• January 27, 2015

Apple’s Disdain for Philanthropy Is Rotten for Charities and Society


Courtesy of Apple

The iPhone

Enlarge Image
close iPhone

Courtesy of Apple

The iPhone

Holiday season is always a time for giving—but not on your iPhone.

That’s because Apple doesn’t allow nonprofits or other organizations to include a direct donation system in the phone’s applications, so the only way to give is to go to a charity’s Web site, a cumbersome process with a small phone-size keyboard.

The only question: Is it a mere glitch or a natural extension of Apple’s policy that is generally indifferent to nonprofits and philanthropy?

The company’s policies toward philanthropy and nonprofits are growing increasingly problematic as Apple products become an ever larger part of our media and communications landscape.

The iPhone controversy started to appear in the general press after the social-media expert Beth Kanter wrote on her popular blog that Apple’s restrictive donation policy made her so mad that she was thinking of trading in her iPhone for an Android, a phone that uses Google software.

She also started an online petition that has generated more than 10,000 signatures demanding that Apple loosen its restrictions on charitable donations through iPhone apps.

Ms. Kanter noted that the concern about Apple’s donation policy was first raised by Jake Shapiro, executive director of the Public Radio Exchange, which provides technology and digital distribution services for public-radio producers.

In an article for Ars Technica, a technology blog, Mr. Shapiro complained that Apple’s policies made it hard for public-radio producers and stations to invite millions of podcast listeners to support the programs they gain access to on their iPhones.

For its part, Apple has said that it does not permit charitable donations to be made through its iPhone applications because it has no way to verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations that might receive donations through its media platform.

But numerous organizations vet charities today, including such prominent ones as Mission Fish, Network for Good, and TechSoup.

What’s more, Bob Ottenhoff, president of GuideStar, the Web site that makes charity tax forms available to the public, has gone so far as to offer his organization’s services to insure the legitimacy of donations through the iPhone.

Ultimately, the iPhone donations controversy raises questions that are larger than the facilitation of donations.

One question is how best to generate sustainable revenue for media outlets that deliver journalism, entertainment, and other information that keeps communities vibrant.

As noncommercial media organizations play an increasingly important role in communities, they need to find new sources of financial support to survive.

In the competition between commercial and noncommercial media outlets, Apple seems to favor commercial media companies—even while many of Apple’s customers seem to favor public-media content.

While for-profit businesses have long been able to use Apple’s iTunes distribution platform to promote their wares—and sell their products—public-media outlets have had more of an uphill battle.

At first, they could not even put their programs on iTunes. Then the Public Radio Exchange created Pubcatcher, a way to let people download radio programs easily to digital recording devices, outside of the iTunes system.

Suddenly, Apple opened its system to include downloads of public media.

Now public-radio programs are some of the most popular podcasts available, with a recent ranking from iTunes showing that six of the top 10 podcasts in the United States are from public-radio producers, including “Radiolab,” “This American Life,” and “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me.”

Nobody thinks nonprofits should ask their listeners to pay for every podcast, but they ought to be able to invite their listeners to contribute in the easiest way possible.

Perhaps if Apple doesn’t see this necessity soon, public-radio producers should get together and agree to withhold their content from the iTunes distribution system until Apple sees fit to loosen its rules on charitable giving.

A couple of weeks without access to Ira Glass, Peter Sagal, and the other hosts of the most popular programs, and the anguished howls of wounded public-radio fans would be impossible to ignore.

But media organizations are not the only ones that wish Apple would develop policies that are more sympathetic to nonprofits.

Every type of nonprofit group could benefit from support from Apple, which is largely absent from the major places where other technology companies provide support to nonprofits. So a second question is what responsibility does a major technology company like Apple have to the nonprofit world?

Apple’s defenders—and they are legion—will argue that the company’s greatest contribution to society is to provide tools that spark creative expression and make it easier for people and organizations of all kinds to spread ideas.

And without a doubt, the best thing Apple can do to improve society is to continue to serve as a powerful engine of innovation.

But other technology companies have found ways to promote innovation and help nonprofits.

A decade ago, when Microsoft and America Online were practically in open warfare, they nevertheless came together to support the creation of the Nonprofit Technology Network, which now serves 10,000 members from nonprofits across the country and around the world. Now Google has announced a grant of $1.1-million, designed to support the technology network’s programs over the next two years.

Cisco Systems spearheaded the creation of NetHope, a technology support organization that helps large international relief groups deploy sophisticated communications and distribution technology systems in times of crisis.

Adobe, Cisco, Microsoft, and Symantec are just a few of the 44 companies that have together donated more than $2.1-billion worth of products through TechSoup Global.

