Camp Century: Abandoned US Base in Greenland Poses Radioactive Threat

(The Greenland Ice Sheet, home to Camp Century, an abandoned US base that could leak radioactive waste)

While certain political parties and public figures (here’s looking at you, Donald Trump) may dismiss the reality of climate change as a politically expedient ploy, the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion not only confirms its existence but has also furnished a sobering look at its longterm effects. From decreased water reserves threatening vulnerable populations to rising sea levels putting coastal cities underwater, climate change poses a number of threats to the social good across the globe.

In addition to the aforementioned macro-level threats, there are also regional particularities that tie directly to climate change. Take, for example, an abandoned US military base in Greenland that has recently garnered headlines for the cataclysmic danger it may pose in the future.

The base, named Camp Century, was built into the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959 and deserted in 1967. Ostensibly a research station, the camp was additionally used as a potential nuclear launch site, chosen for its striking distance to the Soviet Union.

Camp Century Greenland Climate Change Key Elements Group
(The entrance to Camp Century, US Military Archives)

When the camp was decommissioned, the 200 US military personnel stationed there up and left, with official opinion holding that the encroaching ice would effectively seal off residual pollutants. While this policy may have worked out until now, shrinking glaciers in Greenland may release a host of dangerous materials that could result in an environmental catastrophe.

In a statement, climate scientist William Colgan described the situation:

When we looked at the climate simulations, they suggested that rather than perpetual snowfall, it seems that as early as 2090, the site could transition from net snowfall to net melt. Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it’s only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible.

The secret nuclear program at Camp Century – called Project Iceworm – also featured a nuclear reactor that powered the base and that has most certainly resulted in radioactive waste. Other harmful materials – including biological and chemical waste – also factor into the pollutants that could escape through melting ice.

Camp Century Climate Change Greendland Key Elements Group
(Image of Camp Century, US Military Archives)

To further complicate the situation, the responsibility for cleaning up this gargantuan mess is up in the air. The base was created and funded by the United States, but was approved by Denmark, then the colonial power in possession of Greenland. Nowadays, Greenland is an autonomous country.

The case of Camp Century, while high-profile, may not be entirely unique, as Colgan explains: ”Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites.”

As climate change progresses without a meaningful, united response from governments, agencies, and institutions around the world, threats like the one posed by Camp Century will proliferate. And, regardless of how effectively the world turns the tide on climate change, we now live in a reality where Camp Century and other toxic relics will inevitably require herculean efforts to control.

It’s just a matter of time.

Who Will Buy the Next Supreme Court?

Antonin Scalia – the outspoken supreme court justice and leader of the conservative movement – was found dead on Saturday, February 13. He was 79.

The justice was participating in a private weekend hunting party at a ranch located in the Big Bend region of Texas. Chief Justice John Roberts remarked on his passing:

On behalf of the court and retired justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served.

Scalia – a polarizing figure known for his passionately written court opinions – received tributes from individuals across the political spectrum. Bernie Sanders remarked that though he held drastically different opinions than those of the late jurist, he nonetheless respected his intelligence and passion. Ted Cruz extolled Scalia as a hero, and argued that his predecessor should not be chosen until after the next presidential election.

Cruz’ opinion is common to conservative lawmakers, who have little desire to confirm an Obama appointee. By stonewalling the president, however, the Senate risks allowing bitter partisan politics interfere with the most basic functioning of the government’s democratic processes.

In the wake of Scalia’s death, one fact is certain. Roe vs. Wade – the court ruling that upholds women’s right to abortion – is safe. The court will now most certainly rule against a case currently under consideration that could have rolled back federal protections for procreative rights. Affirmative Action, however, faces the same calculus it did before – with a 3-3 split between the court’s liberals and conservatives ultimately decided by Justice Kennedy, the swing-vote.

The long-term implications, however, are huge. There is a precedent for split courts, where eight justices split down the line, leaving a case effectively undecided. In this event, the ruling of the lower court is upheld. This could benefit a number of special interests, parties to cases not yet before the supreme court.

