Businesses and individuals often donate used equipment to nonprofit organizations for tax deductions and easy disposal. These machines can provide useful benefits to your organization, but a number of issues should be discussed first, so that the machines don't turn into designer doorstops in your facility. Before you accept donated hardware, work through the following steps and make sure the donation is a boon and not a burden.
Do Your Homework
- Determine how computers will be used in your organization.
Before you get the first call from a donor regarding equipment, think about the technology needs of your organization and staff. What kinds of tasks will staff perform? Do they need to communicate by email; create desktop publishing products, such as newsletters or fliers; create and maintain a database; produce mass mailings; or research online? Make a checklist of needs for each person who may benefit from using a computer. This checklist will help determine your equipment needs.
- Determine the amount your organization can budget for technology.
Donated machines still require some investment. Compare the cost of a new machine with the cost of refurbishing a donated one.
- Acquire the technical resources to maintain the computers.
If your organization does not have a technical person on staff, then consider searching for volunteers who can help keep the machines maintained, perform upgrades, if necessary, and provide advice and guidance on other issues. Remember that volunteers are not a long-term solution for reliable, constant technical support. The more equipment you have, the more important secure technical maintenance becomes. See Things to Look for in a Technical Consultant for more information on professional technical maintenance.
- Find a refurbisher.
A number of Web site directories list organizations that recycle or refurbish old computers. Recycling or refurbishing hardware involves taking an old machine, cleaning up its "insides" and, usually, boosting its power and speed. Refurbishing greatly improves the performance of older equipment.
Dealing With Donors
- Determine whether the donated system matches your organization's needs.
- Determine what the donor means by "computer" donation.
Does the donation include a CPU (central processing unit) as well as a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripheral equipment? Often, companies will donate a CPU but keep the other components, such as monitors and keyboards, to use on their new equipment. Certainly, a CPU is a wonderful donation, but it helps to have an idea of what additional expenses you will incur to get a complete system up and running.
- Take an inventory.
Either the donor or the recipient should take an inventory consisting of the make, model and serial number of each piece of equipment. The donor needs the inventory for tax purposes; the recipient needs it to ensure that the equipment sent to the refurbisher is the equipment that comes back. Find out whether you or the donor is expected to take the inventory.
- Send a letter of receipt to the donating organization.
Each donating organization will require a letter from you (on your organization's letterhead) indicating receipt of the machines. The donating organization determines the value of the equipment--you don't have to. Be sure to include a copy of the inventory with the letter of receipt.
Refurbishing the Hardware
- Establish minimum requirements (specs or specifications) with the refurbisher.
The refurbisher may have a standard configuration recommended for certain types of machines. Knowing what you want to do with the machines will help the refurbisher guide you through this process. You also should have a conversation concerning how much each machine will cost to refurbish, what warranty will be offered on each machine, what the minimum configuration will be, what costs will there be for "extra" parts (e.g., monitors, keyboards, and upgrades to memory) and how long it will take to return the machines to your organization. Include information on the CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals.
Standards for the minimum requirements change every 3 to 6 months in the fast-paced world of technology. Your refurbisher will be up-to-date on the configuration you will need.
- Determine costs.
Just because systems have been donated does not mean you will be able to avoid investing in the refurbishing and upgrading of the computers. Depending on the type of machine you request, refurbishing costs may range from $250 to $400 per system. Inquire whether the refurbisher provides any type of warranty for the equipment.
- Arrange for pick-up and delivery.
Most donors will expect the receiving organization to pick up the machines. If you are picking them up or have made arrangements with a third party, be aware that the machines probably won't have boxes. Computer equipment is affected by the way it is handled and will need to be transported gently.
- Establish a timeline for the refurbishing.
Discuss the estimated time of delivery with the refurbisher. Establishing an exact timeline is sometimes difficult, but nonprofits should maintain regular and persistent follow-up with refurbishers. If you both have appropriate expectations for turnaround, then this process will go more smoothly.
Selecting, installing or upgrading software for your recycled computer is an important part of getting a system that fits your needs. Software and hardware issues should be addressed at the same time and by the same refurbisher, if possible.
- Choose an operating system for the equipment.
For community-based organizations, refurbishers will typically load an older operating system unless you request otherwise and have resources to get licenses for additional operating systems and applications.
- Procure licenses.
Do I really need licenses? The short answer is yes. Retail costs for software may be budget draining, but it's important to be legal. Some organizations are able to provide software and licenses to nonprofit, community-based groups at a reduced rate.
- Determine who will load the software.
Check with both the refurbisher and the software provider to see whether the application is available on CD or DVD. Some older machines do not have DVD drives, and it takes extra time to attach one.
- Determine who will train the recipients of the refurbished systems.
Ideally, people in your organization could serve as mentors or "helpers" for training issues and questions. Realistically, time constraints may make that impossible.
A number of organizations provide low-cost computer training classes. Your refurbisher also may be able to provide training to some of your staff (and volunteers) who can then pass on their learning to the others in your organization. Remember to include students in or served by your organization.
- Determine training benchmarks for specific applications.
A needs assessment of the skills and tasks required for each user should be considered. Establish introductory, intermediate and advanced skills for each application, and match benchmarks to each user.
- Develop pertinent and useful exercises.
Once users are able to get online, a number of Web sites provide tutorials or self-paced learning exercises.
- Determine a timeline for training.
Training is an ongoing process. Users need time to practice, understand the concepts and then apply their learning to a practical situation. Be sure that your timelines are realistic.