Posts Tagged ‘The Chronicle of Philanthropy’

Net Neutrality Primer for Foundations

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Don’t know what Net Neutrality is?

Wonder how it will affect your grantees and other nonprofits?

What The Heck is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality, a phrase coined by Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, “is best defined as a network design principle.” Wu continues:

The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.

Scratching your head a bit? No worries. Let’s break this down.

“A network design principle.” The network in question is the Internet. So Net Neutrality is about how the Internet is set up.

“The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.” Essentially that for the Internet to be “maximally useful” it should “treat all content”–that means blogs, websites (including the websites of foundations and nonprofits), search engines, etc–as equal and not giving one of those platforms preferential treatment.

“This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.” Treating all content as equal, no matter who created it, is the basic tenet of Net Neutrality. And for supporters of Net Neutrality that means all people have equal access to the “maximally useful” Internet.

Vincent Stehle, regular columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a philanthropic consultant, recently described Net Neutrality as:

The idea is that anybody who uses the Internet will have equal access to every piece of information available, without special treatment or discrimination on the part of Internet service providers, be they cable companies, phone companies, or public utilities. And it is a principle that is critical to the success of nonprofits in the marketplace of ideas.

(What’s that about “the success of nonprofits”? Don’t worry, we’ll get there.)

And for those of you who are visual learners, here’s a really cool infographic that explains the Net Neutrality concept.

Now, Net Neutrality has been the status quo since the internet came into existence. And some people suggest that it was this defining characteristic that allowed businesses like Google and eBay to go from small shops to multimillion organizations.

So if it’s been the status quo, why is all of a sudden a topic of debate?

Battle Over the Fate of the Internet

Sounds a little dramatic, doesn’t it. But maybe it’s not hyperbole when you consider what might happen if Net Neutrality is done away with.

So who’s battling? And over what? Again, let’s go back to Vincent Stehle’s recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

But in recent years, a battle has been raging between consumer groups and telecommunications companies over the fate of the Internet—whether it will remain neutral in the way content is delivered or whether phone and cable companies will be able to offer special deals featuring their own content. And by comparison, will these same companies be able to degrade the experience of content that flows outside of the entertainment channels they control.

So if the Internet was no longer “neutral,” what would it look like?

Here’s a video that explains the issue (fyi, “ISP” stands for Internet Service Provider):


So the main points of proponents of Net Neutrality as conveyed in that video above are:

  1. Currently with Net Neutrality you choose where you go online.
  2. Internet Service Provides (ISPs) currently give you equal access to all websites.
  3. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could degrade or block access to websites in order to drive you to other sites which benefit their bottom line.

So what does this mean for nonprofits?

Net Neutrality and Nonprofits

Wondering how all this might affect your grantees and their constituents? I’ll let Vincent Stehle explain:

Before the Internet, a nonprofit organization that wanted to make its case would have had to attract the interest of somebody in the news or entertainment media. It could attempt to generate a news story that might be covered by a newspaper or broadcaster. It could cut a public-service announcement that might, with some luck, appear for 30 or 60 seconds, frequently at 2 a.m. in front of an audience of slumbering “viewers” who forgot to turn off their television sets. In short, nonprofits were largely invisible.

The advent of the Internet has resulted in an explosion of meaningful communications between nonprofit organizations and their supporters. Charities and foundations are now able to tell their stories without permission, without interpretation—and without the snoring.

The capacity of nonprofits to communicate directly with their supporters and constituents has expanded their ability to generate financial support and deliver programs that make a difference. And that capacity should not be undermined by a newly constrained Internet economy.

Imagine if Net Neutrality went away. Next imagine if someone was trying to find services on domestic violence prevention or information on free healthcare clinics or after-school programs for children, but the internet access to websites for the nonprofits providing those services was degraded.

The question is not only how would community members learn about the varied services nonprofits in their area provide them, but nonprofits would once again become largely invisible.

And what about your foundation’s website?

What if suddenly access to your foundation’s website was degraded? What if Internet Service Providers asked foundations to pay a fee in order to improve access to the organization’s website?

Sounds like a scene out of The Godfather, doesn’t it?

“This is business, not personal.”


Read Vincent Stehle’s recent opinion piece on Net Neutrality in The Chronicle of Philanthropy online.

Check out this truly cool info graphic that explains Net Neutrality visually.

Tim Wu’s website with lots of information on Net Neutrality.


Watching the CSR Debate Unfold Online

Monday, August 30th, 2010

As the NCG staff member who manages our Twitter feed, I also follow the conversations that develop in the Twitterverse (sigh, yes, I said it).

One of the conversations I follow is the #csr thread. For those of you new to Twitter lingo, the hashtag (#) is a way to mark your tweet so that if a reader wants to search for information on a particular subject they simply search for its hashtag.

In the case of corporate social responsibility, that hashtag is #csr.

It was one week ago that the #csr thread was a-buzz regarding a Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility,” written by associate professor of strategy at the University of Michigan Dr. Aneel Karnani.

And when I mean, a-buzz, I mean the link to this article was being re-tweeted like wildfire. In a 12-hour period I saw almost 30 tweets on the article, which is unusual for a conversation hashtag (in my own experience). I mean, sure when there’s a popular article or report it will get several tweets, but 30 in 12 hours, that’s a lot.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

By the 24-hour mark the number of tweets had risen to approximately 90.

