Zawane and Lou from the WTA just attended the annual industry meeting of non-profit technology refurbishers hosted by the Association For Technology Refurbishing and Reuse (www.aftrr.org) in Pittsburgh PA on June 3rd and 4th. It’s an interesting niche with many unique challenges, worthy of a short story from the WTA’s perspective sharing its challenges….
One of the key aspects of the WTA’s mission is to bridge the digital divide, since low-income people must have technology access to gain 21st century workforce development skills. We achieve this in the most environmentally friendly and cost effective way possible: as a non-profit technology refurbisher. This means we are not funded by tax payer dollars nor can generate profits for a rainy day. At the same time, our mission requires us to provide free or extremely reduced cost equipment for schools, non-profits, students and people in need. This places the WTA between a rock and a hard place, so we must rely on many creative ways to keep our refurbishing program open:
- Constantly reaching out for equipment and cash donations (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Co-locating or offering programs with organizations that serve the same clientele (thank you CCNV Homeless Shelter, Central Union Mission, Our House and now VETS Group!).
- Utilizing volunteers for just about everything. That is a HUGE advantage of being located in DC, a city with world-class experts in every field who are generous with their time (THANK YOU!)
- Missing parts. We often receive incomplete computers missing RAM, Hard Drives, DVDs and more. Rather than throwing them all in the recycle-heap, we cannibalize broken computers for working parts; buy spare parts; and even sell some equipment at market prices to raise funds for parts and refurbishing costs. This is usually donated equipment that our target recipients would not want, but in the past included some usable equipment that enabled multiple computers to be refurbished.
- Funding for software. There is a big push for Linux, which is free, but we still believe refurbished computers are best with Microsoft Windows 10, especially when our end goal is workforce development. The balance of the productivity software and utilities are free, though we can provide Microsoft Office 2010 to non-profits and low-income recipients (not schools).
- For the past two years the WTA has relied on funds from a large digital divide grant to fund our staff, travel and other areas, but that is running out. We have been working hard and now have additional new funders, but are always open to new partnerships aligned with our mission. See the other news items for real-life examples.
- In order to break even, the WTA often includes a $20-$50 refurbishing fee on every computer we provide. This covers our costs for picking up donated equipment, warehousing, delivery to customers, warranty and more. The WTA’s standard refurbishing fee is lower than any other non-profit refurbishers we know, and we often do not charge this fee based on cash donations we receive and funds we are able to raise.
With all this complexity and opportunities to improve, the WTA was a founding member of AFTRR, the Association for Technology Recycling and Reuse. Finally, there is an industry organization for non- profit refurbishers to share best practices, develop industry standards and more. At this year’s AFTRR annual conference the WTA Executive Director was amazed by all that he learned from America’s best non-profit refurbishers — including Computer Reach, Kramden and PCs for People.