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Piano Donations

Piano donations are common, particularly for institutions and houses of worship. These venues are often in need of new or younger instruments, so when approached by a potential donor, both parties often enthusiastically entertain the prospect of transferring said piano. As a donor, piano donation can be a fulfilling means of supporting the music program at a cherished establishment that holds significance to you. As a donee, piano donation can enrich your music program and foster artistic expression in your community.

Circumstances surrounding piano donations can be delicate. Donors may have close ties with the proposed donee, such as a long-time church member or esteemed alumnus. Piano donations may also involve sentimental family heirlooms, or transpire after a recent family death. While sensitivity is crucial, it’s also important to not let emotions overshadow objective assessments of an instrument’s condition, viability, and suitability.

Despite the well-intended generosity of donors, an instrument that is not fit to properly serve the donee's needs can pose challenges; financially and otherwise. Older instruments, in particular, may require extensive work to function properly, so much so that the pursuit of tuning and repair may be unjustifiable. To quote piano technician, Sally Phillips: "Just because it's a Steinway doesn't mean it's immune from wear, or that the technician can instantly bring it back to life."* If an instrument is determined to be unsuitable for the donee’s uses, it is important to be tactful and respectful to the donor, and if appropriate, direct them to other ways they can support the music program.

Below, please find important information to consider as you prepare to navigate the piano donation process. Whether you are the donor or donee, involving your piano technician as a consultant in the process of a potential piano donation is strongly encouraged.

Beware of piano donation scams! Scammers have been known to contact music schools and other establishments offering piano donation, typically of a younger grand piano by a reputable manufacturer such as Yamaha, Kawai, or Steinway. Scammers may pose as alumni, students, or even school employees, and often incorporate an emotional tale about the piano’s history and/or a recent family death. The scam usually involves an attempt to collect advanced payment for the “piano” to be moved to the school. Do not fall for this scam! Check the sender’s email address and always trust your gut if you sense something suspicious.

The Donation Process

Step 1: Obtain Piano Information Gather as much piano information as possible, including make, model,
serial number, service or rebuilding history, and photos. This data will come in handy throughout the process, and is essential before proceeding.

Step 2: Engage Your Piano Technician Before committing to a donation or having the piano moved, it is important to involve your piano technician. An experienced technician can save donors and donees time, money, and unnecessary headache through consulting and inspection services.

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Consulting: Send the technician the piano information obtained in Step 1, and consult with them about the piano’s viability.

Technical Inspection: Should the piano be deemed a viable candidate, hire an experienced piano technician to perform an in-person technical inspection. This allows the technician to accurately assess the internal components of the instrument and inform of existing problems, limitations, recalls, or potential future issues before the donation is accepted. While encouraged, a “test drive” by the donor, donee, church pianist, or music instructor, is not sufficient to properly evaluate the piano’s condition, longevity, and tunability.

Step 3: Piano Moving After the technical inspection has been performed, if the candidate piano is determined appropriate, hire a reputable, insured piano mover.

Ready to proceed with a piano move?

Contact Brad Fant Piano Service for a referral to a reputable piano mover.

Step 4: Piano Appraisal (optional) - Appraisal documents may be required in order for the donor to claim a tax deduction for their piano donation. The appraisal process is typically the final step in the donation process, and differs in many respects from the technical inspection in Step 2 due to specific requirements set forth by the IRS.

The Key to Successful Piano Donations: Developing a Plan

If you represent a school, church, or other establishment with a piano inventory, collaborate with the music department and piano technician(s) to develop a plan for piano acquisition and maintenance. Proactive planning ensures that, when approached by potential donors, appropriate decisions can be made based on your specific goals, needs, and budget.

  • Disposal of Existing Pianos: Identify which pianos in the inventory are most in need of replacement. Create a priority list and devise a plan ahead of time for which existing piano(s) will be moved, sold, or scrapped when one is upgraded.

  • Piano Use-Types: Evaluate usage patterns to determine each piano’s frequency of use and purpose.

  • Appropriate Replacement Pianos: Determine what would make appropriate replacement pianos, being as specific as possible about size, style, and other details. Your piano technician can recommend which makes and models fit your specific needs in order to help establish a list of target instruments. Beyond aiding in future donation processes, this can also establish realistic budget expectations should piano purchase become a viable option.

  • Piano Maintenance Plan/Budget: If you have not already done so, develop an appropriate piano maintenance plan and budget to keep instruments functioning properly. Proper maintenance not only prevents pianos from falling into disrepair, but also attracts potential donors who value responsible stewardship.

Further Reading

*More information about this topic can be found in Registered Piano Technician Sally Phillips's excellent long-form article, "Piano Purgatory: The Donated Piano," originally published on PianoBuyer.com and now accessible on Sally's website.

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