Here’s a sampling:

1:09 am davidcoethica: The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility – #csr

4:00 am waynenorman: “It’s the regulations, stupid.” RT @davidcoethica The case against #CSR –

11:49 am ebharrison: Is corporate social responsibility fundamentally flawed? That case leads WSJ special section today #CSR #envirocomm

2:55 pm GreenSolitaire: Wow the #wsj about 5 years behind on #csr and corporate #sustainability still arguing the business v moral case.

5:42 pm elainecohen: New on the #CSR Reporting blog: my response to #wsj case against #CSR

7:26 pm OKL: A Zinger: CSR Now Seen As ?Potentially Dangerous? In response to WSJ’s : #CSR

Them’s Fightin’ Words

As you can see it didn’t take long for CSR advocates and practitioners to begin responding with counter arguments.

In fact there were a few articles, blog posts and 260 comments on the WSJ article itself, all taking the case against CSR to task.

In his response published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Scott Henderson Managing Principal of CauseShift argued that Dr. Karnani’s argument “expose[s] the futility of an ideological debate pitting the free market against the common good as if they were wholly separate entities.”

Scott continues:

This is not a hypothetical conversation. The world is full of real problems that threaten the corporate sector.

We face unconventional threats and irregular enemies, and we spend enormous sums at home and abroad for a semblance of security in which to conduct business…Dr. Karnani’s argument relies on an obsolete framework that assumes the free market requires managers to maximize profit and create enduring value for shareholders regardless of the corporation’s social impact. While this has defined the debate for the previous century, it will not and cannot define the future because of one undeniable fact: profit and shareholder value are not created in a vacuum.

Beyond Business founder and blogger Elaine Cohen took issue with what she called Dr. Karnani’s “short-term vision.”

“Many generally believe that shareholders want to maximize SHORT-TERM profit at almost any expense (though there is a growing body of evidence that this is not the case) whilst CSR is by definition focused longer-term. Yes, there is an element of sacrificing short-term profit for greater long term profit, which continues to be in shareholder real interests. Talk to Ray Anderson of Interface, Stuart Rose of Marks and Spencer, Jeff Immelt of GE and many others, and they confirm that CSR-type activities repay themselves many times over. How can a professor of STRATEGY be so hooked in the short-term vision box?

And Cause Capitalism blogger Olivia Khalili countered that maximizing shareholders profits isn’t the only consideration a business has.

“This argument is untenable because in reality businesses are judged by more than shareholders–namely consumers. And increasingly, consumers are choosing not to support companies that exploit the environment, employees, suppliers–even customers’ own health.”

Olivia’s point reminds me why I was even following this entire online conversation: Firms of Endearment.

Two years ago Firms of Endearment co-author Raj Sisodia spoke at NCG’s Corporate Philanthropy Institute. The book (one I enjoyed and I’m not usually a non-fiction reader) gave several examples of businesses who were making profit and ensuring all stakeholders were satisfied (customers, employees, shareholders and communities they existed in).

Making Business Better

Exploring the nuances of the debate, looking at both where the article brings up issues that both “rankle, and others that well underline today’s complex market,” is In Good Company blogger Aman Singh.

Aman reached out to several CSR professionals, such as Dave Stangis, Campbell Soup’s vice president for CSR, to get their opinion.

‘Via email, Stangis acknowledged that he agreed with Karnani about aligning business with social value but saw why he had managed to rankle many.

“Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t about giving money away and adopting the latest cause of activists. CSR and sustainability are approaches to business operation and execution that build employee engagement, improve environmental performance, create positive social impacts, enable operational efficiency, reduce cost, foster innovation, strengthen relationships with customers and consumers and ultimately… create business advantage.” ‘

Aman’s blog post looks at several of the points made in Dr. Karnani’s article. In fact, if you’re looking for a place to start after reading “The Case Against Coporate Social Responsibility, I’d start there.

Is It A Zero Sum Game?

So, do businesses have to choose between profits and CSR? Can they have their cake and eat it too? It’s a provocative debate to say the least.

And one I’ll continue to follow it online.


Read “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility” online.

Read Scott Henderson’s Chronicle of Philanthropy article “In a Connected Society, Corporations Must Focus on the Social Good.”

Read Elaine Cohen’s blog post response to the WSJ article online.

Read Olivia Khalili’s blog post response to the WSJ article online.

Read Aman Singh’s blog post response to the WSJ article online.


What We’re Reading

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

It’s Monday again and I’m perusing our Twitter feed and the blogs I follow on Google Reader finding all sorts of interesting articles and commentary on Philanthropy. Here’s what’s caught my eye so far today:

Disaster Relief
“Floodwaters Continue to Surge in Pakistan”. Photo essay showing the effects of flooding on the people of Pakistan.

“The Legacy of Katrina for Gulf Coast Charities”. In this Chronicle of Philanthropy article nonprofit leaders talk about where things stand five years after Katrina.

Learning From Others
“Do No Evil”. Stanford Social Innovation Review article by Suzie Boss takes a look at Google’s philanthropic arm DotOrg and how their corporate culture proved its brilliance and its burden.

Social Innovation Fund
“Amid Concerns of Favoritism, Federal Officials Disclose New Details on Selection Process”. Social Innovation fund officials explain their decision to post 10 of the 11 winning SIF applications online.

“Next Steps for Social Innovation Fund: A Call to Action”. Tactical Philanthropy’s Sean Stannard-Stockton examines the controversy surrounding the Social Innovation Fund’s transparency issues.

Social Media
“Six Pixels of Separation”, a summary about a new book by Mitch Joel that examines “how social media is connecting your business to everyone.”


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