What should I do when donating a computer?

Computer Donation: Use Disk Cleaning Software

A professional refurbisher or a recycler should wipe your hard drive, removing all personal information. However, you might feel more comfortable removing your personal information yourself, or you might have to, if you are making a direct donation.

It's best to use some disk cleaning software to delete your Internet browser's cache, cookies, history, your e-mail contacts and messages, your documents, your recycle or trash folder, and non-transferable software. Use a disk cleaning utility that overwrites data so that it is unrecoverable.

Computer Donation

If you are donating hardware with a pre-installed Microsoft operating system, keep in mind that the license is only valid when used on the machine on which it was first installed. Since charitable organizations usually cannot afford to purchase and license new operating systems, a legal transfer - that is, keeping the machine and operating system together - will be very helpful to the receiving organization.

*Linux and Mac operating systems have different requirements, but passing on the operating system software with all donated computers remains best practice.

Computer Donation: Keep Records!

As with all donations, you will need appropriate documentation in order to claim a deduction on your taxes. Most school or nonprofit refurbishers can provide a tax receipt upon request. The tax laws pertaining to computer donation are covered in Section 170 of the Federal Income Tax Code, the New Millennium Classrooms Act, and the 21st Century Classrooms Act.

Business donors can deduct the un-depreciated value of the computer, and individuals can deduct the current market value of a computer. To determine the fair market value of a computer, refer to The refurbisher with whom you work should also be able to give you a fair estimate on your receipt.

Computer Donation: Plan Ahead

Since you're donating an old computer, it's probably a safe bet that you have a new one … and that you'll want to upgrade that in a few years.

Create a box or file in which you can store the documents that came with your new computer. That way, everything will be in one place when it comes time to donate the latest computer.

Computer Donation: Contact the Refurbisher or Recycler

As with many things, a little research up front may save you a huge headache later. Call the refurbisher or recycling organization that you are considering, or check for details on its web site.

If you call an organization ahead of time, you can ensure that it accepts the type of computer you plan to give away, and then find out to what causes (if any) they donate the refurbished machine or recycled components.

Computer Donation: Recycle Old and Broken PC Equipment

Any equipment that is not working or that is below Pentium- or Mac Power PC-level should be recycled, rather than refurbished. Recyclers remove useful parts of such machines and then break down the rest of the materials. They also safely remove hazardous materials.

Some recyclers may charge a fee to accept old PCs and equipment, especially monitors, for recycling. You may, however, be able to find some computer recyclers that operate like vehicle recyclers - that is, they sell the usable parts, keep a fee for themselves, and donate the rest to charity.

Computer Donation: Provide Original Disks and Documentation

Remember that organizations that will be receiving your donated computer might not be as well-versed in the operating system as you have been. Therefore, it will be very helpful to them to provide the original disks and documentation that came with the PC when it was purchased.

*Include the proof of license, which will help facilitate the legal transfer of the operating system.

Computer Donation: Remember the Accessories

If you can, include the keyboard, mouse, printer, modem, packaged software, or any other accessories that came with the computer you plan to donate. Schools and charitable organizations can almost always put them to good use, and most organizations only accept complete systems.

*If you cannot supply these accessories and cannot find an organization willing to accept and incomplete package directly, talk with a refurbisher to see if he can help.

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Heidi Splete