The sort of rubbish people attempt to donate to the Salvation Army.
The sort of rubbish people attempt to donate to the Salvation Army.

‘It’s shameful what they give us’

IF YOU'RE about to move house and looking to off-load some old furniture, where would be your first port of call?

Five years ago, most of Australia would've either taken it to the tip or called up a charity to come and pick it up.

But nowadays the ease of snapping a few photos and adding a quick caption to a Facebook or Gumtree ad has meant most people think of donating only after they've tried to sell the item.

Chief Executive of Salvation Army stores, Matt Davis, said the stark drop in donations - especially second-hand furniture - was "shameful".

"Over the past 18 months we've really begun noticing a drop in donations. We think the timing of Facebook Marketplace, Buy and Sell pages on the social media platform and sites like Gumtree have contributed to the drop," Mr Davis told news.com.au.

Mr Davis is in charge of 220 Salvation Army stores across Australia. Nationwide, the charity runs more than 300 stores.

"When we have that many stores involved it's a huge amount of money we're losing," he said.

After crunching the numbers, Mr Davis said the Salvation Army has noticed an approximate 15 per cent drop in donations. That drop equates to more than $1 million revenue lost each year.

 

While the drop in donations is no doubt hurting the charity, Mr Davis said sites like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace weren't "ruining" them.

"People are cherrypicking. That's the problem. Imagine a person moving house who might want to get rid of some of their furniture," he said.

"Years ago they would've just called 13 SALVOS to get our delivery truck to come and pick it up for free but now they try those second-hand sites first.

"Now when our guys go to pick up furniture, they ask them how they heard about our pick-up service and they generally say: 'We tried to sell it on Gumtree but couldn't get rid of it'."

Mr Davis, the chief executive for all of the country's states and territories except for NSW and Queensland, said he constantly heard complaints from Salvos stores that they were worried about running out of furniture.

"It's really sad. People think that $50 or $100 they're making from selling a cheap piece of furniture on second-hand sites isn't much for them or couldn't help us but that amount of money can make a huge difference to someone in need that we support," he said.

"Don't sell it for nothing, give it for something."

People suggesting charities have become too "fussy" with accepting second-hand items was also a reputation Mr Davis wanted to end.

"There's this common misconception that whatever gets donated just gets given away to people in need but the reality is that most of what gets donated is sold by us and we can then use the profit from that to help people," he said.

"It might seem like we're fussy but we have to think about what the community will actually be willing to buy because if we can't sell it, we then have to pay to get rid of it."

Often, the Salvos truck will turn up to a house ready to grab some second-hand furniture but the drivers quickly realise there's nothing they'll be able to sell.

"It's shameful the sort of stuff people try and give to us," Mr Davis said.

"From my personal experience, it's often because people just aren't bothered to go to the tip so they call us instead. They don't realise it's costing us millions each year to get rid of that."

A Salvos store worker stands in a pile of rubbish and unsellable furniture people dump outside.
A Salvos store worker stands in a pile of rubbish and unsellable furniture people dump outside.

In a recent survey done by comparison site finder.com.au, the company found more than a third of Australians will use Gumtree, eBay or markets this year to sell things to try and make some extra cash.

Angus Kidman, editor-in-chief at finder.com.au, said charities often found themselves in a bind when processing donations.

"It's so cheap to buy clothes and consumer goods that we buy new far more often than before, but cheaply-produced goods are often so worn there's no chance anyone else will use them or purchase them, so they're effectively useless as donations."

Mr Kidman said Australians shouldn't be using charities as a way to get rid of poor-quality items.

"In any case, charity shops shouldn't be used as a way to dodge paying to dispose of stuff at your own local tip."

This is a statement Salvos executive Mr Davis strongly supports.

"There's some people who genuinely try to use us as their rubbish disposal. I always say, 'If you wouldn't give it to a friend, then don't try and push it on to us,'" he said.

Mr Davis said if the competition between charities and corporations in the second-hand marketplace was going to keep heating up, they'll need to find a way to work together.

"I would be extremely happy to work with them. They make millions off this community scheme saying, 'This is what the customer wants.' We're the ones who are really about the community.

"I want them to know that I welcome any conversation with eBay, Gumtree or Facebook about how we could work together positively and do something good."

Mr Davis said the rise of sites like Facebook Marketplace has hurt their donation statistics.
Mr Davis said the rise of sites like Facebook Marketplace has hurt their donation statistics.

A spokesman for Gumtree told news.com.au the company can't see any reason why both charities and second-hand selling sites can't "simultaneously flourish".

"As the second-hand economy continues to grow, we see no reason online platforms and charities cannot simultaneously flourish. Last year the total potential value of the second-hand economy in Australia was $43.5 billion, up almost $4 billion from 2016, and 60 per cent of Australians expect that it will grow in the future.

"At Gumtree we are encouraging people to think differently about second-hand goods, and believe there is no longer any reason for Australians to let their unwanted items collect dust, whether this means selling online or donating to charity.

"The encouraging news is that eight in 10 Australians last year said they prefer buying second-hand, so there is opportunity for charities to grow alongside online marketplaces.

"On average Australians have 25 unwanted items in their home - worth approximately $5404 (an increase of more than $200 from 2016) - so our message is whether you want to sell these items online, or take them to your local charity shop - make the most of the items gathering dust in your house.

"We already engage with the charity sector, and [are] more than happy to meet with other charities to discuss how we can all make the most of the booming second hand economy," the Gumtree spokesman added.

The Salvos executive also named Gumtree as a potential factor.
The Salvos executive also named Gumtree as a potential factor.


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