Nonprofits Should Oppose the FCC’s Destruction of Net Neutrality

(Image: Backbone Campaign, Creative Commons)

In a 3-2 vote, the FCC voted to eliminate Obama-era regulations protecting the free and open internet. The rules upheld “net neutrality,” a system that essentially required internet service provides (ISPs) to treat all legal websites and digital services equally.

Net neutrality is a basic concept. It means that an ISP, for example, cannot legally hamper consumer access to another business’ digital products and services. This arrangement keeps the internet an open playing field where startups can jump right into the fray with established businesses and democratic discourse can flow freely without fear of retribution from powerful interests.

This is how the internet has generally worked. That is, at least until now.

Proponents for slashing the rules argue that they prevent innovation. In reality, with the regulations gone, ISPs will simply be more powerful, capable of capriciously billing certain companies more than others and stonewalling competitors that provide similar services to their own. ISPs will now be able to intentionally slow traffic to a particular website or block it altogether.

Ultimately, it will have the exact opposite effect that its proponents predict; it will lead to a less free market dominated by an increasingly small number of telecommunications conglomerates.

The move by the FCC was deeply unpopular, with 8 out of 10 voters disapproving of the rule change.

The vote ended up falling along party lines, with the Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai leading the campaign to destroy the regulations. Before occupying his current position, Pai worked as a top lawyer for Verizon.

Until recently, net neutrality enjoyed bipartisan support. In an editorial for the Houston Chronicle, the paper points out that net neutrality was part of the Texas GOP’s platform until 2014. Guess what companies co-sponsored the party’s 2014 convention that scrapped its support for net neutrality? Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

Everyone should be concerned about the long-term ramifications of eliminating net neutrality, including nonprofits. For one, nonprofits dedicated to the social good should oppose efforts to destroy the democratic nature of the open internet, which has created unprecedented access to knowledge, skills, and economic opportunity. By turning the internet into a tool for ISPs to pursue their self-serving agenda, the FCC attacked the core qualities of the internet that have spurred incredible innovation through broad accessibility and connected underserved communities around the world to a wealth of information.

Additionally, nonprofits should be concerned about what the elimination of net neutrality means for their own digital infrastructure. When ISPs roll out a tiered internet highway system, will nonprofits have the resources to pay the toll for the highest level, or will they lag behind better endowed private enterprises? Perhaps some organizations will enjoy special treatment from the ever-profitable telecommunications companies – unilaterally dictating the flow of information like never before – though this is far from a guarantee.

No matter who your organization serves or what your mission is, this ruling affects you. It will limit online fundraising efforts and outreach to students and teachers. Your message will face new hurdles reaching those in need or who may have an interest in your services. Expect budget-breaking prices for internet services that may not even provide you with what your organization needs.

Get creative with how you connect with your audiences. The price of an email could rise above that of a stamp. What would that mean for your communications calendar?

Most importantly, advocate for net neutrality. Call your state’s attorney general office and help them understand the devastating impact this ruling has on your organization and the constituents you serve. Internally, have the tough conversations with organizational leadership now and plan for the best- and worse-case scenarios. Chart a path that will ensure that your organization’s mission is not comprised no what lies ahead.

Millennials, Labor Unions, and Nonprofits

It’s no secret: millennials are earning less than their parents.

Some analyses put the decline in earnings around 20 percent. This is particularly debilitating for a generation that also possesses more student debt than its predecessors.

The reasons for the millennial wage slump are complicated. Older US citizens are working beyond retirement. Automation and cheap labor markets overseas have contributed to a (likely permanent) decline in US manufacturing. Highly profitable tech companies often make it big with small staffs.

There is also, of course, the “precariat”: the rise of non-salaried workers. This informal gig economy – embodied by the likes of Uber and Lyft – makes use of irregular employees to generate big profits. These explosive profits are incredibly stratified, with contractors at the bottom receiving no benefits and unpredictable compensation while those on top reap immense rewards.

While some pundits may contend that the gig economy is not meant to provide long-term employment, but rather serve as a stop-gap measure, the fact remains that economic opportunity is more diminished than any other point in modern history. People are landing in the gig economy and getting stuck in it.

This situation may be one of the reasons behind the surge in popularity of unions.

