How to Donate Your Computer to Charity

Recycling Used Computers

If you're interested in donating your system to a specific charity, it's very important to contact the organization first, or visit its Web site, to review any necessary technical requirements. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Create a written description of the system including brand, processor, hard drive capacity, audio or video specifications, and all accessories you're including.
  • Contact the charity to determine if the computer will be of use.
  • If possible, provide the charity with a complete, fully-operational system including the keyboard, mouse, cables, documentation and any other hardware you're including.
  • Package everything carefully to avoid damage, even if you're personally delivering the computer.
  • Don't forget to ask for a receipt.

You can find links to charities seeking computer donations at the Web site for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The more complete the system is, the easier it will be for the charity to put the computer to use. The extra effort on your part is sure to be appreciated.

If your computer is too old to rejeuvenate, you should recycle it. Technology recyclers and refurbishers accept older equipment, assess its potential, and either put it back to work through donations, or break it down and safely dispose of the dangerous materials.

Unless you have a specific charity in mind, recyclers are the best choice for computer donations. However, it's critical to choose carefully. As with many industries, a small group of unscrupulous businesses have sprung up offering recycling services, when in fact, they often dispose of obsolete systems, or send them to computer "chop shops" in third-world countries. In a chop shop, computers are stripped of useful materials using methods that don't protect the environment or workers. The rest of the materials end up in the dump.

Finding a reputable recycler or refurbisher takes a bit of online leg work (or is that mouse work?), but it's well worth the effort. Some are nonprofit corporations that focus on finding useable computers for schools, lower-income individuals and other charities. As with many industries, the recycling business has several associations and rating organizations that have established standards and best practice guidelines that must be followed.

You can find a comprehensive list of recyclers on the TechSoup Web site. TechSoup provides technology services to nonprofit organizations, including forums, webinars, blogs and access to donated computers.

Most computer manufacturers offer recycling services for free, or at minimal cost. Some will even provide shipping labels and instructions on how to send the computer to them. Many also accept computers from other manufacturers for a nominal fee. Dell, for example, doesn't charge to recycle any of its products. However, Dell will recycle other systems for a nominal charge when you buy one of its products. These programs may or may not include charitable donations.

On its Web site, the EPA provides a list of manufacturers, retailers and other companies that belong to its Plug-in to E-cycling partners program.