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For-Profit Philanthropy


This Essay examines Google’s adoption of the novel and unorthodox for-profit philanthropy model. Google created a division of its for-profit company that is tasked with pursuing philanthropic activities. Specifically, this division is responsible for addressing the global issues of climate change, poverty, and emerging diseases. Of course, companies have long blended philanthropic and business objectives. They make contributions, commit to corporate social responsibility, or even form as 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 Essay investigates the for-profit philanthropy model, drawing out these distinctions as well as the reasons why Google chose to adopt it. These reasons reveal a fascinating mismatch between Google’s philanthropic vision and that of nonprofit law. Exploring this divergence exposes the fundamental policy choices underlying the legal structures for philanthropic activity, as well as the undertheorized boundary between nonprofits and for-profits.

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