With the presidential primaries far from concluded, Scalia’s passing will also likely push candidates to fundraise around the supreme court. While presidential candidates invoke the prospect of the opposing side controlling the court, special interests could very well start pouring even more money into their respective candidates’ campaigns in order to secure future legal affairs. In a sense, a number of parties will begin efforts to buy the next supreme court.

As the climate of the eight-justice supreme court takes shape, and more developments emerge with regard to the fundraising that transpires due to the court’s open spot, Key Elements Group LLC will be there to provide analysis.

Nonprofits Resist Proposed IRS Rule

A proposed rule from the IRS has stirred up controversy in the world of philanthropy, raising concerns over an absence of donor privacy that could ultimately discourage major gifts.

The proposed rule would create an optional form for charities to report major gifts to the IRS, with the intention of shifting liability to nonprofits for full gift reporting for tax purposes. This – in theory – would lower the risk that individuals would miss out on tax deductions due to incomplete or improper tax filings.

During the official comment period, which ended on December 16, the nonprofit sector voiced strong opposition, particularly with regard to the provision requiring donors’ social security numbers.

This method of gift reporting, however, would be optional, a point reenforced by the IRS’ official explanation to the public, which stated that

any burden associated with the collection of information under the proposed regulations is minimized by the fact that donee reporting under the proposed regulations is optional on the part of any donee, including small entities. Donees need not use this donee reporting process and donors can continue to use the current CWA process…it is expected that donee reporting will be used in an extremely low percentage of cases.

Essentially, the proposed rule is meant to make things easier for lax donors. Up until now, the IRS has required that donors submit a “contemporaneous written acknowledgement” (CWA) – a gift receipt prepared by the receiving charity. Donors have, on occasion, missed out on tax deductions due to improper filings of CWAs or because they simply lost the receipt for their gift.

Critics of the proposed rule expressed concern over the increased legal liability thrown unto nonprofits, as well as the potential for the optional rule becoming the de facto standard for reporting. If this were to happen, higher volumes of official correspondence between nonprofit charities and the IRS would include donors’ social security numbers, consequently increasing the risk of identity theft – a potential deterrent for donors making gifts.

The likelihood of implementation is minimal. There is virtually no public demand for the option – meant to provide alternate means of reporting to tax payers. Furthermore, the opposition has gained momentum, most clearly evidenced by proposed legislation from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) that would block the proposed rule.

Key Elements Group LLC will report on the final outcome of the debate.

When Success Fails: Maryland Cuts Drug Treatment Program

(A view of Baltimore’s City Hall and downtown area)

Innovative programs that support nonprofits are often nixed before any meaningful results come in, thus spoiling the opportunity to acquire data on new systems designed to address society’s most pressing issues. Recent news out of Maryland, however, shows that even a program’s success does not always guarantee its longevity.

On Halloween weekend, Maryland discontinued a program that diverted funding earmarked for the state’s correctional facilities to nonprofits that helped counsel drug addicts. The program – called The Public Safety Compact – took savings from lower incarceration rates and supported nonprofit organizations that helped find former addicts jobs, as well as provide ongoing support that kept them sober.

One individual from the program, Baye Parker, remarked on the discontinuation: “For me, it’s baffling because it’s great government. I don’t understand why you would try to break something that’s working.”

The cancellation of the program effectively shelved the release of 60 inmates set to become the next class of beneficiaries. The program was designed to benefit nonviolent inmates, and has helped secure the early release of over 500 individuals who successfully completed the program.

On both federal and state levels, lawmakers and leaders are searching for more ways to lower the burden of the United States’ massive incarceration system. The country currently imprisons more if its citizens than any other country on earth, and spends upwards of $60 billion dollars in doing so.

Criminal justice reform has begun to receive some bipartisan support, but the scale of the problem is immense and will require a multi-faceted approach.

Dr. Leana Wen – the Baltimore City Health Commissioner – condemned the end of the program. She told reporters that her department is “deeply concerned about and disappointed by the state’s decision to end the Public Safety Compact program.”

