Six Tips for Accepting (and Refusing!) Donated Equipment

Six Tips for Accepting (and Refusing!) Donated Equipment

Suggestions for taking or leaving free hardware

By: Jim Lynch

April 12, 2006

It's never easy to turn down free stuff, especially when it comes to computers. With Earth Day fast approaching, you may receive offers from individuals and companies that want to pass on their old computers to your organization. Many of these donationswill likely include equipment that is broken, outdated, or missing legally transferable software. Other equipment maybe in greatcondition-- but still unsuitable for your organization's needs.

Donated computer equipment is only useful to your organization if it is compatible with your computer system or network and can run the applications you need it to run. Before your organization considers accepting any donated equipment, take stock of the gear your nonprofit has and decide what you need. Accept broken equipment only if you are certain that your tech-support person can fix it or if you plan to use it in a training program on computer repair. Most computers don't last more than seven years, so seek only equipment that is newer than five years old. Any equipment more than five years old has a relatively short amount of life left in it.

If an individual or a corporation approaches your organization about equipment donations, knowing how to gracefully decline will save you the time and expense of having to recycle unwanted equipment. The following six tips will help you decide what to accept and what to turn down.

1. If you are unsure if a donated computer would be useful to your organization, refer donors to a refurbisher or a recycler.

To help prospective hardware donors better understand what equipment to donate and what to recycle, refer them to Do the PC Thing -- or print it out and give them a copy to keep in their offices.

You can also send donors to TechSoup's list of recyclers or to the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher Program.

2. If you need low-cost computer equipment, seek donations from a reputable refurbisher.

One way to find donations is through online classified services like,, or a local paper -- but you may end up with lots of unusable equipment.

Rather thansoliciting or accepting donations directly from individuals or businesses, contact a computer refurbisher. Going through a reputable refurbisher improves your chances of finding good equipment in working order, and will also ensure that the software that comes with it is legal.

The following resources and organizations can help you find discounted orrefurbished equipment:

3. If you accept a donation, be sure to get the software, too.

Are you aware that software companies are making it more of a priority to discover and prosecute software piracy? Minimize your exposure to liabilities by maintaining a systematic inventory of any computers, software, documentation, and licenses you receive.

When accepting a donated computer, be sure to obtain all of the original disks, as these contain device drivers and technical manuals that you may need to make future repairs. Additionally, the original disks and manualsoftenmake a software transfer legal. For example, Microsoft's software manuals usually contain a Certificate of Authenticity ( COA), whichis required for each Windows operating system installation. (Though you may not need separate numbers and licenses for each computerif the donated equipment is being used at a school.)

4. Remember the accessories.

Don't forget about the keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer, modem, or any other accessories you need. Don't be afraid to ask for any packaged software that donors might be willing to part with as well.

5. Delete personal information.

If the donor has not already done so, make sure that your IT department or consultant deletes all hard-drive data. Special disk-wiping software like Killdisk or Nuke -- both of which are free -- can come in handy for this. Visit TechSoup's Security and Privacy Free Downloads section for additional useful utilities.

6. Dispose of your own obsolete computers responsibly.

Find listings of recyclers on Techsoup or contact one of the following organizations:

About the Author:

Jim Lynch is Program Manager for CompuMentor's Computer Recycling & Reuse program.



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