Is an In-Kind Donation the Best Donation?

The other morning I was presented with two opportunities by two different organizations to help those facing the winter weather without the appropriate attire. The first asked for new hats, gloves, scarves, and jackets for children in Romania. The second group was also asking for winter clothing. However, this clothing is going to be distributed to adults in the Pittsburgh area. Both groups are, no doubt, in need of the items. And given that the first is an organization helping children, the emotional pull to help is strong. But, which organization is making better use of the limited available resources?

One has to ask how much money is being used to transport the coats to Romania and if there are reasonably priced coats available there. For the sake of the discussion, I will say that they are paying something towards transporting the coats and that there are reasonably priced coats available in Romania. With that information, the cost benefit analysis says that it would be wiser to purchase the coats in Romania using the money that would have gone to shipping the coats from the U.S. The money spent on the coats would go into the Romanian economy, resulting in a double benefit. Additionally, when the organization brings in US coats to Romania, they could be harming the Romanian economy. This donation of coats, while valuable in the short term, has long term negative consequences.

While donating coats to Romanian children may provide a short term benefit, some in-kind donations can have immediate negative consequences. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there has been an outpouring of generosity from individuals, organizations, and corporations from around the world. In moments like these, it is particularly important to keep in mind how your donation will affect the recipients. Currently the American Red Cross, one of the organizations providing significant assistance to those affected by the storm, states on its website, “Financial donations make the greatest and most immediate impact.” Every organization is operating within a constraint of resources, both human and financial. In-kind donations can hinder disaster relief efforts because resources have to be diverted to process the incoming supplies. With monetary donations, the organization can buy desired supplies in bulk, reducing the manpower needed to process the donation and getting aid to those in critical need.

Aid and donations were one of the topics discussed at the One Young World Summit October 18-21, 2012 here in Pittsburgh, PA. I had the privilege of being one of the 1,300 young adults from 183 countries that made up this year’s delegation, comprised of individuals who had been on both sides of the donation equation. Former refugees talked about how the assistance provided to them had not been what was needed while others spoke of how they desired to end their country’s dependence on foreign aid.

During the opening ceremonies, former President Bill Clinton spoke about the consequences of international aid, specifically referencing his experiences in Rwanda. He discussed how well-intentioned organizations often do more harm than good with inappropriate donations that waste resources, harm vulnerable economies, and inundate fragile infrastructures. In reference to the work of his organization, he said “my goal is always to work myself out of a job.” He wants to be providing aid to those who have asked for help and only long enough to give them a chance to get back on their feet. Clinton described how the Rwandan government asked for assistance bringing the Partners in Health program that had been used in Haiti to their own rural areas. Initially, the program was implemented in two regions. After the first trials were successful, the Rwandan government asked that the program not be expanded using international aid. They had to find a way to implement the health care system “that [they] can afford to run when [they] don’t take aid anymore.” It is not enough to focus on short term goals without keeping an eye towards the future.

President Bill Clinton and one of the One Young World founders, David Jones.

One of my co-workers, the Program Officer for Global Links’ programs in the Caribbean, gave a presentation about the “Unintended Consequences of Aid” during the One Young World Conference. She has personally seen how beneficiaries have been harmed by donors not thinking beyond a willingness to “do good.” She has visited storage rooms full of donated medical equipment that hospitals overseas cannot use because they do not have access to the parts or maintenance services to keep the items functioning once they receive them, and she has seen incinerators being filled with expired medical supplies that the recipient has to dispose of because someone thought donating anything – even expired supplies – was better than nothing. Her tips on questions to ask before making an in-kind donation:

  1. What is the cost for the organization to collect, transport and deliver the in-kind donation vs the impact?
  2. Can the organization you are trying to help do a better job if they received a monetary donation instead?
  3. How well does the organization understand the beneficiaries? Is the collection the right materials needed at that time?
  4. How will the donation be sustained in the long-term?

