perception is to give our time. This opens us up to new opportunities and ideas from which we can build to really make a difference. ... Yes, we *do* have time to make a difference!
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19 Responses to Value Village Is No Charity

  1. HANS says:

    Good stuff. In the process of writing something similar when I came across this.

  2. Paul says:

    I know this comment is late, but Goodwill is NOT a worthy place to send your donations either.

    • Eric Winger says:

      As with anything sufficiently complicated, there are no clear cut answers. Goodwill has it’s problems, true, and they need to be fixed. A local charity may be much better if there is one available. However, to say that Goodwill is not worthy, is probably an over-statement. There are quite a few good things they do, and more money does go to charitable endeavors than Value Village near as I can tell.

      Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the comment, Paul.


  3. gwen says:

    Goodwill? They are the worst of them! Value Village is much better than Goodwill. Please check your research. This article is misleading.

    • Eric Winger says:

      Everyone has their opinion, Gwen, and people are entitled to shop or donate at either store. But to say the article is misleading without providing any substantiation is … misleading.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It is sad, more so, after the corporate raid on peoples homes through their mortgages and the financial crisis that followed, they (the for profit entities) strive more to take away the benefits of charitable acts of well meaning donors to serve their selfish corporate goals. This is literally stealing the charitable acts. What happened to not for profit organizations. The motto seems to be; “take away the roof over their heads and the clothes on their backs” (Thank god they cannot contaminate the donated food bank distribution). It’s disgusting!

  5. stephanie says:

    I have been donating quality items to Savers and have noticed a substantial rise in their prices over the last year. This led me to question their motives as well as the amount of money they actually give to charity. Your post was not easy to find but confirmed my suspicions. I have decided to donate to local churches from now on. At least I will know that the donations will be given away free or sold at a fair price, which will be 100% charitable.

    • Eric Winger says:

      It’s a little more work to make sure that our gently-used items get to the hands of someone who can use them – in lieu of being sold for profit – but it’s worth it. Thanks for the thought Stephanie!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Eric, it’s worse than you think. If you notice, on the VV Value Village web site (or Value Pillage, as I like to call it, they say that they pay the charities for every pound of “soft goods.” Unsold “soft goods” are re-sold overseas. They pay the charities nothing for the furniture, electronics, books, the unsold go to landfill; housewares, the unsold goes to landfill; or jewelry. I’m not sure where the unsold overpriced jewelry goes but I heard a sales manager gloating about a $12,000 watch that had been donated. And not only that but they get the charities to collect it all. It makes me so mad that an American company comes and provides a great second hand shopping box store experience, as a contrast to “the dirty smelly thrift shops” (they spray Febreeze from dispensers on posts near the ceiling) driving most of them out of business. Value Pillage is the Walmart of the thrift shop, and has basically cornered the market on what Canadians give to charity, as they have done since the beginning of Canada. Now Canadians are no longer “giving to charity” except by the barest stretch of the definition. And the prices! If they would only price housewares so that a poor person setting up an apartment – maybe they got it through the John Howard Society – could buy some pots and pans etc. like how about a dinner plate from China for .50$ instead of $1.99 . So people go to the dollar stores and buy new trash, which ends up unsold at Value Village. Where’s the re-cycling in that? I find this wildly unethical and perfectly legal. Give us back our thrift shops.

    Sorry to go on so long, but you’ve struck a nerve with this one. I think the blog is great, and I look forward to reading through the posts. Thanks for your time, and the space on the page.
    Suggest to your friends to donate their soft goods to VV if they wish, and to donate other items elsewhere if they can.

  7. Meg says:

    I didn’ t mean to be anonymous! At least I signed, lol.

    • Eric Winger says:

      Hi Meg, took me a bit to get back to you. .. In the time since I wrote this, I’ve made more of an effort to donate directly to charitable organizations when I can find a match. Even Goodwill (with it’s problems) got a desk that we couldn’t find a home for a couple weeks ago.

      It might be an interesting research project to donate the same items to each of the big 3 I mentioned, and see where each ends up, and how much money gets put back to charitable endeavors. Don’t know how one would do that, though. Maybe a journalist or grad student could find out.

