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The Tactful Turndown
Frequently, the offer of a donated piano follows a stressful life experience, such as a death. Often the donor is trying to preserve something that was very important in the life of the original owner, and lacks an objective view of the instrument's value. Tact plays a big role in gracefully turning down an offer of an unusable instrument. Suggesting that a piano technician be hired to take a look at it will often eliminate the need for a detailed explanation. If the technician is informed of the level of quality you're looking for, he or she might be able to disqualify a potential problem instrument. Asking if any family members might better appreciate having the piano also sometimes works. As a last resort, you might point to several instruments already in the possession of your organization that are sitting idle, and profusely thank the prospective donor for thinking of your organization while mentioning that you're accepting monetary donations toward the purchase of a suitable professional-quality piano.
If you're the donor, you don't want to put the institution in a situation where your donated piano doesn't work properly and actually costs the institution money, or prevents it from obtaining the instrument it needs for its programs. If your piano is not a good fit for the institution but you would still like to be of help, consider selling your piano privately and donating the proceeds to the institution, to be used toward the purchase of a new instrument. (See the sidebar, “Donating, Converting, or Recycling Your Piano,” for other ideas about what to do with a piano rejected by an institution.)
Guidelines for the Donation of Used Pianos
Having a written policy in place regarding the acceptance of donated items, and requiring that the items be appraised and that they meet certain stated guidelines, can be very helpful. Here are a few guidelines specific to the donation of used pianos:
- No spinets or consoles. Vertical pianos 36" to 43" tall were built for home use only, and won't have the durability and sound needed for a performance space. Spinets and consoles usually have freestanding front legs unsupported by toe blocks; these won't hold up well if the piano is frequently moved.
- No grands smaller than 5' 6". As mentioned earlier, most grands smaller than this are not made to survive the hard life of an institutional piano, and they lack the longer bass strings and the projection needed to produce enough sound to fill a large space. Attempts to get a big sound from a small piano inevitably result in broken strings and damage to the pedal system.
- No pianos over 20 years old, except premium brands such as Steinway and Mason & Hamlin. This will eliminate offers of old uprights.
- No Chinese, Indonesian, or Korean pianos made before 2000. Today, most of these brands are well made, but anything made before 2000 could have problems that may be expensive to service. In addition, most of the older Chinese, Indonesian, and Korean pianos were built primarily as consumer-grade instruments for the home market.