You may receive offers from individuals and companies wanting to donate computers to your organization. It's never easy to turn down free stuff, especially when it comes to computers. However, these donations may include equipment that is broken, outdated, or missing important components. Even if equipment is in great condition, it may be unsuitable for your organization's needs.
So how do you decide what to accept — and what to refuse? The following six tips will help you make that call.
1. Determine what is useful.
Donated computer equipment is only useful if it is compatible with your existing technologies and can run the applications you need it to run. Some guidelines for determining what equipment to accept are:
- Make sure you have a current inventory of your organization's technology. This will help you understand the minimum specifications (hard drive, processor, RAM, operating system, etc.) donated equipment should meet. In general, the more similar your equipment is, the easier it is to support. For example, if you're exclusively a Windows organization, you might not want to accept donated Macs.
- Most computers don't last more than seven years, so accept 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.
- Be cautious about accepting broken equipment. Accept it only if you are certain your tech-support person can fix it.
2. Have a clear policy about what donations your organization accepts.
Your policy should acknowledge the good intentions of potential donors and briefly explain why it is important to only accept equipment that meets your organization's needs.
The policy should also clearly specify what your organization will accept, including:
- The kinds of equipment you accept: for example, laptops, desktops, monitors, tablet or other handheld devices, printers, and other peripherals.
- Whether you accept used equipment. There are some organizations that choose not to accept used equipment at all. If you do accept used equipment, specify that you do not accept computers over five years old.
- Whether you accept only "complete" systems (for example, desktop computer donations must also include a monitor).
- Whether all components must be in working order.
- Minimum hardware specifications.
- Operating system and software requirements, if any.
- When and where donations may be dropped off.
Having a clear policy will help you gracefully decline donation offers. This, in turn, will save you the time and expense of having to recycle unwanted and unusable equipment.
For guidance on writing your policy:
3. Refer donors to a refurbisher or a recycler if you are refusing a donation.
If you are refusing a donation, encourage donors to donate the computer to a refurbisher or recycle it instead. In general, refurbishers work with newer equipment that can run current software programs. Therefore, if a computer is more than five years old, it's better to send it to a recycler.
Find refurbishers that accept donated IT equipment via the directory of Microsoft Registered Refurbishers. Most Microsoft Registered Refurbishers also accept Macintosh products.
Any equipment that is not working or is more than five years old should be recycled responsibly. A computer recycler will salvage useful parts and materials and dispose of the computer in an environmentally sound fashion. For recycling drop-off locations in your area, check: Earth911 and Dell-Goodwill Reconnect.
4. Don't forget the software, documentation, and accessories.
If you are accepting donated software, require that the donation also include the original disks, licensing information, user manual, or other documentation that came with the equipment.
For Windows computers, having an intact Certificate of Authenticity sticker (usually on the computer) is usually the most important thing to remember.
Ideally, a donated computer will also include a keyboard, mouse, printer, software, and any other accessories you may need to use the computer.
5. Delete personal information.
Even if the donor says they have already done so, make sure you wipe the computer of all personal information before you begin using it. See TechSoup's article on disk-cleaning methods for more information.
6. Dispose of your own obsolete computers responsibly.
Finally, your organization's obsolete or broken equipment should also be disposed of properly at the end of its life. Remember, recycling ensures that valuable raw materials are recovered and that waste is disposed of in an environmentally sound fashion.
The Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and e-Stewards programs require recyclers to meet specific standards for safe and responsible electronics recycling, including environmental safety, worker health, and data security standards. Learn more about certification programs at the EPA's Certification Programs for Electronics Recyclers page. Or search for a recycler at Earth911 or Dell-Goodwill Reconnect.
Image: Older computer, Shutterstock