Welcome at "The case of idonaid.org"

Mid 2009 four Belgian software developers saw a chance to offer charity organizations an alternative way of fundraising. To accomplish this they founded the non-profit organization "iDonAid".

Its mission:
Facilitating the fundraising efforts of humanitarian organizations
This resulted in the iDonAid system and the first fully developed App called "Damien" which was rejected by Apple mid November 2009.

The purpose of this blog is to illustrate the making of and explain why Apple should reconsider banning charity apps from making full use of the iTunes AppStore.
  1. Analysis: the problem with e-donations
  2. From opportunity to idea
  3. Concept: the iDonAid system
  4. Getting cleared: the precondition for selling the idea
  5. "Damien": the first iDonAid App
  6. The rejection
  7. How Apple could change its charity application policy

Analysis: the problem with e-donations

Financial crises shows no mercy. Charity organizations are also facing the consequences. Unfortunately the first to stop funding charity organizations are the big corporate sponsors. That's why charities have to fall back on the help of individuals: you and me, ordinary people that have a lot of empathy and realize that in difficult times the weakest are always the first victims and need support more then ever.

The old fashioned "door to door"-way of collecting money is still a great tool for charity. Although it requires lots of human resources and its ROI is low, the social mobilization has a very positive effect. Volunteers actually do a very good job in selling their cause and in convincing others that their organization needs support. The emphasis of this collection method lies on local and small money donations.

Nowadays a lot of (larger) organizations offer online credit -card driven donation possibilities.
Although donating online is quite anonymous, it enables the charities to break out of their regional context. However online donations are not really taking off especially for the small and mid-size charities.

The biggest hurtle here is the payment procedure. In order to donate one needs to pull out a credit card and go through an online procedure which isn't always that user-friendly. Pulling out your wallet and giving some change is still way easier than initiating an online donation. The security risks of online payments cannot be ignored.
"Is this site thrust worthy?" is a very imminent question and the main reason why the smaller charities are ruled out from participating in the online donation game.
When you make a donation you want to be involved in the project you support. The follow up after you've made an e-donation is often minimal. In times of online social networking it's time to rethink and come up with integrated social e-donation solutions.

From opportunity to idea

Worldwide mobile internet is on the rise. The booming market of smart phones and mobile computing creates new opportunities for charities. Even in countries with very low internet penetration, mobile internet coverage is about to explode. Up to this date these opportunities have been underused that's why we stepped in with iDonAid.

The iDonAid idea is simple:
Making a donation to a humanitarian organization should be as easy as downloading as song!
Our source of inspiration was the iPhone and iTunes Store. The iTunes Music store and later App store has changed our digital habits. Legal downloading has become a habit. The key success of iTunes is based on the power of small money transactions (99 cent for a song!). Surprisingly this concept of small money transactions has made a the App Store a success story and quite a few developers rich. iTunes is also a trusted worldwide money transaction system. Millions of people have an iTunes account. There are millions of iPhones and iPod touch users worldwide so
basically millions of people have a trusted, activated and ready to use mobile payment system in their pockets today!
So why not flip the game and use iTunes to fund non-profit organizations? The iDonAid system was born…

CONCEPT: the iDonAid system

We at iDonaid designed a fully customizable mobile App that enables humanitarian organizations to publish fully customized charity Apps. These apps act as a viral promotion tool as well as a unique donation channel. Our service includes design and publishing as well as social network integration.

  • iDonAid taps into a massive pool of potential donors that hasn't been explored so far: the millions of iPhone and iPod Touch users worldwide
  • Very low entrance level!
  • iDonAid Apps focus on small money donations
  • Ease of use: By making iTunes take care of the money transactions the security and usability of the system is guaranteed
  • “Viral” promotion: To spread the word and create involvement iDonAid plugs into the world of online social networks. iDonAid apps integration with email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter,… By buying an iDonAid App you not only donate but also become a fundraiser!
iDonAid is a lot more than just "an easy way to donate money".
It's all about creating involvement.
It's all about informing people about these great organizations and projects that need your help and attention. iDonAid provides you with easy and powerful tools to "spread the word" and raise money for the humanitarian organizations of your choice.

What happens with my money?
that's one of the most imminent questions you have as a donor.
With iDonAid, the humanitarian organizations now can open up a direct information channel and provide the feedback their donors are entitled to. You as a donor now have a tool to follow up if your money is well spend.

Getting cleared: precondition for selling the idea

In order to develop our plans we needed a legal structure.

We choose for a "VZW" which is the structure of a non-profit organization according to Belgian law.
Next task was to make a shortlist of charities we would approach to join our system. We made use of donorinfo.be which is a Belgian charity watchdog.

This collaboration worked in 2 directions:
  1. We were able to make a shortlist of 3 good reliable humanitarian causes we would love to develop for.
  2. Donorinfo supported our new approach and introduced us to these charities.
We were very aware of Apple's objections to charity apps. It is very difficult for Apple to check whether the funds that are collected with a charity App actually would go to the charity and not end up in the pockets of shady individuals. The iDonaid system tackled this problem by offering the NGO's the opportunity to publish Apps in their own name. This way it is 100% clear that the profits of the published Apps directly flow to bank account of the NGO you buy a charity App from.

We started approaching the charities on our shortlist and were armed with following presentation:
We were very happy with the positive response 2 out of 3 approached charities wanted to step into our program.
One of our main worries was that the costs involved in publishing on the App store (30% of the proceeds go to Apple) would be a major argument against our system.
Although the cost was considered too high, the arguments of addressing a totally new public in a viral marketing strategy were decisive.
Eventually it was the Damien Foundation that agreed to start jointly developing the very first iDonAid App. The Damien foundation really appealed to us because of its cause: fighting leprosy and tuberculosis worldwide, but also because its patron father Damien - officially Saint Damien by now - whose legacy is iconic and still very much alive.