She continued to discuss the importance of this type of program, one that marries government and nonprofits working hard to make a difference:

In our city, eight out of 10 who are in jail use illegal substances; four out of 10 have a diagnosed mental illness. We need to be doing more to support this population, not less. We need to expand medical treatment, not incarceration. We need to recognize and treat drug addiction as a disease.

The program is believed to have significantly cut recidivism rates for graduates, who returned to prison around a rate of 9 percent. The state average is over 40 percent. The program was nixed when state officials realized that the way the program is structured breaches Maryland’s procurement guidelines.

Instead of taking this route, state officials ought to have exercised  greater creativity. The program not only empowered nonprofits to improve the lives of those afflicted with drug addiction, but also lowered the state’s incarceration levels and saved tax payer dollars. The United States needs to create a culture that fosters this philanthropic inventiveness, not one that stifles it with bureaucratic technicalities.

The Crowdfunding Debate Affects Nonprofits

(A still from Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding platform.)

It’s hard for one to miss the proliferation of crowdfunding campaigns. They have become part of the popular landscape, with friends and families running fundraisers through a number of online portals that allow them to raise funds for all manner of projects. Nonprofits stand to benefit from this fundraising model, which generates excitement and grassroots curiosity for compelling campaigns and ideas. Some are even arguing it’ll help solve many of charity’s failures.  The crowdfunding landscape, however, is quite complex, and certain legal and tax issues remain unsettled. Let’s take look at some of the nuances surrounding crowdfunding, including what may happen to the industry in the near-term future.

A crowdfunding campaign can take on many different forms. In its most popular incarnation, it involves individuals soliciting what are essentially gifts to jump-start a project, product line, business, or organization. Popular platforms for this model include Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe. Campaign hosts may offer later perks, guaranteeing a product that will in part be developed with gift donations, delivered to the donors after project completion.

Entrepreneurs and startups can also offer equity interest in their companies. This type of crowdfunding has people excited, with some analysts arguing that it heralds a democratized approach to raising capital, pulling more people than ever before into equity markets. The Obama Administration’s 2012 JOBS Act was meant to ease some SEC tax regulations, including those affecting taxes on crowdfunding. The debate is far from over, however, and taxation on crowdfunding campaigns is yet to take a firm shape.

Taking cues from the crowdfunding exemption movement, architects of the JOBS Act sought to formalize crowdfunding’s privileged status as a more-or-less unregulated method of raising capital. Protected in Tittle II of the JOBS Act, the unregulatory character of crowdfunding was sharply opposed by regulators and SEC officials, largely over concerns that a complete absence of regulation would expose inexperienced investors to fraud.

With the approval of Title IV earlier this year, all aspects of the JOBS Act have been formally approved, reviewed, and deemed ready for implementation. A couple of facts – however – have complicated the debate and all but guaranteed that the discussion is going to continue. Many investors are skeptical that there will be any benefit for small business, who – under SEC rules – have no state-exemption for offering securities. In other words, an individual raising capital would face far too many fees for compliance across the country to even make a crowdfunded equity campaign feasible.

Furthermore, a number of frauds have spotlighted the potential for crowdfunding abuse. The industry is a little confusing, with some funders evidently buying into jokes more than products. Take for example the potato salad that raised over $50,000. There is – in a word – an informality to the crowdfunding world. On a less humorous note, consumers have into projects and groups that never came to fruition.

Washington recently required Ed Polchlopek, III to pay $54,841 in damages to defendants who donated to his crowdfunding campaign. Allegedly run to construct a specially-designed set of playing cards, his campaign never followed through on its promises.  The Washington state  Attorney General’s office has decided that the case infringes rights guaranteed in the Consumer Protection Act.

This and other scandals – including fake accounts that raised money for Eric Garner’s family following his tragic death, disappearing the money into cyberspace – will likely bring regulation (and taxation) back to the forefront of discussion. As states offer different and conflicted rulings, regulators and legislators are sure to reenter the debate.