      Thanks for the input!


      ps – The flamingo is hanging on my office wall as I type this. 🙂

  8. Meg says:

    I should add that deals can be had! Nice Flamingo.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I just checked the website, and it no longer says it pays by the pound of soft goods. Now it says it pays by “how many bags or boxes of merchandise they receive.” Interesting.

  10. Anonymous says:

    How much does value village contribute to Canadian charity’s ?Or does all the charity money go south of the border to the U.S.A

    • Meg says:

      They do pay charities for the donations they receive on Canada, but the profits go back to the US. Don’t get me wrong, they do help charities, but not enough. Their profits are made from items that people donate to charity, in Canada, and not much comes back, except a sure fire business model: buy for a measly amount and sell really high. It’s just my opinion, but making millions when millions are making minimum wage isn’t my idea of a good wold plan.

      • TD says:

        Well said! Wish Value Village would be banned from Canada. Salvation Army is far more deserving of donations and all other support from the public.

  11. TD says:

    In Canada, Salvation Army store prices are much lower than Value Village.

    And ALL PROCEEDS OF donations to Salvation Army go for essential community services delivered to the poor and disadvantaged.

    Value Village is not deserving of anyone’s donations!

  12. Tim says:

    Whenever money is involved people are going to steal. That’s what people do. Give anyone, anywhere the power to steal and lots of cash to steal … they will eventually start stealing it.

    Charity is big business. 99.9% of all charities exist to give rich ladies jobs. They steal the worst. Moms, sisters .. “upstanding” ladies with their fat guts and stupid helmet hairdos. The “normal” one … absolute worst. They have expensive cocktail parties where they discuss their “charity” work. What they don’t disscuss is all the money raised goes to lavish location, salaries and expenses. Little ever reaches anyone else.

    How do I know? Because I did computer work for years and worked for several large ones. I saw the accounting. BIG dollars being held in reserves, spent on the CEO, new offices, staff … but no real expenditures or even distribution costs to get resources to the so called “receivers”. The only benefactors were the charity themselves. Notice Childrens Aid societies for instance always have the newest massive office building? How did they pay for that? Salvation army hold premium real estate in every town. Childrens Hospital massive glitzy office buildings. The computers I worked on were so never properly done or purchased because every decision was made on how much they can legally do this, that .. basically blow and pocket. They’d always want me to fudge receipts too.

    I worked for one couple who divided their time between starting new public companies that never actually did anything and charities. They made fortunes selling seed stock in new public co’s while also running “charity” that never did anything but collect and enjoy tax status. They were always trying to pay people 10k to use their name on documents as they had theirs on to many bad companies and charities and actually paid people to use their name so they could run more of these scams. Both were lawyers. Both are still free and at large worth millions. In 20 years they have not produced a single company with activity or a single actual charity with results. Just promises and legal mumbo jumbo.

    Never give to a charity. Find someone in need and do it direct. There are lots of people all over your local town you could help. For instance talk to the schools and find out what poor kid has the best grades. Pay their college. Every cent will go to the cause and not some greedy pigs who hold cocktail parties ad get their picture in the paper.

    As for Value Village, this is a perfect example. The charities are so lazy they cant run their own stores. They rather give 90% the $ away to Value Village so they can get the rest. That way all they have to do it put their name on it and accept donations. Just like Casino charities. they’ll put their name on anything and after staff takes their cut no money ever reaches anyone else. They don’t pay taxes either. It is so heavily abused yet the public eats it with a friggin spoon for their “feel good” fix. True selfishness that it. That’s why the scam works. People like to pretend they are great people and ignoring the facts allows them that satisfaction. All the while its all waste and the real problems just get worse.

    I do know a few real charities. They give their own money never ask for others and they go out and work with people directly. No one hears about it because they are not holding cocktail parties. They are actually out doing things that make a difference. They have to fly under the radar because big name charities will do anything to destroy real charities. They want no one entering their realm.

    I have a guy a few blocks away that sells things on kijiji and craigslist. His cousin drives a Salvation Army donation truck. Anything good goes to the house for them to sell personally. Another fine example.

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