Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Goodwill Shipping

Shippers donate their free space to charities
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There are many instances where people are willing to donate items for charitable use but the cost of shipping the items to the place where they'll be used is prohibitive. Often it is cheaper to simply buy the items at the site where they will be used, but of course this uses up cash that could be used more productively if the items could be donated without shipping charges. A specific example of this is computers that are obsoleted when people upgrade to a new model, but could be very useful in, say, Africa or South America.

Meanwhile, shipping trucks, containers, planes, etc., are not infrequently sent without being fully loaded (though of course the shipping industry works hard to maximize full loads). The empty space in such shipments is of no value to the shipper. But if the shipper allowed a charity to designate goods to be shipped in that space, they could claim a tax deduction for the amount they would have charged to ship the items. Surely this deduction would be worth more than the incremental cost to ship the items, especially if the shipped items are low in density. For high density items, perhaps it would still be economical for the shipper to donate only part of the shipping charges.

To avoid abuse, I'm sure the IRS would require that charity shipments be approved by the charities, who would risk their tax-exempt status if they tried to ship non-qualified goods for free.

I envision a system where the charity or donor would drop off a package for charity shipping and the shipper would schedule it whenever an appropriate open spot was available, without guaranteeing a specific delivery time.

A possible problem would be the reluctance of the shippers to agree to this if they think it will cannibalize shipping that charities currently pay for. Any ideas on how it could be ensured that free shipping was given only for items that otherwise would not be shipped?

beauxeault, Jul 14 2000

(?) Whats for charity? http://www.whats4fr...om/NASApp/w4f/index
You can add your offer here, free. [reensure, Jul 14 2000]


       If it's more viable to give this a commercial twist, the space could be auctioned off (to charities) on the web the way airline tickets are.
syost, Jul 14 2000

       Sounds good, except some losers would somehow use it to ship heroin.
naveline, Jul 15 2000

       The intention is good, the idea is good. But the consequences of shipping obsolete goods from the west to 'countries in need' is proven not to be a good method of helping them. This is a very academic issue. In brief, while this might seem rational on the short term, you create a dependency relation between the receiving and the donating countries/worlds. Instead of stimulating the emergence of a local industry in that country, the 'free' goods make this unprofitable and destroy any industry even before it can develop. Unfair competition in their domestic market you could call it. These countries are much more helped by lifting trade barriers in the west against their (agricultural) products. But this is against the interest of western countries. On a political top-level it's secured (in our common self-interest as perceived by our leaders) that we from the west can buy their natural resources directly from the corrupt powerholders that run these countries (kept in place by these practices) while a local individual with a good idea or product is barred from access to western markets. If not by trade barriers then at least by the power elite that's in the pocket of western interests. The best way to help the people in these needy countries is to by-pass their corrupt governments and give them micro-loans to help local markets and intitiatives flourish without a dependency relation that kills initiative and favours begging, as in donations. Fund their business plans and stop trade barriers.   

rrr, Jul 30 2000

       ReindeR, I had read something about the need for assistance that doesn't create dependencies, and had only partially understood it. But your argument that donated goods discourage local supply industries is compelling and enlightening. I do believe that, long term, strong local economies are the best answer to poverty wherever it exists.   

       The specific example that inspired the idea is a collection of computers bound for a children's mission in Brazil. I wonder if a donation like these computers, which will be used for the kind of education that can catalyze the formation of local economic vigor, might not provide more long term benefit than the negative effect of unfair competition with local computer suppliers. In fact, the most compelling issue in arranging this shipment of computers was the potential long term benefit to the local economy.
beauxeault, Jul 31 2000


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