Philanthropy Supports Struggling Greece

As Greece scrambles to produce a list of economic reforms to satisfy its creditors, it is still unclear whether or not the Mediterranean nation and its primary negotiating partners will reach an agreement that keeps the Hellenic Republic in the Eurozone.

The country’s debt crisis has proved intractable. Following the onset of the 2008 recession, Greece has struggled tremendously. A list of austerity measures – including privatizations and pension reforms – has left much of the population reeling financially.

Economists initially projected only a few tough years before the economy rebounded. Instead, unemployment rates are currently higher than those of the United States during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. Some fear that an exit from the Eurozone will leave a collapsed economy, and an exacerbated humanitarian crisis that could threaten the population’s access to basic needs items.

Strict credit controls have limited the amount of cash available to Greek citizens. As the nation quickly depletes the remaining bank reserves, the future – no matter which way it goes – promises to be difficult.

Outside of the economic effects that a “Grexit” would have on the philanthropic sector, there is another charitable angle to the crisis: foundation and nonprofit support for struggling Greek citizens.

A number of philanthropic entities have sought to mitigate the social effects of the great recession. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), for example, initiated an ambitious three-year program in 2012 aimed at alleviating the worst effects of Greece’s economic crisis. After spending $130,000 million on 200 grants – primarily on social welfare, but on arts and education as well – the program benefited nearly 500,000 individuals, or 4.5 percent of the nation’s population. The grants also sustained 3,000 jobs, and is believed to have doubled the economic impact of the grant monies issued.

But the SNF initiative and the work of other smaller philanthropic groups in the extensive Greek diaspora still fall way short of the support needed by a population without opportunity and a diminishing social safety net.

The country’s path over the seven years following the global recession has been rocky, painful, and socially devastating. Greece’s economy has retracted by 25 percent since 2009, and its unemployment rate hovers around 25.6 percent. Its youth unemployment fares even worse, sitting just shy of 50 percent. Those without work are increasingly less likely to find it – 75.3 percent of the country’s unemployed were without work the preceding year. Greece has seen a 35 percent suicide rate increase since the initiation of harsh austerity measures in 2011.

The problems that Greece faces are variegated and require comprehensive relief efforts from government institutions, foundations, and nonprofits. While many media reports choose to focus on the mere economics, the real human impact is jarring. Some generous individuals, however, are beginning to take notice, and are making charitable gestures that could compel others to act.

A tragic photo that emerged this week depicted an elderly Greek pensioner crying outside of a bank. James Koufos, an Australian business man, recognized the gentleman as an old school friend of his father’s. Moved by the photo, Koufos requested that anyone in the Greek public with the man’s contact information step forward, offering to pay his pension. He stated that he “will never allow to see a fellow Greek proud hardworking man starve.”

As the human toll becomes more apparent, other philanthropists and donors may come out of the woodwork to help citizens bogged by depression, betrayed by the nefarious and disingenuous dealings of their country’s political and economic elites, and deprived of the resources they spent their working lives to secure.

Tech Companies Team with Nonprofits against ISIS, Hate Groups

The social media prowess of ISIS is well documented. The radical Islamic group routinely deploys its vast online presence to recruit from across the globe. Scores of disaffected youth – influenced by the terror group’s omnipresence on virtually all online platforms – have trickled toward the conflict in Syria. In nations ranging from the United Stated to Germany, authorities have prevented citizens from traveling broad or have entertained measures to expedite the legal process by which a government can restrict the passport usage of citizens attempting to join ISIS.

