One of the most useful things nonprofits can do is to recycle goods and make money. You don’t have to be a kale-crunching greenie to recognize that one ought to use products until they completely wear out. But we all have products that could be useful to someone—clothes, books, records. But until Washington Post columnist John Kelly brought it up, I had no idea there were several nonprofits who would be happy if you gave them a piano and let them resell it and keep the proceeds.
Last year, I wrote about Street Pianos, a British nonprofit that encourages communities to allow the group to install pianos in public places where people can play them. The groups Kelly writes about don’t have quite as expansive a motive. Their purpose is much simpler: they’ll take pianos, refurbish them, sell them, and use the proceeds for good works.
Dutch pianist Jan Mulder founded the Beethoven Foundation in 2008. Its website is not very informative, but what they say is that they give pianos to students who can use them, and they also donate pianos to churches. Another activity of this organization is providing scholarships for music students.
Jan Mulder’s son, Gabriel Mulder, told Kelly that the Beethoven Foundation takes about ten donated pianos a day and ships them from donors to worthy recipients, or sells them if they don’t have a recipient.
The website Piano Adoption is an internal market for pianos that places people who want to get rid of their pianos with people who want them. When I visited the site, they had piano listings posted nearly two years ago, so I have no idea if this is an effective market. But it exists.
Finally there is the Society for Unique Artists, which says it supports work that is “mentally or physically challenging, underrated, undocumented, or unrecognized.” Some may say that is shorthand for strange work by weirdoes. However, these people don’t seem to be getting government grants, so who am I to complain? Among the activities of the society are a web-based show called “Extreme Art Television” and a service where they will pick up and deliver art within 200 miles of New York City.
Kelly also mentions Hungry for Music, which specifically does not want used pianos, but will happily take used guitars and flutes, which are refurbished and donated to inner city schools. If the donated instruments are too damaged, the pieces are given to artists who make art out of them. Hungry for Music also funded their work through a series of excellent CDs, many of them baseball-related. (One consisted of over forty versions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”) They don’t seem to be in the CD business any more, which is a shame, because their CDs were of very high quality. I’ve donated to this group, and it’s doing a very good thing.
One final point. Our lives are too dominated by electronics. (After all, someone on the Internet might be wrong!) So it’s good to support groups that encourage people to perform instruments, read books, hike in the woods, play board games, or sit and talk with friends. Donors should be encouraged to come up with ideas to get people to turn off their screens and go outside.