Philanthropy & the Legacy of Steve Jobs

It’s a well-known fact that the world lost a brilliant mind yesterday with the passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. While many mourn the death of a modern-day DaVinci, we can still learn a great deal from this man and his stance on philanthropy. 

Impact-Based Philanthropy

While some in the public sector question Jobs’s financial contributions, his impact-based giving is impressive to say the least.  After frustrating experiences with California’s organ transplant registries, Jobs worked with the Governor and First Lady of California to make it the first state with a live kidney transplant registry. Throw on top of his legislative changes the impact of Apple’s products in the nonprofit and healthcare sectors, and its tough to argue that he wasn’t a passionate philanthropist.

Learning through Failure

In an interview Jobs gave before I was born, he commented that in order to be done well, philanthropy was a full time job. This might explain the failure of his personal foundation, which started and closed within a 15-month timeframe. I can’t readily blame him for ending the endeavor, remembering that he was simultaneously starting two companies at the same time as the foundation.  He did what he knew best, and he left philanthropy to the experts. 

Private Giving

In the past two decades, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett campaigned among the elite in favor of a giving pledge, encouraging our nation’s wealthiest to donate significant portions of their fortunes publically. While Jobs declined to participate, nothing indicates that he ignored charitable giving, and this is a clear lesson to those of us who ask for major gifts for a living. Jobs didn’t have a tarnished image in need of repair (like Gates, Buffett, or facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who donated huge sums of money prior to the release of the Social Network), nor did he experience a lengthy retirement or resignation in time to develop a namesake foundation and publicize his charitable work.  His life revolved around his company and family, and in both his business strategy and giving, simplicity reigned supreme.

As such, the charitable giving of Steve Jobs remains a mystery although Jobs’s wife served on the boards of several charities, and Jobs himself has been linked to anonymous donations, particularly to a San Francisco-based cancer research center. The lesson here is that not everyone with personal financial wealth wants to display their causes, donations, or intentions, and that isn’t a sign that they aren’t giving.

Estate Giving

One factor that hasn’t been mentioned much in the day since his passing is that Jobs left this earth with more than 8 billion dollars in assets (mostly in apple and Disney stock) and it isn’t likely that he left the whole of this wealth to his children.  While I doubt I’ll be seeing his name on a building anytime soon, all evidence points to philanthropy of some sort.


As I sit here typing this blog post on an apple product, it is clear to me that Jobs wasn’t interested in using philanthropy to build a legacy, which is just one factor distinguishing him from his peers. His legacy is his company, his innovation, and his imagination.  He took technology to another level, and remained an active part of this company until shortly before his death. His company was his legacy, and with each iphone that I use to swipe a credit card donation for my foundation and each macbook pro we use to design marketing materials and each song that is downloaded from itunes to benefit disasters like Haiti and Japan, he did leave his mark on philanthropy.

It doesn’t take a dollar sign to make a donation, and in terms of actual impact, Steve Jobs is in my mind, one of the greats.  Take a moment to look around your office and imagine how things would work without the technology he helped create, and then you’ll see the true philanthropy of Steve Jobs.


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