“Where’s your genius when it comes to supporting nonprofits?” This is the poignant question that Jake Shapiro, the chief executive of Public Radio Exchange, asks Steve Jobs.1 Apple’s lack of philanthropic contributions, whether cash or in-kind donations, to social causes is creating an uproar in the nonprofit community. It’s not just Apple’s policy barring iPhone and iPad applications from soliciting donations, but the lack of grants, discounts and special pricing for nonprofits on Apple’s products.
Ever since I can remember, I have been a die-hard Apple fan. From my first Apple computer (a PowerBook G3 with 192 MB of RAM and a 8GB HD) to the first generation iPod (a 5GB device for a hefty price of $499) to the iphone and now iPad, I have always been first in line to buy Apple’s products. In fact, this blog is being written in a Macbook Pro! So no, this blog posting is not coming from an Apple-basher, but from an Apple fan concerned about the philanthropic behavior of the company.
If we take a look at how other tech companies go about the business of philanthropy, we find that Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett Packard (HP) have a strong history of giving back, helping our communities and nonprofit culture thrive. But don’t take my word for it; BusinessWeek publishes a comprehensive review of corporate giving to charity.
Microsoft Corp. Isn’t it funny that some view Bill Gates as a cutthroat capitalist more interested in maximizing profits than innovating great products or helping society? Microsoft, however, is one of the top companies that contribute to better our communities. According to BusinessWeek, Microsoft gives approximately $400M (cash and in-kind donations) to charities annually. They fund programs ranging from fighting poverty and AIDS to facilitating the availability of technology and equipment for organizations during their disaster relief work. Microsoft is also a lead product donor on TechSoup, a place where nonprofits can obtain donated or low-cost Microsoft products. In addition, Bill Gates founded The Bill & Belinda Gates Foundation, which tackles some of the most neglected issues worldwide.
Hewlett-Packard (HP). A much less threatening competitor to Apple and with significantly less revenue, HP’s charitable contributions sum up to approximately 100M annually. Through its Company Foundation, HP Global Social Innovation, HP provides grants for education, health and community programs. They bring e-Health solutions to under-served communities and organizations, provide legal expertise through their top-notch legal department, and have several educational initiatives. In short, HP provides technology, cash and equipment grants in these 3 areas. In addition, they have an employee-giving program.
International Business Machines (IBM). One of the oldest tech companies, IBM addresses important issues, such as community economic development, education, health, literacy, culture and the environment. Through its foundation, IBM International Foundation, and matching program, IBM donates approximately $150M annually in technology, talent and cash to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.
Dell Computer (DELL). Through its foundation, The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Dell awards technology and funding grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit underserved children and communities. These grants address basic needs such as food, shelter, safety and health care. In addition, they partner with non-profits organizations to deliver computer labs in communities with limited access to technology. According to its website, the foundation “has committed more than $650 million to assist nonprofit organizations working in major urban communities in the United States, South Africa and India.”
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about Apple. Back in February, I was helping a board of young professionals put together a benefit event for a local organization in NYC. Although I could not find any information online, I went ahead and wrote a letter (with budget and proposal included) to Apple asking for sponsorship. To this date, I have not heard from them. How come a company with revenue of $15.68 billion (stats 2009) does not support social causes? There is no Apple Grants for Nonprofits or an Apple Foundation. In fact, Apple has been called out as one of America’s least philanthropic companies.
Many argue that Apple is helping to better our society by ensuring good working conditions, caring for the environment and supporting Bono in his Product Red campaign to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But did you know that only a small percentage of the revenue generated from Product Red products is given to the Global Fund? Given the lack of transparency of this campaign, it is impossible to know how much they make from Product Red products, and whether they spend more money on programs in Africa or on advertising. The way I see it, Apple gains significantly more from participation in Product Red through market exposure than the Global Fund gains from their contributions. Mark Rosenman from The Stanford Social Innovation Review writes, “[Product Red] is an example of the corporate world aligning its operations with its central purpose of increasing shareholder profit, except this time it is being cloaked in the patina of philanthropy.”2 The fact is that companies can market themselves as socially conscious in order to increase sales without really being so.
On occasion there have been signs of generosity and philanthropy from Apple (e.g., iTunes donations for Haiti and discounts for schools and educators). But their philanthropy tends to be narrow and episodic. Apple, when did you abandon your “think different” slogan? And where, as Jake Shapiro asked Steve Jobs, is Apple’s “genius when it comes to supporting nonprofits?”
I love Apple products. But I prefer buying products from more socially responsible corporations and Apple’s competitors are far more advanced in this area. I wish Apple could find a way to marry its technological genius with a genius for philanthropic giving – we all would benefit!