Our development team started working pro bono… building a dream.

"Damien": the first iDonAid App

In close collaboration with the Damien foundation we started developing. This process resulted in a fully developed and working Charity App. which was available (localized) in 3 languages.
  • "Damien" English
  • "Damien" French
  • "Damiaan" Dutch
This was supposed to be the explanatory text to be published on the App Store:

Application Title : Damien

"Damien" is your ultimate tool in the fight against leprosy and tuberculosis!
"Damien" is an App from the Damien Foundation, a Belgian non-governmental organization that is active in 15 countries throughout Africa, Asia and America. In 2008 its medical teams treated more than 349,410 patients with leprosy and tuberculosis.

The "Damien" App is:
  • A valuable source of information: It contains educative and unique footage on leprosy, tuberculosis and the projects of the Damien Foundation. It also contains unique images of our patron "Saint Damien".
  • The easiest way to donate money on your mobile device: Pick an amount and make a donation thanks to the In App Payment functionality and the iDonAid-service. Making a donation is as easy as downloading a song! You can follow up how much charity money has been collected by "Damien" and see how much you have donated to the Damien Foundation. By purchasing this application, you've already made your first contribution to the Damien Foundation.
  • A unique promotional tool: Promote the work of the Damien Foundation by activating your social network (Mail, Facebook and Twitter integration). In doing so you become a volunteer and although it may seem a small effort to you and your friends, in the fight against leprosy and tuberculosis it can make a big difference.


The rejection by Apple…

The rejection of the Damien app can be regarded as a storybook Apple rejection episode. The Application (posted on Nov 4) seemed to be stuck in the rejection process until we received a message (Nov 19) from Apple with the request to get in touch with an Apple staff member named Richard Chipman.
We realized this was bad news and I was prepared for the worst when I gave Richard Chipman from Apple a call. Mr. Chipman gave the Apple verdict: REJECTED.

Damien was rejected for following reasons:
  1. Thy shall not ask money for charity applications (BTW this also rules out in app payments!)
  2. Thy art only allowed to put a link to external websites to handle donations.
This practically meant that we could trash our iDonAid plans.

The Damien application was rejected based on undisclosed Apple policies that only can be communicated over the phone and never in writing…

Basically if you are a commercial company, you are allowed to make money out of an Application on the App store, when you are charity or a non-profit organization you can not. You will not find anything about this guideline on the Apple website or in the SDK developer agreements. The arguments and communication techniques used by Apple are - to say the least - quite unusual.

Phone conversation with Apple

I tried to make my case over the phone with the Apple representative. Here is a written impression of part of the conversation I've had with Richard Chipman.

KVB: You say that there are guidelines. But there are no guidelines… where can we find the guidelines? Because if I have to alter this application I want to make sure that I am not going to loose any money on it and that Apple will reject it again. If there are rules I would like to know those rules. You understand me?

RC: I am explaining this to you now.

KVB: OK…You are explaining to me now - over the phone - that there are different rules for NGO's than for commercial companies.

RC: Errh… charities yes. There's different rules for charities

KVB: Where can I find that on the Apple website? Where can I find the information about that?

RC: You wouldn't find that on the Apple website, that's why I am communicating it to you over the phone.

KVB: First of all I will have to discuss this matter with our development team to come up with a strategy. Is there any other channel at Apple where we can try and come to an agreement about this?

RC: This policy for charities comes from very high levels of management here in Apple. It is my task to communicate this policy to you. As far as having dialogue to change this policy… I don't think that this policy is going to be something that we are going to change anytime in the foreseeable future. 
Hands up I've had this conversation many times and it's a policy that we are very steady on. If you which to speak to somebody else I can refer you to someone else of course. There is opportunity on the app store for you it is just that there are very specific guidelines for your category of Apps and we need to make sure you comply with those.

KVB: Yeah, but they are unknown that's my major concern. You say there are guidelines that Apple uses internally but if you don't say what those guidelines are we cannot comply to them and that's the problem. I can start developing all over again but then maybe some other mystery clause comes up again…

I started repeating myself and it was clear that our conversation was going nowhere. Mr Chipman clearly was the messenger and he handled the case in a very polite and helpful manner.

Bottom line:
Charity apps are not allowed to make use of and benefit from the iTunes payment infrastructure.

P.S. This is not a stand alone case. The appleblog.com describes a very similar rejection scenario for Mokugift's "A real Tree" App.

How Apple could change its charity application policy

First some facts:
  • The approval procedure in general is under extreme pressure from the developer community. It is time for change…
  • Apple is not making itself very popular in banning charity apps from its store.
  • It is actually very discriminatory to exclude charity organizations from benefitting from the AppStore. [I even wonder if there is a the legal basis for this ban…]
Just a thought:

What if Unicef asked Apple to publish an App?

This is what Apple could do to solve the problem:

  • Allow bona fide charities to make full use of the AppStore's payment facilities (paid apps, in app payments, subscriptions)
  • Come up with clear and public rules for charity organizations
  • Partner with a charity watchdog. They can/must do the pre-approval and clear a charity organization based on facts, figures and the public set of Apple rules. The charity watchdog becomes the guardian for the integrity of Apple's charity apps.
  • Lower the 30% rule for approved charity Apps (this way every charity App also is partly an act of Apple charity)
  • Start a "Charity" category in the App Store. Instant success gratified!

That's it, that's my iDonAid plea. It really would be a brave move for Apple if they would reconsider their charity app policy and - at least - make it public. I just hope that our efforts raised the awareness that mobile donations are the way to go.


Think different for charity.

Kristof Van Brussel