Why isn't Steve Jobs giving more money to charity?

Philanthropy has been curiously absent from the Jobs resume, at least when it comes to public giving. He isn't donating half his fortune to charity (as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and other billionaires are doing) or having university buildings named after him or establishing medical foundations. But why? NYT columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin gingerly asks the question.

Mr. Jobs has clearly never craved money for money's sake and has never been ostentatious with his wealth. He took a $1-a-year salary from Apple before stepping down as chief executive last week, though his stock options have made him billions of dollars. In a 1985 interview with Playboy magazine, he said of his riches, "You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it's humorous, all the attention to it, because it's hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that's happened to me."

Which makes his lack of public giving all the more curious. At one time in his life, Mr. Jobs clearly spent time thinking about philanthropy. In 1986, after leaving Apple and founding NeXT, he started the Steven P. Jobs Foundation. But he closed it a little over a year later. Mark Vermilion, whom Mr. Jobs hired away from Apple to run the foundation, said in an interview, "He clearly didn't have the time." Mr. Vermilion said that Mr. Jobs was interested in financing programs involving nutrition and vegetarianism, while Mr. Vermilion pushed him toward social entrepreneurism. "I don't know if it was my inability to get him excited about it," he said. "I can't criticize Steve."

Two close friends told Sorkin that Jobs figures he can do more good by expanding Apple. A 2006 Wired commentary by Leander Kahney is far less charitable (though there's been speculation over the years that Jobs made several large anonymous donations):

Great wealth does not make a great man. Giving USA Foundation, a philanthropy research group which publishes an annual charity survey, said Jobs does not appear on lists of gifts of $5 million or more over the last four years. Nor is his name on a list of gifts of $1 million or more compiled by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. Jobs' wife is also absent from these philanthropic lists, although she has made dozens of political donations totaling tens of thousands of dollars to the Democrats, according to the Open Secrets database.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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