Commentators argue that an effective counter policy has been sorely missing from current tactics for dismantling the terrorist organization and mitigating the damage it causes. A small state agency formed in 2011 called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was established to combat the online communications of ISIS. The agency was bogged down for several years due to minimal government investment. Other government digital communications strategies have backfired, including the “Think Again Look Away” campaign, which provided a means for ISIS supporters and affiliates to tussle online with U.S. officials over infamous events like the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

Recently, government officials, tech companies, and nonprofits have taken steps to improve the online fight against ISIS. In February, the Obama Administration hosted representatives from the private sector and professionals from prominent NGOs to collaborate on solutions. Top-level staff from Twitter and other social media platforms were present. Nonprofits represented at the meeting included the Anti-Defamation League – an organization that works toward abolishing hate-inspired violence – and the the Global Survivors Network – a group that provides support to victims of violent terror.

The strategic solutions discussed involve private tech businesses working with relevant NGOs to identify sources of hate speech, construct efficacious avenues for reporting these abuses, and collate data to better understand patterns of extremist behavior. There are recent precedents, such as one partnership that began late last year to combat sexism. Following the GamerGate controversy of 2014 – in which female game developers and cultural critics were subjected to prolonged misogynistic attacks – Twitter entered a partnership with an organization named Women, Action, & the Media in order to pursue meaningful responses.

Tech giants have rolled out other initiatives for social justice and peace issues. Google launched Against Violent Extremism in 2011 – a hub for former adherents to extremist ideologies and victims of terror from around the globe to collaborate on projects, such as Exit White Power Australia – a group working to discourage recruitment by white supremacist groups.

After the February meeting in Washington, D.C., Twitter announced that it will pursue similiar partnerships with groups working against violent extremism – including the United States’ Anti-Defamation League and France’s International League against and Racism and Anti-Semitism. In addition to these collaborative efforts, Twitter has promoted anti-hate tweets from nonprofits to counteract messages of hate and has trained activists and volunteers on reporting methods.

These partnerships illuminate the potential of tech and nonprofit collaboration. With such powerful and widely used tools at their disposal, private technology firms can harness the expertise and mission-oriented commitment of nonprofit professionals to develop an effective digital infrastructure for counteracting the hate speech and toxic propaganda of terror groups like ISIS.

An Interview with Women on 20s Founder Barbara Ortiz Howard

An innovative nonprofit has attracted a great deal of press lately, broadcasting its message of gender equality through a clever campaign to put an influential woman from US history on the $20 bill.

Women on 20s aims to replace Andrew Jackson – the controversial president who presided over the Indian Removal Act. Who exactly should go on in his place, however, is up to the US populace. The organization rolled out a primary round voting this spring, consisting of 15 women that included key figures from the suffragette, abolitionist, labor, and environmental movements. Counting more than 250,000 votes, the final list features Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. And – in a nod to Jackson’s infamous legacy – the nonprofit has included Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller in the final round of voting.

Barbara Ortiz Howard – the founder of Women on 20s – sat down with Key Elements Group to discuss the inspiration behind the campaign, her experience starting and running a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and how her organization’s campaign fits into a larger context.


KEG: What was your inspiration for founding Women on 20s?

BOH: A desire to honor our Centennial of suffrage with an iconic woman on our currency that heretofore had not seen a woman on it. For me, having role models of great women in our daily lives is important to helping us all conquer stereotypes that limit our perspectives. Seeing women who exemplify the best of who we can be is at once uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Imagine if we were all inspired to be our best selves.

KEG: The campaign’s goal is so precise, and has garnered so much positive attention and press. How did you and your team arrive at such a specific, effective objective? 

BOH: It was a precise mission – the lack of a woman on our currency despite the significance of women in our culture, economy, and everyday life seemed to be a glaring omission, and not a difficult one to formulate. On the other hand, it has been tempting to veer off and consider other missions, so it has been important to stay on point.  In addition, we had some other defining parameters. Us wanting the process to proceed in a timely way meant limiting the scope to replacing one portrait with a woman who fit the few guidelines in the code. Not trying to change too many things at once.

KEG: What larger mission or goal – outside the scope of Women on 20s -  does the campaign fit into?

BOH: This campaign is about helping create cultural shifts that will better align the intentions we inscribe in our laws in our everyday lives. This mission is to value women as full and equal beings, which can be best done in our everyday lives and activities rather than in thick laws most of us don’t have access to and rarely refer to as we interact with one another.