As of August, 61 percent of US citizens support labor unions, the highest rate in nearly 15 years.  Millennials no doubt play a huge role in this trend. Bernie Sanders, the most popular 2016  presidential candidate among millennials, was staunchly pro-union, and nearly 50 percent of Republican millennials support unions. That is an astonishing development showing a bipartisan trend in favor of labor organizing.

Unions are trying to take advantage of the change in public opinion, introducing social activism into their activities in order to attract millennials who value social justice. This was on display in January, 2017 when the New York Taxi Workers Alliance helped blockade access to JFK International Airport in response to Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslims.

While companies in the sharing economy should take heed, so too should another part of the economy that has a fraught track record with unions: the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits have struggled with unions and labor laws in recent years. Recall that large nonprofits such as U.S. PIRG opposed Obama’s overtime measure that would have guaranteed fair compensation for workers putting in more than 40 hours a week (note: a federal judge eventually blocked the rule, and the Department of Justice under Trump has since dropped the measure).

While U.S. PIRG was among many nonprofits that opposed the rule change, the organization has a particularly unfortunate history of anti-labor practices. For instance, a canvassing office in Los Angeles linked to the organization was abruptly shuttered and its employees let go after its staff decided to unionize. In 2012, yet another U.S. PIRG-affiliated office located in Portland fired employees who tried to organize with Communications Workers of America, resulting in a lawsuit that appeared before National Labor Relations Board.

Nonprofits are mission-based, the reasoning goes, so their employees should be mission-driven as opposed to profit-driven. Even if this approach lowers overhead and frees up resources for programmatic activities, does it truly fulfill a nonprofit’s general commitment to promoting social welfare?

In the next two posts on Nonprofit Pro Media, we will take a look at the intersection of millennials, nonprofits, and labor unions. Check in next week for a breakdown on labor abuses in the nonprofit sector.

Authenticity is the Key to Effective Nonprofit Branding

Image courtesy of Edgethreesixty Branding

An organization should ask itself everyday: does our brand reflect our identity? If the answer is anything but a solid “yes” it is time to institute change – fast.

Knowing who you are is the bedrock of effective communication. Everyday dispatches – including visual materials, internal and external communications, solicitations, call-to-actions, invitations, and annual reports – must project your organization’s brand and channel the key components of its identity succinctly.

Here are some informal case studies that demonstrate a variety of branding weaknesses.

The Philadelphia Orchestra demonstrates value by leveraging the name of its all-star music director. Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s name has become a stamp of approval on the orchestra’s communications materials, signaling a central role in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s public identity.

This is an interesting take on branding, albeit a somewhat short-sighted one. While the institution’s mark will stay the same, the music director will change over the years, thereby leaving the impression that the orchestra is most powerful and impactful with a “name” associated with it.

Another case study: the Please Touch Museum.

The institution’s trademarked name fails to convey its identity clearly. Originally located in Center City Philadelphia, the museum is now situated in Fairmont Park in a renovated historic building. Please Touch Museum’s current tagline which focuses on this geography, leaving its purpose in the dark. Using hyper-local terms alienates out-of-town tourists, decreasing the likelihood of them exploring this gem of a museum.

If the organization’s leadership wishes to reach a broader audience of families and donors in the greater Philadelphia area and establish the museum on national and international levels, it should consider revisiting its branding to underscore the experience visitors can expect. “Please Touch Museum® where kids learn through play,” is one fitting example.

Let’s look at one last case: The Salvation Army. The international humanitarian organization’s motto is “Doing the Most Good,” and the group maintains a commitment to “meet human need without discrimination.” There have been – however, a number of controversies over the past 15 years, including firsthand accounts of LGBQT individuals facing discrimination when seeking services from The Salvation Army. By directly contradicting its stated mission and ethical practices, this discrimination obviously does not mesh well with its public image. Critics of the organization have used the evident irony behind this brand to underscore the organization’s perceived hypocrisy.

Since accusations of anti-LGBTQ discrimination emerged, the organization has taken strides to improve its treatment of gay and lesbian individuals. Transgender people, however, are still frequently discriminated against and experience difficulty obtaining temporary housing through The Salvation Army. As long as the organization does not live up to its brand, critics will still be able to use it against the group, diminishing its effectiveness and preventing it from pursing its mission.
The most important component that could improve these brands: authenticity. Authentic branding and a clear understanding of organizational identity are key to developing a strong base of followers, donors, and patrons.

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