And the grandfather of many of those companies, IBM, has long been a leader in corporate contributions and developing creative solutions in collaboration with nonprofits and government, particularly in its work to improve education.

Apple has a lot to contribute. If the company has made any New Year’s resolutions, let’s hope philanthropy is on the list.


Vincent Stehle is a regular columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a philanthropic consultant in New York.


1. nddicola - January 10, 2011 at 05:59 pm

Thank you Mr. Stehle for writing this column. I feel that as a community, we nonprofit professionals and organizations need to find our voice in bringing Apple's "disdain" for charity to the public's attention.

After Ms. Kanter article, I took it to heart. As a Apple fanboy, I love their products. But I love my cause and people who work for them more.

You have provided so much valuable info in your column that I was not aware of (iTunes podcasts for NPR for example), and I hope you do not mind quoting you in my own blog post. With rumors surrounding a new iPhone for Verizon tomorrow - this issue is now concerning almost 50% of the cell phone market. If not more.

In a ever connected world, Apple must realize that their support of mankind's most dire needs will only come back to them ten-fold. I just hope its not 2021 instead of 2011.

2. alisad2011 - January 12, 2011 at 01:08 pm

Great points. There is one company that has designed a work around app that falls under the Apple guidelines. They reported donations as high as $10K from an iPhone in a article on the Huffington Post. Company is Nadanu


3. bradweiner - January 12, 2011 at 01:11 pm

Thanks for writing this. So many of Apple's policies are beneficial for Apple only and the media is much more willing to glom onto their technical wizardry than their overarching corporate philosophy.

4. kkischardt - January 12, 2011 at 01:24 pm

One easy way to give via iphone is a text message. Yes, the amounts are small, but it is a start. I too am an Apple fan but find their lack of corporate philanthropy very disturbing; although in general there is a lack of true corporate philanthropy across the board.

5. geezer - January 12, 2011 at 04:28 pm

Why is Steehle only touting Public Radio as a potential recipient for any contributions that might be made available via the iPhone? NPR is, in my opinion, the least deserving of any non-profit I can think of..and the idea that they don't have advertisers is ridiculous. They call them sponsors or supporters or by some other name, but NPR stations run about as many sponsor plugs per hour as the average FM station (although not nearly as many as the average AM station) and get government (read: taxpayer) subsidies besides. If Jobs & Co. open the system up to donation software, all legitimate non-profits should be eligible. If Apple continues to thumb its nose at the charitable community,(which it certainly has every right to do) and people feel strongly about it, they should vote with their feet and pocketbooks and decamp to Blackberry or Android. I wouldn't bet the rent money that will happen,though, or that it would make much of a dent in Apple's profits if it did!

6. pauldunn - January 12, 2011 at 09:35 pm

Great post, Vincent. Thank you.

This is concerning for us Apple fans. And it's been concerning for quite some time.

Way back in June last year I wrote a blog about the MASSIVE impact Apple could have through the App store: http://www.b1g1.com/buy1give1/technology-that-gives

It's an important point because my sense is that right now Apple does need to do something WOW or big that grabs back some leadership for them.

I have a video showing Steve Jobs addressing his team just after he came back to Apple. In that video he says in part, "It's not about the stuff we make, it's about what we believe in'.

Many might be wondering about that right now.

Sure, Apple has dabbled (at some considerable cost) with ProductRED but they've done nothing as far as I can see that takes the real leadership that Jobs is renowned (indeed revered) for.

The point I make in the blog might just be what's needed now.

7. lifeboat1 - January 13, 2011 at 04:10 am

Apple has recently become the world's 2nd-largest corporation by market capitalisation.

They deserve their commercial success for the quality and imagination of their products. It's time for their corporate citizenship to come up to the product, or they'll lose their way as so many have before them.

Keep up the noise!

8. rossor - January 14, 2011 at 01:01 pm

Reality check: Apple does not "disdain" charities. Check the record and you'll find it's very supportive of causes like education.

Here's the "problem": Apple verifies everything sold through its app store to ensure an exceptional customer experience. The potential for fraud through app store giving is enormous. Apple has to set up a system to manage a wide range of issues. What's a charity? Is it certified? Are funds actually being sent electronically to the charity or is it a look-alike scam. Android's marketplace does not offer these safeguards. It's a buyer beware environment, and I guarantee fraud will become an issue. And that will hurt all charities.

Apple is rarely the first company to market. However, when it shows up you can be the product is done right. Be thankful someone is watching out for everyone's long-term interests.

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Raise more money and increase awareness with trusted insight.