How to Donate Your Old Laptop Computer

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You’ve decided to donate your old laptop computer. Perhaps you'll be getting a new machine as a gift or will soon be making a purchase. Or, you simply want to help out those in need. Either way, that's great!

Question is, how do you go about doing so? (Jump down to laptop donation steps.)

I’ll admit, I have at least a couple of old laptops sitting in the back closet of a spare bedroom.

I never knew what to do with them…I felt bad recycling them because I knew in my gut they could probably be put to good use if someone was able to diagnose and fix the issues I was experiencing.

(Note, if you do plan on or end up recycling, please do so with caution. Unfortunately, there is a lot of harm done resulting from computers and other electronics falling into the wrong hands.)

And, think about how extending a computer's lifespan increases the return on the environmental cost (as mentioned by TechSoup, "75 percent of the fossil fuels and energy used by a computer are actually consumed during manufacturing").

How to Donate Your Old Laptop to Charity

1. Make sure your laptop still has life.

If you’re like me, you might not remember why you stopped using your laptop in the first place. Most likely, it was slow, the screen cracked, or maybe the keyboard was missing keys and/or stopped working. Unless you have a motherboard issue or problem with any of the five main parts of a computer, chances are the machine can be brought back to life.

Here are some common symptoms you may be experiencing:System Won't Boot: If your computer turns on, sounds normal, but just won't start all the way up, you probably have an operating system issue with your drivers or registry. Status: Fixable/DonatableStill donate old laptopSluggishness/Freezes: Probably the most aggravating'd almost rather not have the laptop turn on! If your computer takes a long time to load, or really gets sluggish when multiple programs are opened at one time, you probably just have a memory issue. Status: Fixable/Donatable

Display Doesn't Turn On: Sometimes your display won't work, causing you to mistake that for the rest of your computer not working. If you're able to get an external monitor to work properly, then you are simply having display issues, and thus: Status: Fixable/Donatable

Pop-Ups/Slow Downloads: If you can't get on the internet without being inundated with pop-up messages, you probably have a virus issue. Status: Fixable/Donatable

This is only a small fraction of what you might be experiencing, but as you can see, most of the time, our computers are still usable, can be revived, and can be given a second life in someone else's hands.

2. Backup your important information.

If your laptop is still functional to the point that you can get in and access files (albeit perhaps a bit slower than you’d like), be sure to backup all important documents, spreadsheets, music, photos, videos, and more. How? Drop files into a thumb drive or send them to the cloud. I suggest both backing up physically and via the cloud, just as a failsafe. Use an external hard drive with more than enough space so you don’t have to pick and choose what you keep and what you leave. Here are the best online backup services for 2015.

3. Check all drives and trays.

It’s probably easier to live with forgetting your copy of Home Alone in the disc drive than some of the other issues that might arise with lost files, etc., but still something to check for nonetheless. Check CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drives, and make sure USB flash drives are removed. How about that floppy disk drive? (The what?)

4. Wipe all of your old data.

The importance of this step can’t be overstated. You shred confidential documents, right? And, even if you check every corner of your computer, there are traces of files and information everywhere, beyond what your eye can see. Even deleted filesWipe laptop clean before donating

might not immediatel be removed from the hard drive, and may only be hidden from the operating system.

Microsoft states that even a simple reformat or operating system reinstall isn’t good enough. So, the hard drive needs to be wiped completely, and in fact, multiple times if possible. Use software specialized to government standards. Free downloads include Killdisk and DP Wipe.

Donating a Mac? Apple offers these instructions on what to do before giving away your mac, including deauthorizing your computer from iTunes, and more.Do know that this is the point of no return! Once your files have been removed through the steps above, they will be impossible to recover.

5. Find somewhere to donate.

As with any donation, you want to make sure the recipient is reputable and going to do with your laptop what they say. There are a number or manufacturers and retailers you can trust with your donations:

Dell Reconnect with Goodwill Industries: Simply drop off your laptop just like you would any other Goodwill donation, and they’ll make sure the donation is either refurbished or recycled responsibly. Still-working laptops are refurbished and resold through Goodwill, creating jobs and allowing tech to be purchased affordably. Items that can’t be reused will be recycled according to “Dell's extensive and strict Electronic Disposition Policy.”

National Cristina Foundation aims to give technology a “second productive life” and makes it easy for donors to choose a local charity or school to receive their used equipment with a non-profit locator. While there isn’t a cost to you for donating, there are specific requirements to be mindful of.

The World Computer Exchange caters to the larger organizations like companies, libraries, or universities in need of donating older equipment. With such large quantities donated, the World Computer Exchange turns around and helps build computer labs in schools in underdeveloped countries.

Other notable options include Donation Town, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and local nonprofit groups, so be sure to check with your city’s website to find opportunities in your area.

Hopefully the above has moved you to dig up your old computers or inspired you to take action to help another in need. If you still aren't set on donating, here are a couple of other resources to either help you recycle responsibly or even repurpose your old laptop computer:

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Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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