Imagine if Apple had to run like a nonprofit

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We nonprofits deal with unique challenges that our for-profit colleagues never have to think about. If you ever sat in the dark for hours listening to REM and eating Otter Pops and wondering what it would like for a large for-profit like Apple to have to run like a nonprofit, wonder no more! I’ve done it for you this week! (What, like your vacation is so much more interesting). And I asked NAF’s web designer and artist, Stacy Nguyen, to draw up some comics.

At the retail store

Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy this latest iPhone. How much is it?

Apple employee: $700 dollars.

Customer: Here you go. But I want most of this money to be spent on direct costs. No more than $70 should be going to indirect costs like rent, insurance, etc. I also don’t want any of this $700 to go toward advertisement or staff salaries.

Apple employee: We’ll designate these restrictions in our systems.

Customer: At the end of the year, I’d like a report on what you spent this money on.

Apple employee: We provide quarterly financial reports, and would be glad—

Customer: No no no. I don’t want the financial reports on your entire company. I only want a report on what my $700 specifically was spent on. Only my $700.

Apple employee: OK…Would you like to be added to our e-newsletter list?

Meeting with a key shareholder:

Tim Cook, CEO: As you can see, this quarter we surpassed our sales goal, moving over one million units, which is 15% more than we had anticipated.

Shareholder: Congratulations, that’s really wonderful to hear. But…that’s more like an output. What are your outcomes?

Tim Cook: I’m glad you asked! Of the one million iPhones we sold, over 223,000 people used their phones to update their resumes and applied for jobs. Of that population, almost 15% then actually got a job. Meanwhile, about 115,000 seniors buy our phones, and surveys indicate that nearly 7% use their phones to go on to WebMD after they fall and break their ankle. Our phones allow these seniors to figure out how to create makeshift tourniquets for their broken ankles, which prevents them from going to the emergency room, which saves taxpayers about $1.7 million.

Shareholder: Hm…

Tim Cook: Our phones have also reduced crimes by 30% in some cities, since teenagers and young adults have been using their phones to take naked butt selfies, or NBS, and to look at viral cat videos instead of robbing banks, starting gangs, or committing other crimes.

Shareholder: That’s great to hear.

Tim Cook: Would you consider renewing your stocks this coming year?

Shareholder: I’ll have to consult with the family, Tim. Our investment priorities might change this year. I’ll let you know in 9 months. But to be honest, the ROI seems kind of low with only 15% finding jobs and 7% of seniors using their iPhones to learn how to make tourniquets after they break their ankles…

At the retail store:

Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy the iPhone 8 Double Plus.

Employee: I can help you with that. What color would you like? We have black, white, or Burnished Coral?

Customer: Black. But before I buy this phone, what is your sustainability plan? How do you plan to sustain this store after I bought this phone and I’m gone? How are you diversifying your revenues so that you’re not so dependent on retail customers?

Employee: Well, we are courting government contracts, as well as developing relationships with, uh, local and national, um…

Customer: Sorry, it doesn’t seem like you’ve thought much about sustainability. It’s for Apple’s own good to diversify its revenues and not be so dependent on its customers. I’ll buy a phone later when you have that figured out.

Staff meeting:

Tim Cook: Investors are breathing down my neck about our outcomes. We need to increase the number of people, especially seniors, who use our iPhones to look things up after falling and suffering injuries. What ideas do you all have?

Angela, CFO/COO/CTO/Janitor: Our R&D is working on a feature that would automatically alert emergency services when a senior falls.

Tim Cook: Excellent. How is that going?

Angela: Only 340 customers are allowing a portion of their iPhone payments to be used on Research and Development. So we’ve been short-staffed. In fact, our entire R&D department is basically just Eduardo, who graduated last month with a Master’s in Botany, but he took several online courses on coding.

Eduardo, SVPR&D: If you think about it, plants and phones are actually a lot alike.

Tim Cook: OK…let’s keep working on that feature. Meanwhile, how is the gala planning coming along?

Steve, DD/SVPCom/QA/HR: Better than we thought, boss! Listen to this, after a bunch of discussion at the last event planning meeting, we finally came up with a cool name for the gala. At first, we thought we would just call it “The Apple Gala.” But then we thought, why not be a little cheeky and fun. So now we are calling it…“The Gala Apple.”

Tim Cook:….

Steve: Gala is a type of—

Tim Cook: I know what gala apples are! How is recruitment for table captains coming along?

Steve: We have 5 captains confirmed. Zuck says he can’t captain, but he’ll raise his paddle at the $1,000 level during the ask.

At the retail store:

Customer: Hi, I heard that you are asking for donations of gently-used lightning cables?

Apple employee: Yes, it’s for our initiative to provide charging cables to low-income individuals during the holidays

Customer: Well, I don’t have any lightning cables. But, I got a box of clothes hangers and twelve cans of beets I bought five years ago that I never got around to eating.

Employee: I’m not really sure we can use those…

Customer: I’m sure you can. Poor people love beets. I already dropped it off in your donation box. If you could send me a tax receipt, that would be swell!

At Thanksgiving

Tim Cook’s Mom: How is your job going, Timmy?

Tim Cook: It’s great, Mom. It can be stressful, but really rewarding. Our iPhones support thousands of people as they look for jobs. They also reduce crime and save taxpayers money, and help a lot of seniors when they fall and sprain their ankles.

