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How to Find a Free Laptop or Desktop Computer
7 Useful Ideas that may work for you

By Charles DiBella
Recycles.org
The first and easiest way will be to save up your money. The reason for this is because good modern laptops of today are cheap. If by all means you cannot save up enough money, you must learn some new techniques. If in this age of austerity discovering a new budget leak seems impossible, send us a snapshot of your present budget and work schedule and we'll give your case special consideration.

There is another path toward finding your computer, but it may entail lowering yourself to feel comfortable with looking through dumpsters and garbage.

Above and beyond such an urban feat you should have some technical wizardry and be naturally inquisitive to get non-working computers up and running again.

Such techno-wizardry is good to possess in all cases and the only requirement to begin collecting is to be inquisitive.

One can think of so many different approaches toward fulfilling your needs, but everyone's situation is unique.

Most people want to save money, and saving money when acquiring a computer is just another way to get along in our race to survive. We receive many requests for free equipment, so we've gathered together a few ideas to help you.

To begin, our exchange network cannot directly provide equipment to private parties, because we're designed to primarily assist IRS tax-exempt 501c-3 nonprofit organizations.

Regardless, we can offer several useful insights if you're looking for free and low cost equipment.

One active and community-based approach is to become involved with a local nonprofit organization of your choosing.

This could be a church, school, scout or civic group that presently has or may be interested in forming a computer literacy wing.

If you're even remotely involved with any computer literacy group already, you may be close to qualifying as their representative.

Make an effort to inform group leaders about our service, encouraging to allow you to apply to use our network and start making requests directly.

For example, you may visit our nonprofit users members page here and browse the network to see if anyone is near you.

If you find someone interesting, visit their website and make contact directly. Ask if our network has worked for them and look for opportunities where you can be of help to each other.

There are several ways to help us promote our message while volunteering to help others, so let us know if you are willing.

Now to point in a different direction, let's look at another approach.

We begin by determining which official within your local government is responsible for county or municipal e-waste recycling efforts.

The gatekeepers to such government-centric entities, although originally intended to serve you, have quietly composed one regulation after another to nicely, plain, and cleary inform you why they cannot help you today, tomorrow or ever in the future. Since they are intended to be public servants, we must insist visiting these folks so you may tell them about both your story and our service.

Too often such events are put forth as "green deeds" for the commmunity, while in reality the game is arranged to generate revenue to trickle down paying the salaries of minions. Little do our fully-employed pseudo-servants need to think about the poor struggling moms and students of our community who could use some of this seemingly worthless electronic techno-junk they've collected from our neighbors and neighborhoods.

All such county or municipality sponsored environmental events should be strictly designed to serve all the immediate needs of the local population, especially those in need. Indeed we can very easily designed and promote programs for academic self-education and reuse, but only when aligned with good leadership, good management, and Free and Open Source software.

Corporations who thrive on the consumer such as Dell and Best Buy hold e-waste buyback programs. On the surface this seems good for us all, but instead of promoting the spread of refurbishment and reuse for education, technology is simply scrapped for salvage and profit.

E-waste recycling schemes and events are nothing more than commercial collection franchises subcontracted for profit and revenue generation with participants hoping to spread the wealth among themselves regardless of your need for their wares.

If you meet anyone connected to such government offices, corporations, or community events, present to them your views while letting them know we feel almost any computer can be put to good use educating people both home and abroad.

If you would like us to speak with anyone directly, send us their name and complete contact information, along together with the name and contact information for the editor of your local newspaper.

Green political activism aside, there is yet still another approach we can take, and this approach will lead us into what in the past was known as our local "Goodwill store" also known as "Goodwill Enterprises".

At one time we could depend on Goodwill for finding almost anything, but that does not seem to be the case so much anymore.

What possible chance could you have at Goodwill or a second-hand store?

To begin, if you are dependent upon MicroSoft Windows products to power the modern life of your refurbished computer, then you must be advised right from the start that you're looking in the wrong direction. Earlier we mentioned Free and Open Source Software, and this is what MicroSoft products are NOT.

If your objective is to take an old computer and make it useful gain, you will need to face some limitations. With Free and Open Source Software, such limitations are much more well managed.

Returning to the topic of Goodwill and second-hand stores, there are opportunities here if you know what and who to look for in your search.

As we continue along, now you may see more clearly why we lean toward suggesting that "saving up money" is the best solution.

Most all major GoodWill outlets receive useable equipment from time to time, but you will need to get into the "information stream" and stay on top of new arrivals to grab opportunities as sometimes questionable equipment becomes available.

Some second-hand outlets may have a resident technician available. If you are lucky, this person will be semi-retired, relaxed, and easy going. Such people are key in your search, and you will want to meet with as many as possible.

In our new age of austerity, the doors of opportunity open less often and close more quickly, so it will be to your advantage to know a gatekeeper.

Nearly any old computer can be reconditioned to be put back into productivity, but most technicians in our developed world would not consider such effort worth their precious time.

Among the poor, especially those in the developing nations, we see a much different attitude toward old technology, but regardless of where you are, without technical knowledge the old computer becomes useless.

We can now explore our next approach which would require spreading personal publicity about your need.

This approach is to have a story written in a local publication about you and your special need. There are often many small hard copy publications which contain community service articles that appeal to the needs of your community. Possibly, if you don't mind being in the limelight, your story may be interesting enough that others may enjoy reading about your courage and determination. Millions of private individuals across America have older, useful computer equipment which they would love to see benefit another.

Well, it is worth a try.

The next approach is to find a "Freecycle" group near you. The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit network of individuals who give and receive free things in their local community. See if your community is represented by entering it's name into the search box at their website: www.freecycle.org

You might consider developing your own strategy for making direct requests to small businesses in your area. This next approach can work equally as well for an individual, or by a service organization seeking many computers.

To use this approach, take some time to prepare one great letter. Your letter should be direct and personal, yet objective, and addressed to an owner of a small business in your area.

As an individual, include a personal introduction which briefly explains your special need or disability. Explain your career goals, and your computing objectives, along with your general hardware requirements. An organization would want to be equally as brief, because business executives often have very little time for reading long, drawn out letters.

It is important that your letter be clear, concise, and objective. If you write the letter yourself, be sure to seek out a friend or editor to correct and improve it, or to offer advice. Your complete letter should fit on one page, and to personalize it even more, clip a small photo of yourself at the top.

With this letter, seek out small businesses, such as dental and medical offices, copy and print shops, small design and engineering firms, or any small adminstrative or technical business with ten or more employees.

Determine who is responsible for making decisions, and personalize your letter directly to that person. Send out ten letters to ten business leaders, and for improved results, follow up with a phone call to each a few days after delivering your letter.

All over America, many individuals and small businesses have old, unused computers in storage sitting idle, and they would love to have the opportunity to directly help someone succeed.

But be cautious with what you accept! These sources, like our exchange network, can offer very old, worthless items as well. If you are not a technician yourself, you will need some technical expertise at hand to know what you are accepting. Unless your objective is to recycle equipment, you may not want just any old equipment that is offered to you. It may turn out to be completely useless, or more problems than it's worth.

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Charles DiBella is founder and director of the Nonprofit Recycling Network. At present, Charles works with students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Connect with Charles at his personal website www.bikepaths.org.