A look at a charity that collects used computers, repairs them, and sends them to the needy, at home and aboard.
Today's market value of a 286 PC with a hard drive is about $200 -- if you're patient enough to attract a buyer. How do you convert the relic to effortless tax-deductible dollars? One way is to donate it to the East West Foundation, a Boston public charity that takes in quite-used computers and peripherals and, as the Salvation Army does with household appliances, repairs them as needed and relays them to the needy -- often halfway around the world. East West recently airlifted 25 old machines to Bosnia, where the bombed-out Oslobodjenje Journal, Sarajevo's only operating newspaper, relies on them to sustain publication.
Indeed, demand for such (to us) near scrap exceeds supply "a thousand times over," says East West founder Alex Randall. Since the charity's beginnings, in 1990, Randall has placed more than 6,000 antique PCs with otherwise technologyless educational, human-services, and economic-development agencies in the United States and around the globe. East West accepts as-is IBM-type PCs, Macs, modems, mice, monitors, printers, cables, and the like. Multisite software also is welcome if the donor can supply original disks and manuals, plus a written OK from the licenser. Transportation and other expenses are covered by corporate sponsors.
Some companies find it more rewarding to donate aging installations in bulk rather than squeeze out extra cash by selling the machines to their own workers. Reasons Dave Kinkela, information-systems chief at Goya Foods, in Secaucus, N.J., "We considered selling employees our broken-down 286s, but they'd have been more expensive to repair than they were worth." Instead of getting a headache, Kinkela bought goodwill by delivering the tired computers to East West, where techie volunteers perform triage for nothing.
When East West gets the goods, it gives receipts to the donor for tax-deduction backup. How much the donor takes as a deduction is usually more a matter of conscience than fact, since the IRS requires a formal appraisal only for declared values above $5,000. In the hands of a shrewd accountant, computer contributions can benefit an income statement -- especially since private sales entail annoyances such as advertising and buyers' rubber checks.
But not all givers view their donations as found money. In Cambridge, Mass., entrepreneur Steve Bennett contributed an ancient laser printer without bothering to establish a deduction. "The printer was so massive it was laughed at in our office; knowing that now it represents the future to people elsewhere makes us feel good." To learn how to become a donor or sponsor, call East West's fax-back service at 617-542-2345, extension 101. -- Karen E. Carney
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There's no precise rule for valuing charitable donations of used equipment for tax purposes. However, according to the East West Foundation, the exact cost of shipping equipment to its offices in Boston, as certified by a trucker's bill of lading, qualifies as part of the deduction.