Google is known for many things: its innovative
search methodology, its pricing structure, even
its lavish employee benefits (an office complex
designed like a college campus and a chef-driven
cafeteria), but one recent initiative has little to
do with its ability to out-search or out-perk its
competition. When this for-profit corporation
created the philanthropic division Google.org,
it grasped the mantle of philanthropic
innovator as well.
The Google.org division stands alongside divisions for engineering,
sales and finance, but it is tasked with a very different
mission — addressing climate change, poverty, and emerging
diseases.1 Google.org makes grants to nonprofits, just like a
traditional foundation. But what makes it unique is that it also
behaves like a business, making equity investments in for-profit
companies. Wherever possible, Google.org also uses Google Inc.’s
human resources, technology, and products to pursue its philanthropic
Of course, companies have long blended philanthropic and
business objectives. They make contributions, commit to corporate
social responsibility, and even form social enterprises. “For-profit
philanthropy,” though, differs from these familiar techniques in
both structure and scale. Likewise, for-profit philanthropy stands
in stark contrast to the nonprofit, tax-exempt form of organization
typically used by those pursuing exclusively philanthropic
endeavors. This unfamiliar course allows Google.org to pursue
philanthropic objectives, while avoiding the legal restrictions
applied to philanthropic entities structured along traditional lines.
In avoiding these restrictions, and circumventing the enforcement
and oversight associated with traditional nonprofits, Google’s new
for-profit model raises important questions about how (and if ) for profit
philanthropy should be regulated.
1. See Google.org, What We’re Doing, at http://www.google.org.