KEG: After registering as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, what were some of your biggest hurdles getting the organization running, and how did you overcome them?

BOH: Spending time setting up your 501(c)3 is very important in minimizing the hurdles you may face down the road. Understanding what you can and cannot do and your purpose is critical. Getting this done correctly and efficiently will allow you to get donations more quickly.  Get professional help in doing this if at all possible, this will be a huge ROI. We were fortunate to get this right, although I wish it had been earlier in our evolution.

BOH: After that, getting the timing, critical support from similar groups and influencers, and having a “product” with integrity were essential ingredients. As a startup organization we faced huge staffing issues that never got quite resolved. I work at this as I can, as I have another business to take care of, while my colleague Susan Ades Stone rarely was able to leave her desk caring for the infinite pieces of the campaign.  We do not have a physical office and we have become so busy and specialized and time sensitive, we cannot bring on staff. If you can set up the right people in advance and have funding for this, it will not be so challenging! It is unlikely that you will ever have enough people or support to do exactly all you need to do, but try to get a strong team together as soon as possible.

KEG: What were your most effective fundraising strategies? Which strategies were least effective? 

BOH: So far we have not had effective fundraising strategies.  We are working on that so we can sustain the enthusiasm and maintain our movement. We’d really also like to take advantage of many exciting options that we can develop, such as the educational component, and funding will allow that. While people have been donating lately, we are far from being self-sustaining.  However, we believe that inspiration will carry us through most of what we have in the days ahead, and then new options will pave the way. We are fortunate that we have such a compelling cause. A well developed and compelling cause is a main goal you must achieve.

KEG: When do you estimate the final vote will take place? 

BOH: We are planning to keep the voting going through the month, as our funds allow and as the voting remains strong.

KEG: How would you characterize the response from voters?

BOH: Overwhelmingly positive, with many expressions of gratitude for the effort and offers of help.

KEG: Is there any advice you would offer to young women who want to make a difference, and who may pursue their goals through forming a nonprofit organization?

BOH: I think most of my answers here are also formed in part as advice. Surround yourself with good people and ask for help. You cannot do it alone. You must be willing to do what you may never have thought you’d do and /or sacrifice. You can do it if your heart is really in it, and people will respond to that!

KEG: What do you think the chances are that your campaign will succeed?

BOH: We seem to have the law, timing and hopes of so many on the side of this overdue change, so we are very hopeful it will all happen to celebrate the Centennial in a grand way.

Philanthropy Saves Monuments, How About Infrastructure?

There’s one thing everyone can agree on: the United States’ infrastructure needs an overhaul.

While a contentious debate over funding rages on, there is a demonstrable consensus that cracking roads, neglected bridges, and outdated technology not only pose a threat to the country’s economic viability, but also to the physical wellbeing of its people.

Another country is facing similar issues involving rote maintenance and the elusive funding necessary to pursue it. To account for the difference between the two cases, just trade a power grids for aqueducts.

Italy has had difficulty paying for the conservation and refurbishment of its extensive catalog of amphitheaters, churches, and various artifacts from its long and storied history. Along with many of its southern European peers, Italy has been slow to emerge from the recession. The country has sizable public debts, and Rome officials oscillate back and forth between filing the city for bankruptcy. In this cash-strapped climate, channeling public resources to highly expensive historical conservation is exceedingly difficult.

Tourism is an essential component of Italy’s economy, and state officials needed a solution. They turned to one area of the Italian economy that has weathered the last decade’s downturn – the fashion and luxury industry.

A variety of high-grossing corporations have stepped in to ensure the maintenance of Italy’s national patrimony. Tod’s, an Italian fashion company, is paying to refurbish the iconic colosseum. The company Fendi has shelled out $4 million to restore the Trevi Fountain. Bulgari has donated $2 million for revitalization efforts for the Spanish Steps.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, discussed the public-private partnerships that are currently shaking up the country’s funding system:

Our doors are wide open for all the philanthropists and donors who want to tie their name to an Italian monument. We have a long list, as our heritage offers endless options, from small countryside churches to the Colosseum. Just pick.

