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Apple's Charitable Donations Ban Gets Sour Looks

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 10, 2010 5:00 AM PT

This time of year isn't just a boon for retailers. Charities and non-profits also generally see a spike in donations during the holiday season, but some have complained that Apple is making it a little harder for them to receive funds from generous contributors.

Apple's Charitable Donations Ban Gets Sour Looks

Beth Kanter, a consultant to nonprofits, has put up a petition directed at Apple chairman and CEO Steve Jobs asking Apple to allow charitable organizations accept donations directly through their iPhone apps.

As it stands now, Apple has banned direct donations. Instead, charitable organizations' iPhone apps must instead provide links to their websites. Rather than being given a quick and easy "donate" button that would presumably charge the contributor via his or her existing iTunes account -- which is how in-app purchases are generally made -- would-be donors must be whisked away to the charity's website via Safari, where they often need to go through a more cumbersome data-entry process in order to give.

The link to Kanter's petition is also available on another Web page Kanter has put up titled "You Are a Mean One, Mr. Jobs", borrowing a line from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Apple's ban is no laughing matter to nonprofits, which need every fund-raising avenue they can explore in order to survive.

"The more clicks you put between your donor and their donation to you, the less likely you are to get a donation," Jamie Kratz-Gullickson, executive director of the nonprofit People Against a Violent Environment (Pave), told MacNewsWorld.

One Degree of Separation Hurts

Pave's story illustrates this problem poignantly.

Dodge County, Wis., where the non-profit is located, is an agricultural area where many residents produce cheese, barley and alfalfa and make shoes, stainless steel equipment and ice fishing equipment.

Pave was set up in 1978 to help victims of domestic violence in the county at no charge. It operates 24/7 around the year.

About two years ago, Pave put up a domestic violence app on Apple's iTunes app store. It charged 99 cents for the app, which let users contribute directly to Pave. Roughly six months later, it submitted another app, this one related to sexual assault and child abuse, to the app store. That app, Pave said, was rejected, and Apple demanded Pave make changes in its apps.

Apple wanted Pave to stop letting people donate directly through its app; instead, the app provides a link to the organization's website where would-be donors can click on a button if they wish to contribute funds.

"We probably collected $40 from our first app before we had to make the changes," Kratz-Gullickson said.

"Now all our apps are free, and I don't think we get many donations; we end up getting people asking to be added to our mailing list," she added.

"Large companies doing major monetary transactions for smaller groups should go out of their way to support transactions that nonprofits need to stay secure and survive," Eric Leland of Internet services firm FivePaths told MacNewsWorld.

"For Apple or other companies to not allow donations to go through is not healthy," added Leland, who's active in non-profit and technology circles. "Here we have a company that's doing very well, as are the other large companies, and their help is especially needed in these tough economic times."

Riding on the Jealousy Jalopy?

It's possible that Apple banned direct donations through iOS apps because it would end up having to verify that charities soliciting funds are genuine and it would have to manage and distribute funds.

However, Apple's already managing and distributing funds for developers who create apps for its iTunes App Store. Further, Apple itself solicited donations for the American Red Cross through iTunes following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.

Apparently it already has the mechanisms in place to handle direct donations then, so why is it balking?

That's where eBay's PayPal unit comes into the picture. In August, PayPal introduced a feature that let people make donations through its iPhone app to more than 23,000 charities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. This was powered by MissionFish.

Just two months later, Apple demanded that PayPal eliminate the donation system from its app. PayPal spokesperson Anuj Nayar said the donations feature was removed from version 3.0 of Paypal's iPhone app at Apple's request, Gizmodo reported. By then, PayPal had already raised more than US$10,000 in donations that averaged $12 each.

Could Apple have been envious of eBay?

Apple did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Little Things Mean a Lot

Apple's ban goes against a trend of fund-raising activities -- charitable organizations are seeking ways to enable millions of people to donate small amounts of money in order to fund their activities, former president Bill Clinton said during a speech Wednesday.

Technology can help in this endeavor, Clinton told an audience at the Dreamforce 2010 conference in San Francisco. For example, a "staggering amount of money was given over the cellphone" to help alleviate the effects of disasters that devastated Haiti earlier this year, he pointed out.

"We have to find user-friendly ways for large numbers of people to do this," Clinton stated. "For example, [martial artist and movie star] Jet Li, a good friend of mine, tries to get everyone to give one yuan or one hour of work."

Perhaps Kanter's reaction to Apple's ban may help the company change its mind. Kanter's reported to have 300,000 followers on Twitter and was ranked 54th on the Twitter Power 150 list for January 2009.

Or perhaps people may bypass Apple when donating to charities.

"There's a variety of alternatives out there," FivePaths' Leland pointed out. "The entire Android platform has services on it to allow for quick donations; or people can go to Salesforce.com or Amazon or PayPal."

Kanter did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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