DONATING, CONVERTING, OR RECYCLING YOUR PIANO by Karen Lile
In my 31 years of experience as a piano appraiser and broker, and as a partner in a piano-rebuilding business, I have daily encountered people who are considering donating or otherwise disposing of their pianos. In this article, I outline some of the options available to those who have a piano they don't want to keep or sell, but would like to see it go somewhere other than the dump or local landfill.
Because of the diversity of my clients — piano dealers, piano owners, antique-store owners, collectors, investors, banks, insurance companies, estate appraisers, courts, probate trustees, and nonprofit organizations — I have found it important to establish an effective framework for discussing and advising people about the transfer of a piano from one ownership and/or use to another. In particular, I have learned to separate discussions of the current condition and potential of a piano from the needs and desires of the people and organizations involved. This makes it possible for me to discuss with each party what is in its or their best interest.
Donating a Piano
Say, for example, someone wants to donate a piano to a nonprofit organization that can either use it or resell it for their tax-exempt purposes. The person making the donation may need the piano to be removed from its present location by a specific time, and have specific criteria as to which worthy causes they are willing to contribute. The nonprofit receiving the piano, however, may have specific criteria about how, when, and where they will receive a donated piano, as well as specific restrictions about its condition, quality of construction, durability, and appearance. This is because a piano is a big item that requires storage in a protected environment and access to skilled people to tune and repair it. Also, musicians have specific artistic requirements, and the piano will simply take up space and other resources if it can't fulfill those requirements. The two parties' criteria may or may not be a good match, and the nonprofit might turn down the donation. If the donor has waited until the last minute to decide to donate a piano, then his or her options will be much more limited than if time had been allowed for a nonprofit to consider the offer and, if appropriate, make arrangements for receiving the piano.
In order to make a good decision about where to donate the piano, it is recommended that you know its current condition and fair market value. A piano technician hired to inspect the piano can tell you its condition and value, and advise you on its potential uses, taking into account its quality of design and construction and its present condition. There are also some online services available for obtaining a ballpark estimate of its value, such as on PianoBuyer.com.
Although it's beyond the scope of this article to discuss which types and sizes of piano are appropriate for institutions and other nonprofits (see the accompanying article by Sally Phillips), if your piano can hold a tune, and has a consistent, uniform, and predictable response from key to key, then it is more likely to be a good instrument for students and musicians to practice and perform on, and a donation can be made either directly to the nonprofit that needs the piano, or to a nonprofit that can sell it and apply the money to a good cause that you want to support.
The types of organizations that might be interested in a donation of a good working piano are schools, social groups, clubs, senior centers, preschools, retirement homes, service clubs, after-school programs, recreation centers — any venue that has some type of formal or informal entertainment, or where groups meet for social occasions. (Note: Spinets and consoles with freestanding legs should be limited to use where they will not be moved frequently, as the legs are prone to breaking if the piano is moved often.)
If you would like to donate the piano to an organization that provides a valuable service to the public but lacks the tax-exempt status that would allow you to take a tax deduction for the donation, you might be able to find another organization, with tax-exempt status and a similar or complementary mission, that can give you the tax deduction while legally passing along the donation to your preferred group.
Although piano dealers usually have more than enough used pianos on hand, taken in trade for new ones, occasionally they may be able to find a new home for your older piano with a student or family who can't afford to pay for one, or with a nonprofit organization.
You might also check to see if your city has an organization devoted to using donated pianos for public art purposes. An example is the Sing for Hope Foundation, which each year places 88 donated, repaired, and painted pianos in parks and public spaces throughout New York City for the public to play and enjoy. After their two-week display, the pianos are donated to underserved local schools, healthcare facilities, and community organizations. See their website at www.singforhope.org.