Tim Cook’s Dad: Are you making enough money? Are you doing OK? Your mother and I are kind of worried about you, son. When will you find a real job?

Tim Cook: Mom, Dad, we’ve been through this. I’m not going to get a “real job.” Helping people IS. A. REAL. JOB! I’m making a difference in the world!

Tim Cook’s Dad: All right, no need to get defensive.

Tim Cook: I’M NOT DEFENSIVE!!!…Look, will you come to the Gala Apple next month? You can get a better picture of the work I’m doing.

Tim Cook’s Mom: We’ll check our calendar, honey. It might be your cousin’s housewarming party. Such a nice house. He’s a lawyer, you know. Have you seen his NBS at the Grand Canyon?

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  • Steve Solomon

    Very cool and too close to reality to treat as strictly humor.

  • Wayne Salazar

    I’m writing a page about overhead for our website. Can I please quote the “in the retail store” section of this? It’s beyond awesome.

    • Vu Le

      Absolutely, Wayne!

  • abstract668

    What is NBS? It’s not in the urban dictionary.

    I want to post this with a comment “Take this, all you business school jerks!” Maybe I will.

    • HeatherNC

      Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t know that. 🙂

    • Georgi Benev

      it is defined earlier in the article 😉

      • travelgirl28

        I read the whole article and didn’t pick up the reference when it was used at the end so I went back and re-read the article. For others, it’s “naked butt selfies”.

  • Webdunce

    OMG this!! What a perfect way to describe the absurdity we go through in the nonprofit community. Keep up the good fight!

  • Bob Wright

    Vu, loved the Apple analogy. BTW, when will NAF branded merch be available–better to have something with the new name on it (though I liked the thought behind your original title–reminded me of working in the Pentagon where staff officers were judged by how many plates they could keep spinning without letting any fall; yes, it could be a circus at times).

    • Vu Le

      Soon, Bob! We’re working on some cool new merchandise 🙂

  • Lenore

    This. Is. Fabulous. Thank you for helping kick-start my week.

  • David Beasley

    GALA APPLE. yes please.

  • Heather Heater

    LOL, I especially loved the “Angela, CFO/COO/CTO/Janitor” — so true. I don’t work in non-profit world per se, I work for county government, but so much of this is true for us too. Thanks for starting my week off with a healthy dose of satire and sarcasm!

  • Julie Barton

    Oh my goodness. It’s so funny… and so sad.

  • Sharon Weaver

    Brilliant! Best illustration you’ve used so far! I just love it!

  • Bill Watson

    I’d be curious if you have heard of or seen the new documentary film “BROKEN FOR GOOD: The Way Charity Works in the United States”, which seems to take the opposite approach (I haven’t seen it, only read reviews)? It seems they advocate running nonprofits like the “successful” corporate model, including hiring the best talent and paying them what they are worth.

  • Amanda McCarthy Knerr

    I am literally answering the following questions on a grant application right now. This post could not be more timely. Meanwhile I am receiving applications for financial assistance from families needing help paying their bills while their child battles childhood cancer. But I’ll have to put those aside so I can spend hours wordsmith-ing for these absurd questions!

    “Please provide a brief description of your project and the reason(s) why you are requesting funds. If the request supports a conference, train-the-trainer session, workshop, etc., please indicate the percentage of funds that would support the organization’s operations versus the percentage of funds that support the conference, train-the-trainer session, workshop, etc.
    Please answer this question: At the end of your project, what will you have achieved? Please detail the metrics you will use to measure this project. Please note that you may be asked to provide an Impact Report after your proposal has been funded.”

    • rokyoursoks

      Hi Amanda! Do any of your grantors host gatherings for all of their grantees to collaborate on grants and programs? I’ve seen some of these go really well, helping grant writers and orgs in general work together to increase funding.

  • This is awesome and hilarious!! Thank you for brightening my Monday!

  • Risa Wilkerson

    Your organization should get a windfall from Apple for this post! It perfectly shows the absurdity of the typical funder/nonprofit relationship. Thank you making me laugh while also lifting such an important issue for conversation!

  • I absolutely LOVE this! I have distributed to the entire board of Executive Service Corps-U.S. We are holding our national conference in October in Boston and I would like to use some/all of this article somehow.
    Darlyne Koretos
    Board Chair, ESC-US

  • Sara Adhikari

    Point very well made Vu. But are the funders listening??

  • Jeff

    Epic!

  • LTJaeger

    As a result of this article, our funders want us to change our name from The Seniors Council to The Council’s Senior. They’re confident it will increase our funding for direct services!

  • Rudolph Rudy Gonzales

    BOOM singing my Opera!

  • Pete Noll

    Where can I find Eduardo?

  • Torma Julcsa

    This article was shared on the Hungarian Womyn Lobby’s list. So I had to check where are you from, because it is totally fit to our situation here. It seems, funders and nonprofits are not different in the other part of the World – or any part of the World. I don’t know, if it was good or bad, but funny to see us and laughing on our own. I would follow this site.

  • karma_musings

    If Apple were run like non-profits, they wouldn’t be sitting on several billion dollars of slush fund… 🙂

  • AC88

    The mistake with this argument (and these cartoons) is that questions like these DO get asked of Apple all the time–by their shareholders. This argument makes the mistake of conflating shareholders’ interests with customers’ interests when they’re very different.