Questions to ask about donated computers

Donated computers aren’t always a bargain. Asking these questions before accepting a donated computer can save time and frustration later.

How old is the computer? Due to ever-changing technology, computers don’t have as long a usable life as most other appliances. Some experts recommend refusing computers over 2 years old, others extend this window to 5 years if you are primarily interested in word-processing functions.

Is it a PC or Mac? Either is fine, but it is generally not a good idea to have both due to software compatibility and document transfer issues. If you already have computers of one type or the other, you should only accept donations of the type you already have. If you don’t have any computers yet, PCs are generally more common and therefore a better choice. The exception to this rule is organizations that expect to do lots of high-end graphic or video manipulation, in which case Macs may be the best choice.

Has the computer been wiped clean? If the computer has been stripped of its operating system, you will need to acquire and install a new one. This may or may not be difficult depending upon the age of the computer and your access to an appropriate operating system and someone capable of installing it.  If you aren’t sure, better to pass on this donation.

Will your existing software work with this computer? Most software comes with a detailed description of the operating requirements necessary to operate it. Check to make sure the new computer meets these minimum standards.

Is it in good working order? Due to the short functional life of computers, it generally isn’t a good idea to invest more than $50 into repairing a broken computer. If the current owner knows there is something wrong with the machine, it probably doesn’t make sense to accept the donation unless you have a volunteer or staff member who can evaluate the problem and accurately estimate the cost for repairs.

If a computer doesn’t meet your needs, it is okay to politely refuse the offer. If possible, find out if there is an organization in your community willing to accept all computer donations and provide a referral to the donor.


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