Donating Toys for the Holidays: Maximizing Your Impact

The holiday buying and giving season kicks off in earnest this week, starting with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and #GivingTuesday. Toy drives are one of the most popular holiday charity efforts. Each year, Toys for Tots distributes 16.8 million toys and books to 7 million children and teens in need. Millions more are provided to families through local churches, social welfare agencies and shelters.

Seasonal sales offer some of the best opportunities to contribute new toys to families in need. Last year, we talked to several toy drive coordinators to better understand the needs of their clients. Interestingly, their advice will sound familiar to communicators: Know your audience. The following simple guidelines can help ensure that your holiday contributions make the biggest impact on children, teens and families.

Donate only new, unwrapped toys. Every child is worthy of a new toy. Your used toys are also valuable, but as donations to other types of charities, where they will be cleaned and sold to benefit community programs.

Remember the diversity of the families in your area. Toy drives serve every community, and not every community looks the same. When choosing dolls, action figures, books, puzzles and other gifts depicting people, be sure your choices reflect the cultural and racial makeup of your local area.

Spend between $15 and $30 per toy. While purchases from dollar stores are well-meaning, these are often the types of gifts that families can afford to purchase themselves. Aim for high-quality toys that would excite any child who opens them. But avoid the temptation to purchase extremely expensive gifts, such as motorized ride-on vehicles. There are so few of these gifts that it is difficult for toy drive organizers to be fair about distribution.

Consider whether the child can play with a toy alone. Board games are tons of fun, but they’re designed for play between at least two people. When choosing a toy, think about how the child will play with it and whether help or supervision will be necessary.

Teens want good gifts too. Around age 12, many children age out of the most popular toys. Pre-teens and teens, as many parents can attest, can be difficult to buy for, yet the holidays are just as important to them. They want to be able to return to school and fit in when their friends talk about the gifts they received. Consider sports equipment (including lacrosse, tennis and other diverse activities), as well as small electronics like watches, music players and portable speakers.

Children ages 0 to 2 often get overlooked. Though children under 2 years old are often not fully aware of the holiday gift giving season, toys can be an important part of their healthy development. Toy drive charities usually get donations suitable for children over 3 years old, with fewer for infants and toddlers. Gift ideas for this age group include interactive toys, educational electronics, puzzles and board books.

Books are needed for older children. Toy charities get more than enough books for children under 12 years old, but there aren’t as many for pre-teen and teen readers. Consider giving popular book series designed for young adults ages 12 to 16.

Happy shopping — and best wishes from the Vanguard team for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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