So the next time you are faced with a question of where to donate your time, money, or resources, ask yourself how your donation can be made most valuable. Will your donation be money well spent? Will your donation be providing the recipient a stepping block to independence, will it leave them dependent on donations in the future, or worst of all, will it leave them drowning in unneeded materials and waste. It is harmful to assume any aid is better than nothing. As the holiday season approaches, take the time to evaluate the organizations you are donating to so your donation can truly be a gift worth giving.


Honoring a Colleague with a New Baby Collection


Bea Caruso, center, with friends Kathy Haney, left, and Barb McGee.

“We staged the drive for Global Links in honor of Bea Caruso,” wrote Adrienne Walnoha, CEO of Community Human Services (CHS). “Bea had been at CHS for 38 years and gave ‘birth’ to our health programs.  She grew up in a small town and became a nurse because she had three choices:  nurse, teacher or secretary.  She devoted her entire life to community based nursing and taking care of people in their homes and communities.  We thought a drive for Global Links was a perfect way to celebrate her commitment to health and grassroots community support.”

CHS was begun in 1970 by a small group of South Oakland neighbors who banded together to stabilize the community they loved and provide resources for those in need. From a storefront drop-in center that gave residents a chance to get to know each other, to the much larger organization it is today, CHS has stayed true to its purpose of extending care to places where people live and work, rather than operating from one central location. “Such a system,” according to their website, “integrates people and helps reestablish community while assisting persons at risk.”

At Bea Caruso’s party, staff, friends, and neighbors brought in donations for Global Links New Baby bags, items carefully chosen by our partners overseas for what would be appropriate in their communities. The bags are given to new and expectant mothers to encourage prenatal care and attended deliveries – to help medical staff catch any potential problems early in the pregnancy and hopefully head off medical emergencies.

We are so pleased that this unique organization chose to honor their friend in this way – by reaching out to improve maternal/infant health in a community far from their own.

Read more about Global Links New Baby Collection and visit our registry for items you can contribute – we especially need baby clothes!


CHS’s Gary Hartford got some help from SCA Green Cities Fellow Orly Stampfer and Volunteer Supervisor Kate Gascoine when he dropped off the donated supplies.

Honor Fathers with a Gift to Global Links

Lynn Johnson photo

Fathers want the best for their children. Global Links works to improve health for babies and families in many resource-poor communities.

Honor a special father you know and support the hopes of fathers around the world with a donation to Global Links. The father you honor will receive a card letting him know about your gift.

National Asthma Month

Mothers must bring their children to the local health clinic to have an asthma treatment, and must wait in line due to a shortage of nebulizers.

When my son starts wheezing and struggling to breathe, we reach for his inhaler. Because he is still learning to coordinate his inhalation with the “puffer,” we keep our nebulizer (a small air compressor that produces a medicated mist) on hand. It is easy to slip on the mask so my son can breathe in the medicated mist which causes his breathing to return to normal. Within minutes, he is ready to run back outside and I breathe easier as well.

We have options at our finger tips and always have since his first episode of respiratory distress when he was just three months old. My son just turned seven and soon he will be able to use his puffer independently. I will then be ready to give up our nebulizer. I know that mothers like me in resource-poor communities in countries like Haiti, Nicaragua and Bolivia, do not have the same options for their asthmatic children. Global Links provides a solution to connect these two scenarios. I can donate my “retired” nebulizer so it can be redirected to help other mothers and their chilren breathe easier. As my son and I learn to manage his asthma better, I know that our retired machine will help families do the same.
For information on Global Links Nebulizer Campaign,

Carol Lundy: Understanding the Importance of Basic Supplies

Carol Lundy RN knows how important wound care, breathing equipment, formula and diapers are when caring for pediatric patients.  As one of the dedicated nurses on the Inpatient Pediatric Unit at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital, she sets aside unused supplies from patient rooms for Global Links.  Hospital regulations prevent those items stocked in one patient’s room from being used for another patient in the hospital. At Global Links, supplies from nurses like Carol are checked, sorted, and sent to hospitals in underserved areas around the world, where they save lives, and make patients more comfortable. It has been our privilege, during National Nurses Week, to salute a few of the many nurses who support our work.

