Introducing the Neutrality Paradox Series: How philanthropists and intermediaries confront and resolve dilemmas


Alison Carlman


No matter where you get your news these days, social media itself seems to be the story. Platforms are under fire for allowing hate speech, fake news, and even active terrorist organising to thrive, all while claiming they are ‘not media companies’, disavowing responsibility for the content itself. 

Philanthropy platforms like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and GlobalGiving may not be making the same headlines, but they still face similar challenges in deciding who and what should be allowed to participate in online communities. Even for crowdfunding sites that conduct vetting and due diligence, as GlobalGiving does, there are still many ethical and moral dilemmas that arise, forcing executives to make decisions that don’t seem satisfying to all their stakeholders. 

This is the problem we’ve been calling the Neutrality Paradox: despite attempts to be open, inclusive, and neutral, platforms and intermediaries must take opinionated stands when they face a dilemma. We began holding informal conversations with peers about this in early 2019. Through a lot of candid discussions, we found our peers, including Charity Navigator, Candid (formerly GuideStar and Foundation Center),, and many other philanthropic marketplaces are also feeling the pain. Increasingly, we’ve all recognised these conflicts threaten our integrity.

…despite attempts to be open, inclusive, and neutral, platforms and intermediaries must take opinionated stands when they face a dilemma.

Over the past year we’ve worked with more than 100 peers and stakeholders, through research, convenings, and a design sprint.  We conducted 19 interviews with people from 16 organisations, including our own, to collect 41 examples of dilemmas. (See the table below for examples and categories.)

We found most dilemma decisions (80 per cent) were not governed by explicit, pre-existing policies. Furthermore, a majority (61 per cent) of decision-makers did not feel prepared to address dilemmas they described in the interviews. 

Table: Categories and Examples of Platform Dilemmas

This upcoming series on the Alliance magazine blog will give you a peek into the ways GlobalGiving and our peers are experiencing and addressing the Neutrality Paradox.  You’ll hear from leaders like Rhodri Davies at Charities Aid Foundation in the UK, who will provide context about why this question of neutrality matters even beyond our sector. You’ll hear from Leah Wandera, who leads Hope Foundation for African Women, whose perspective as a nonprofit leader is to advocate for platform neutrality, or at least its near cousin, openness.

These are two among the many other stakeholders in this neutrality paradox question who will offer their perspectives and propose solutions. As we wrap up toward the end of 2020, we’ll share what we’re learning and co-creating on this journey, with the goal of offering tools and a solution for leaders of all types of organisations facing difficult dilemmas.

Read the Neutrality Paradox series.

Alison Carlman is Director of Evidence + Learning at GlobalGiving.

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