Is there a misunderstanding out there surrounding the difference between “non-profit” vs. “profit” corporations?
It seems there might be. This relates to some interesting PR sliding around about how a collection of non-profit organizations is largely responsible for some negative publicity and public perception surrounding salmon farming in BC. Comments have been left on this site suggesting as much, and various other comments made in other places.
I came across this article written by Ms. Walling the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association from 2009:
Unaccountable Advocacy: Advocacy groups claim to have the public’s interest at heart, but how do we know which of these self-styled experts are credible?
Wild salmon in British Columbia are facing extinction. Electromagnetic radiation from high voltage power lines is causing childhood cancer. Vaccines cause autism in children.
What are we to make of these statements?
All are taken from news stories; all were made by so-called experts from advocacy groups working on behalf of the public good; all are sensational and emotional.
Ummm… yeah, wild salmon for example are a rather important critter in the psyche of British Columbia — and actually all around the Pacific Rim, so no kidding there might be some sensational and emotional comments.
Extinction of wild salmon runs?
Well… it’s already here. There are numerous wild salmon runs in BC that have disappeared; never to be seen again; extinct.
Does this cause a rise of emotions and sensations? You bet it does.
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The article continues:
…And while the use of an emotional argument to pique the public’s attention in important issues need not be a problem, it does raise questions.
Are advocacy groups manipulating the media? Are journalists probing the claims of activist groups with the same scrutiny as is applied to business and industry? If not, should they be?
And, so, what are major corporations doing in mass PR campaigns that involve the media?
This news forecast is brought to you by So-and-so chunky soup, or so-and-so apparel… Oh, and while you’re watching this newscast we will blitz you with these various segments of commercials… (e.g. “do you believe everything you hear…?)
And really… is it up to journalists to do the scrutiny? Sure, to a certain degree; however, most mass media are simply for-profit corporations with shareholders to answer to as well.
The job of scrutiny and critical thinking lies with the consumer of the information, or the consumer of a product.
Nobody has a gun to their head saying they have to buy the Volvo over the Subaru because journalist “x” reports, or some magazine for consumers reports that Volvo’s are safer.
It’s free choice and critical thinking (or not)
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Non-governmental organizations today are a powerful force. They have credibility that businesses lack.
Gee… I wonder why? How do you spell Enron again?
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And it’s become big business. There are more than 3,000 so-called nonprofit environmental groups in the U.S. today, most of which take in over $1 million annually… In one recent year, Greenpeace International took in $35 million, the National Audubon Society $79 million, the National Wildlife Federation $102 million, the Sierra Club $74 million, the Nature Conservancy $972 million, and the World Wildlife Fund $118 million.
Oh no, somebody call the donation police…
And what did the Red Cross, the United Way, and the local food bank take in?
In addition, each of these groups holds assets ranging from $16.3 million to $2.9 billion. Perazzo concludes that “no trade association on earth possesses the financial resources and political influence of the environmental lobby.”
Ummm… how about trade associations that represent U.S. Banks? Or, how about the World Bank?
Or, what sort of donations, influence, and financial resources does the National Rifle Association possess in the U.S.?
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Many advocacy groups are perceptive manipulators of public opinion. They view the media as a conduit for information and often approach news outlets with stories of conflict and controversy, and which appear to be backed by research or expert opinion. Journalists – driven by deadlines, editorial pressure, and the push to entertain rather than inform – sometimes run with the story without applying the same scrutiny to the claims of advocacy groups that they would apply to business, industry, or government.
And what is the current ‘bcsalmonfacts’ campaign, but little more than attempting to manipulate public opinion?
And what is the BC Salmon Farmers Association again? Oh right, an advocacy group… and one of those apparent evil non-governmental ones at that?
Advocacy groups go out with stories of conflict and controversy… maybe… but does the media do a better job of that on its own? Most certainly.
Same scrutiny as business, industry and government?… yeah, maybe not, however, advocacy groups aren’t spending tax dollars or earning social license to utilize public resources with the simple sake of earning profit for shareholders.
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Online resource explaining some differences:
Non-profit corporations are formed pursuant to federal or provincial law. A non-profit corporation can be a church or church association, school, charity, medical provider, activity clubs, volunteer services organization, professional association, research institute, museum, or in some cases a sports association.
Non-profit corporations must apply for charitable status to benefit from tax-exempt status and to issue tax deductible receipts to donors. Non-profit corporations are distinct from business corporations which are formed to make a profit and to distribute the profit to its shareholders.
Business corporations are regulated by either federal or provincial laws.
That is why there are rules around securities and publicly-traded companies; that is why insider trading is bad; that is why ridiculous multi-million dollar lawsuits are launched around simple claims such as: “Canada’s most reliable wireless network”. The stating of which costs millions in law suits between Canada’s big telco companies Rogers, Telus and Bell.
If a business corporation operates by federal and provincial laws, then it can’t go off making false claims and engaging in false advertising. Or…well… it can, until it gets called on it and sued — or otherwise.
Non-profit, non-governmental, advocacy groups are part of doing business in democracies. Nike deals with it. BP deals with it. Exxon deals with it.
They probably even work in the cost of doing so; probably even form their own non-governmental special interest groups to engage in advocacy of their own.
Look at the history of cigarette manufacturers, they had — and most likely still do — have little side PR organizations.
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The job of holding any organization accountable doesn’t lie with journalists — it lies with individuals.
Passionate about something? Go learn more about it and form your own opinion.
Just as the Wikipedia definition suggests:
[Advocacy] may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an asset of interest.
Some is good, some is not. User beware.