The problems that can come with accepting used computers and peripherals are common knowledge by now. Most tech support staff members, teachers, and administrators know that old machines frequently break down, require time-consuming maintenance, don’t have multimedia capabilities, and sometimes don’t run current software or fit into a school’s network properly. In short, they usually aren’t worth the trouble.

But how do you say no to companies or organizations that are offering “valuable” used equipment, without offending them so thoroughly that they won’t offer other support in the future? Here are five suggestions:

1. Write a policy outlining “acceptable” and “unacceptable” donations. For an example, go to http://www.sccs.santacruz.k12.ca.us/instruction/edtech/min_donational-purchase.html.

2. Think up creative uses for older equipment. For example, computers that are too slow for science laboratory graphics may be sufficient for a word-processing class. Or obsolete machines could be used to teach students how a computer works by having students take them apart.

3. Suggest other outlets for unwanted donations. Keep a list of area organizations that accept old computers for refurbishing.

4. Develop a program to give used computers to low-income families in the school. But make sure both parties are clear about the operability of the gift computers.

5. Review local disposal laws. Unusable computers cannot be thrown in the trash in many jurisdictions because they contain hazardous materials, so special arrangements may need to be made if you accept donations you cannot use.