iPhone Donations: There's No App For That


Apple has been making it very difficult for people to donate to charity using their iPhones, and the nonprofit world is not happy.

In August, while Apple's official policy on mobile giving was still unclear, PayPal added a feature to its iPhone app that allowed users to donate to a charity or nonprofit of their choice with the click of one button. Within two months, the app raised $10,000 for charities in the United States, the UK and Canada. Then, in late October, Apple asked PayPal discontinue the feature, offering little explanation as to why.

"Apparently, if you want to make a donation, you can put a link to a website in your app, but it can't be a donation feature inside the app itself," said Clam Lorenz, the vice president of operations for Missionfish, which worked with PayPal to power its mobile giving app. "We've been asking the question, 'Why was this feature removed?' I haven't heard anything from Apple. No one can get a straight answer."

Apple did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment, and an Apple spokesperson would only tell the New York Times, "We are proud to have many applications on our App Store which accept charitable donations via their Web sites."

The reason Apple's policy is problematic as written, Lorenz told HuffPost, is that in order to donate to a charity using their iPhones, people have to click a button on an app, leave the app and be redirected to a separate web page where they then have to type in their credit information on a tiny screen with a difficult-to-use keyboard. People are more likely to use their iPhones to donate to charity, he said, if they can just click one button on an app and donate using the credit information they have already saved in the PayPal database.

"It's a challenge to say the least, especially on the first three tries," Lorenz said of the iPhone's current donation process. "In my ten-plus years of experience working in the nonprofit world, I've learned that ease of use is everything. Every click you add to the process knocks a percentage of people out of the equation."

Justin Kazmark, the co-founder of a mobile giving app called "Givabit," also ran into trouble with Apple when he tried to get his app approved. He says his team submitted their app to Apple in 2009, and Apple responded a month later with a laundry list of cryptic guidelines.

"They said we couldn't use the word 'phonelanthropy' in our app, or any language alluding to philanthropy, and they told us we couldn't use specific amounts of money in the app," he told HuffPost. "They didn't seem to have any specific policy on the subject, but they didn't want this to happen and made it clear that they were not comfortable with any in-app donations whatsoever."

Kazmark said that after three or four rounds of haggling with Apple, they ended up launching the Givabit app using Apple's guidelines, but the app provided such a bad user experience that it failed to generate many donations.

"The app was much different than our initial conception of it," he said. "My understanding is that it hasn't been a success."

While Apple has yet to explain the reasoning behind its mobile giving guidelines, Jake Shapiro, executive director of Public Radio Exchange, told the New York Times that Apple is trying to avoid the extra responsibilities it would incur by allowing donations directly through iPhone apps. "One of Apple's major objections has been that if donations were to go through its payment mechanism, it would have to be in the business of managing and distributing funds and verifying charities as well," he said.

Another potential problem for Apple is that it takes a 30 percent cut from all of its iTunes and App Store transactions, which would not be an acceptable amount of money to collect from charitable donations.

But Apple's mobile giving policy may give an edge to its competitors this holiday season, as leaders in the nonprofit world are loudly expressing their frustrations with the company. Beth Kanter, a consultant to the non-profit industry and author of "The Network Nonprofit," announced to her 367,000 followers on Twitter last week that she plans to trade in her iPhone for Google's Android or the Windows 7 phone, both of which allow in-app donations.

"There are many other tech companies besides Apple that aren't grinches," she told HuffPost. "All month I've been saying, what phone should I get? Which one's not as stingy to nonprofits? The Android and Windows 7 both have decent charitable corporate citizen programs, and they support nonprofits. What does Apple do for nonprofits besides prevent them from being effective fundraisers?"

Kanter started an online petition through her blog, through which over 8,000 people have sent messages to Steve Jobs letting him know that they are not happy with Apple's mobile giving policies.

"It's a holiday giving season, and donations are down," she said. "This is causing a big revenue loss for charity."

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