Beware of the “Free Puppies” of Technology Donations

mary oshaughnessy

By Mary O’Shaughnessy, Manager of Information Technology, Her Justice

“Free puppies” sounds so wonderful. Yet once you have acquired an actual puppy, your wallet gets opened for spay/neuter, license, food, toys, dog walker—free isn’t really “no-cost.” The same is true for “free computers” and “free software.” Before you jump to say “Yes,” think carefully about what the real price might be.

“The only thing is…”

The “only thing” for hardware (computers and electronics) might be that you have to go get the donation. That could mean hiring a service, or renting a van. On top of that, if it turns out that the equipment can’t be used, disposal is then your problem.

Also look up the model number(s) on the manufacturer’s site. If it is close to, or past, the end-of-support date, you may wind up with items for which you can’t get parts, or that will be so underpowered that your users will be frustrated and unhappy.

“I know somebody who can build you that database….”

A dedicated volunteer may offer to build exactly the application you’ve always wanted. However, if that volunteer retires to Tristan da Cunha, you are going to be in trouble, even if they were good about documentation. Many large software companies offer discounted licensing on current, supported applications for nonprofits. They are worth the investment simply because you are not out there alone.

If you decline a proposed donation, always be gracious and acknowledge the supportive intention behind it.

Mary O’Shaughnessy is the Manager, Information Technology, for Her Justice. Her opinions are her own, and not official positions of Her Justice.

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