Steve Jobs and giving anonymously

October 10, 2011

For all that he achieved in his life in terms of his public image, Steve Jobs was famously not a public philanthropist, unlike his equally titanic tech rival, Microsoft’s former head Bill Gates.

Gates these days is almost as well known for the ongoing good work of the Gates Foundation as he is his private sector success. Jobs, by contrast, kept gates of secrecy around whatever philanthropic impulses he possessed. His giving track record remains shrouded after his passing from pancreatic cancer on Oct. 5, and while his will could shed some light on that, there’s yet no public knowledge of who has the will, when it will be disclosed, and whether charities will get anything.

Here’s what is certain: The death of Jobs has sparked conversation about the motivations and merits that surround anonymous giving. And for those who either eschew the spotlight or hold to a religious tradition that espouses anonymous donation, giving in secret sounds downright attractive.

“Giving is a very personal way of expressing one’s values,” says Kim Gerstman, associate director of development for the Population Council, an international, nonprofit that conducts biomedical, social science, and public health research. “Someone might donate to help fight a disease that impacts them personally — but they do not wish to publicly disclose that connection. And some wealthy individuals are concerned that recognition will translate into being flooded with requests.”

No doubt that highly public figures can do without any extra attention and entreaties from fundraising figures, or less-than-scrupulous people posing as such, says Jason Franklin, executive director of Bolder Giving, a website that shares stories of people pledging significant percentages of their assets to worthy causes.

Or it may involve a multitude of reasons that center around humility and privacy concerns — that “It’s not about me, it’s about the work,” Franklin says. “There’s also often an attractiveness to anonymity as an implied judgment against donors who seek significant recognition and attention for their giving — a feeling that “I’m better than person X because I don’t need my name on a building.”

In those cases, Franklin often asks givers to reconsider. “I try to point out that being public about your giving can be an act of service in and of itself,” he says. “When your name is attached to your gift, others will take notice — whether it be the world noticing a gift from Bill Gates, or, if you’re less famous, just your circle of friends and family taking notice. In being public, we lend whatever reputation and credibility we carry to the organizations we support, which can help raise their profile and inspire others to join us.”

In other instances, religious doctrine plays a strong role in maintaining anonymity. Jewish teaching and tradition holds that anonymous gifts — in which the donor and the recipient are unknown to each other — are at a higher level than gifts that are identified.

In Christian practice, that belief is stated by Jesus in Matthew 6:3: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” It comes immediately before Jesus first recites the Lord’s Prayer, considered by many the holiest of Christian prayers.

“The way Jesus talks about it is very appropriate for any wealthy celebrity or businesspeople who are actors on the world stage: ‘Don’t make a performance out of doing something for someone else,’ ” says Cathleen Falsani, the web editor and director of new media for, the web presence of Sojourners. “If you do it for reasons that are altruistic, then you shouldn’t do it to glorify yourself.”

Falsani covered the charitable efforts of Justin Bieber in her new book “Belieber!: Faith, Fame and The Heart of Justin Bieber” (Worthy). Exploring the nexus of fame and charity in that book, she thinks that for some, the marching orders for anonymity are simple: “Because Jesus said so… You can argue about the meaning of various things Jesus said, but certain things are not debatable. It’s very clear what he’s saying in Matthew 6. There’s no wiggle room.”

As for the financial incentives that cover anonymous giving, experts say that any monetary incentives take a backseat role, if they play one at all. A giver who makes a sizable charitable contribution may choose to write it off — or perhaps not, thus making the paper trail of giving non-existent.

“If he chose to make charitable contributions and not take tax deductions for them, there would be no way the public would know it,” says Simon Singer, principal and founder of The Advisor Consulting Group in Encino, California. “It would not even show up on his income tax return.”

Phil Cubeta, who holds the Sallie B. and William B. Wallace Endowed Chair in Philanthropy at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, maintains that in the end, the reasons rich givers chose to keep it under wraps may prove as wide, varied and intriguing as the lives they may lead as larger-than-life public persona.

“They may be giving to a controversial cause,” Cubeta says. “As one funder said to me, ‘I like to fly under the radar.’ And others give anonymously when they give a large amount for fear that they will become the target of thieves or even kidnappers.”


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Jobs effectively stole from his friend and fellow founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, by telling him they only got paid $750 dollars for the Breakout project when in fact he was awarded $5000 (due to Wozniak’s skilled work, no less). Theft and betrayal better were more inherent to Jobs’ character than any manner of philanthropy.

Posted by exioce | Report as abusive

naked we came to this awesome world ,
naked we shall leave

Posted by mangopage | Report as abusive

I am still looking for some useful information. It is full of words.

Posted by metahuman | Report as abusive

Here’s what’s completely baffling about this article:

It’s sources are among the philanthropic world’s second stringers at best.

What the Director of Development of the Population Council was unavailable? No professors from NYU Heyman Center around for a call?

My point is, those who know are not talking, and those who know least are spouting off about topics well above their pay grade. Only time will tell if Steve gave any money away. That’s why wealth correlates poorly with giving — some rich people are just not philanthropic and that is, as they say, what it is.

Posted by fbandersnatch | Report as abusive

Reminder: Wozniak allegedly blew his millions of dollars after he left Apple on giving free rock concerts and drugs.

Why would you give half of your profits when you are just builiding your company to a person like that?

Posted by Chthon | Report as abusive

I think to refrain from eating animals is one of the most altruistic things we can do and it doesn’t take money, all it takes is heart and commitment. So why can’t more of us do so like Steve Jobs did?

Posted by veggiedude | Report as abusive