Carol Lundy knows how important basic supplies are in caring for her young patients.

Ciara Biggs: “It’s a shame to waste things . . . .”

Ciara Biggs has worked on the 5300 medical surgical unit at Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC since 2008.  This unit is the strongest collection site in the hospital and Ciara is a big supporter of Global Links.  When asked why she makes the extra effort to put supplies in the bin, she said, “It’s a shame to waste things that aren’t going to be used from a patient’s room or from our pockets.  Why not send it to someone that can use it?”

Ciara Biggs works in the strongest collection site in all of Magee-Womens Hospital.


Barbara Reichbaum: “Imagine taking care of patients without gloves . . . “

Barbara Reichbaum packing medical supplies at the Global Links warehouse.


Barbara Reichbaum worked at the VA as a cardiovascular clinical specialist, but spent most of her career as the Senior Quality Manager at the VA in Pittsburgh. After retiring from the VA, she worked in a private home care agency as the Director of Quality/Nursing for four years. Barbara says she enjoys being able to bring her knowledge and background to the job, and that improving the quality of healthcare in other countries while reducing waste in her own country are goals that are important to her. She works regularly at Global Links packing supplies, recruits new volunteers on college campuses, and encourages nurses in home care organizations to donate unused supplies. She says she loves talking to other nurses and asking them to imagine taking care of patients without gloves, bandages or the basics needed to do their job.

Todd Spencer – Making a Difference Every Day

Todd Spencer, a nurse at Children’s Hospitals of Pittsburgh of UPMC, directs medical surplus to Global Links, helps to sort and pack, and has seen it in use on medical service trips.

Todd Spencer is an RN in the Pediatric ICU at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.  He has personally spearheaded efforts to help educate his peers about putting unused, unexpired supplies in the Global Links bin on his unit.  He has traveled to Haiti on a medical service trip and has seen what a difference surplus materials from the US healthcare system can make when struggling to care for a patient in a resource-poor area.  Although he often works the night shift, he also finds the time to volunteer at Global Links’ packing and sorting center.  He has taken part in the entire Global Links virtuous circle: donating usable surplus supplies rather than discarding them; carefully sorting and packing donations; using surplus supplies to improve health in an underserved area.  We salute Todd and nurses like him for making a difference every day.

Shop at Ten Thousand Villages on April 28 to help Global Links

Support Global Links while you shop for that perfect Mother’s Day or graduation gift.  Fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages in Squirrel Hill will donate a percentage of all purchases between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on April 28, 2012 to Global Links as part of our joint Community Shopping Night.

The more people buy, the greater the percentage we will earn to help sustain Global Links’ programs of medical relief and environmental stewardship.  Your purchase also helps support local artisans around the world, so it “gives back” in many ways.

Global Links staff will be there to talk with you about our programs here at home as well as around the world.  Stop by to say hello!

For the event flyer, visit our website.

Volunteers needed for wheelchair refurbishing

If you are comfortable with tools, you like to tinker, solve problems, and work with your hands – then we have a volunteer opportunity for you.

Every year, Global Links receives hundreds of wheelchairs that are desperately needed by patients and individuals with limited mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean. Before they can be included in our donations overseas, however, they must be refurbished. Sometimes they just need a quick clean-up, and sometimes they are missing parts or need to be repaired – because we want to be sure that when they reach their new owner, they will have a long and useful life.

For more about this project, watch the video produced by Black and Gold City Goes Green, or click on this flyer. Fill out a volunteer application and get more information here: Volunteer sessions will be held on Fridays. Your efforts can provide mobility and improve the quality of life for individuals in resource-poor communities!