The Ideal Holiday Charity Project For Tech Geeks: The Used Cell Phone Drive

With the holiday season comes the onslaught of charity campaigns. Toy and food drives are by far the most common (even if some question their efficiency), but the list goes on forever. The problem typically comes in organizing one for the office that isn’t the “same old, same old” in order to make a difference and generate sizeable participation from the staff.  

One that is often overlooked, but is both impactful and easy to do, is a used cell phone drive. 

At first glance, this may not be seen by many businesses as a serious measure towards contributing for charity purposes. The reality is quite the opposite. Here’s why: On average, around one hundred million cell phones are dumped into landfills each year in the U.S. alone. This is a disappointingly massive figure, not only on the environmental front, but the act itself is akin to throwing money out of the window. That’s because many services readily pay top dollar for these old and discarded phones, often in bulk, and with the option to donate the payment directly to a registered charity. 

There are three key benefits to organizing a cell phone drive for any size business. First, companies are able to receive a tax credit for safely and effectively discarding mobile devices that otherwise would be tossed as a fully depreciated asset on their balance sheet. Think of it a second; at Totem, we pay on average $125 for every device we buy. If Americans sold just 10 percent of the cell phones tossed in the garbage and donated the funds to charity, this could result in as much as $125 million to nonprofit groups. Businesses would also remove the actual costs they currently spend in disposing of cell phones, since many buyback services pay the bulk shipping costs for receiving these old devices. 

Second, employees are often appreciative and participative in campaigns like this, improving office camaraderie during what otherwise can be a hectic and stressful time of year. Rallying around a cause that does good, but doesn’t require a significant amount of effort on the part of staff members is one of those rare “win-win’s.” Lastly, deserving charities receive a much-needed contribution for what otherwise would be considered trash.   

To run a successful cell phone drive for charity, volunteer employees can collect cell phones from their office mates as well as friends, neighbors, and family members in addition to working with the appropriate IT staff to collect company-owned devices that are scrubbed for any private and proprietary information. Working with local social clubs and student societies can enhance the growth of the business’ charity drive and potentially help foster a responsible image of the company.

Security is obviously a concern too and my advice is to ensure the company chosen to salvage your devices can certify that all data is wiped out prior to recycling. At Totem, all companies large and small have access to Department of Defense (DOD) data-erasure services. Our B2B service includes DOD standard 5220.22-M, the highest possible level of data sanitization, and a per-device erasure receipt. 

So before the next can of cream of mushroom soup goes into the box, consider how much a used cell phone drive could raise for a local food bank. It may be an initiative that generates more buy-in, more contributions and—most important—more funds for the designated nonprofit.

Author Nicholas Fiorentino is the founder of Totem, a cell phone and tablet buyback service. He can be reached at nicholas@hellototem.com. 

[Image: Flickr user istolethetv]

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