Many Italians find Franceschini’s words troubling. While finding the necessary funding for such a trove of priceless artifacts and buildings is important, there are nonetheless a host of ethical questions for the Mediterranean nation. Will these partnerships usher in the commercialization of publicly held assets? Will good intention give way to future privatizations? Are these practices here to stay?

Italy is new to the corporate philanthropy scene. Public-private relationships of this nature are more common in the United States, which has an entrenched tradition of business philanthropy. Indeed, the United States has seen its share of philanthropists propping up national landmarks.

In 2012, David Rubenstein – the billionaire head of the Carlyle Group – donated $7.5 million to restore the Washington Monument in the country’s capital. After the famous obelisk sustained damages from an earthquake, the National Parks Service struggled to secure the funding necessary to repair the structure and to reenforce it against similar calamities in the future. Rubinstein – who has also contributed to the Smithsonian and the U.S. panda reproduction program – stepped in to front the cost.

As unfortunate as it may be that national symbols such as the Washington Monument in the United States and the Colosseum in Italy require private support, they may nonetheless carry a lesson for how the philanthropy sector can fill some of the gaps in infrastructure funding created by government inaction. By marrying art and infrastructure, private-public relationships can formulate and execute fundable projects. A provincial bridge does not carry the same import as the Lincoln memorial, but in recognizing the value of public art and its fundamental relationship with public infrastructure, creative philanthropic thinking can find solutions to these pressing issues.

Nonprofits Should Celebrate Net Neutrality Rules

In good news for nonprofits and the continued viability of their online fundraising operations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed new rules supporting net neutrality, scuttling telecom businesses’ plans to implement a tiered system which would have directly harmed startups and charities unable to pay for the “fast lane” service touted by industry lobbyists.

About a dozen internet service providers (ISPs) – including AT&T, Comcast, Cox, and Verizon – sought control over how users access content online, arguing that they should have the ability to privilege certain content and data, as well as provide faster and more secure connections for businesses or content providers willing and able to pay a premium price.

After previous FCC rules were tossed out in 2014, net neutrality – or, in layman’s terms, an open internet in which ISPs provide access to content on an equal basis – was in doubt. Arguing that rules prohibiting a tiered system prevent “innovation” in the industry, telecom corporations aggressively pursued a rule change that would grant them greater control to award certain businesses and organizations with an optimum service. In this scenario, for example, a large and established news organization would receive faster upload speeds than a small nonprofit news site.

The new rules designate telecom businesses as “common providers,” thereby categorizing the internet as a utility, such as electricity. Like with other important utilities, providers cannot selectively deliver their essential services to particular areas or businesses to the detriment of others with less spending capacity.

Many big-time tech companies and content providers – including Google, Apple, and Facebook -  joined in the debate, citing net neutrality as the catalyst for innovation that enabled them and other enterprises to launch out of garages and climb to the top bracket of profitability in the world economy.

If the net neutrality rules did not pass, nonprofits would have suffered a significant loss. Many services that have nonprofit parallels to the private sector would have been at a competitive disadvantage. From independent investigative journalism groups to credit unions, organizations would have faced sizable hurdles in providing their services at a same level as their for-profit peers. Online fundraising – which, as evidenced by the 2014 #GivingTuesday, is more important than ever – would also have likely lost some of its efficiency.

Nonprofits are major content providers. Relaying their message, mission, and goals to prospective donors, nonprofits generate a massive amount of important online content sustained by accessibility to sound digital dissemination. Under the telecom corporations’ scheme, troves of nonprofit communications would likely have been relegated to the “slow track,” with for-profit, salable content flying along the privileged track.

While the rules will most certainly face industry lawsuits, the victory reflects a codification of the democratic ideals of the internet, in which creative minds find even-footing with those of the establishment, guaranteeing a fair platform for organizations to make their case and grow.

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