Complex dilemmas are inevitable for organizations that aim to be open and inclusive. But GlobalGiving CEO Alix Guerrier knew we needed an approach and mindset to help everyone make more confident decisions with integrity.
Three weeks into my role as GlobalGiving CEO, I was confronted by our first dilemma.
A journalist reached out to us asking why we were allowing a certain nonprofit to fundraise on our site. The journalist had written an exposé accusing this organization of violating human rights standards.
Our investigation team visited the organization and conducted many external interviews as part of our due diligence, but we lacked a framework for making a decision about whether this organization, which was in compliance with laws in its own country, should be allowed to continue to fundraise on our global platform.
It knocked me off balance. I felt unprepared. And, honestly, I panicked.
Finding a solution in this situation wasn’t the same as resolving disputes as a teacher or education sector entrepreneur—disputes between two students, working on charter renewals, or even the intense battles over curriculum and testing.
As a teacher and an individual, I had my own principles. I had my personal definitions of right and wrong and opinions about procedure.
But as CEO of one of the world’s largest fundraising platforms bringing together nonprofits, donors, and companies in virtually every country to advance community-led change, there was a bigger gray area between right and wrong.
The Neutrality Paradox
GlobalGiving was designed to be open. We say we want people representing any legitimate nonprofit in any place to be able to use our online platform to raise money. To be able to use our tools, training, and support to become better at what they do.
Everyone is welcome, we say. Until they’re not.
GlobalGiving—and other platforms and organizations like us—often face serious dilemmas about who’s on, who’s off, and who gets promoted.
And our decisions carry tremendous weight for the people we seek to serve.
From the get-go, there are groups GlobalGiving doesn’t support; we won’t work with any person who engages in terrorist activities, for example. And although every nonprofit in our community is vetted to ensure that its work is charitable and legal, we don’t want to support everything that meets these standards, carte blanche. That includes hate speech and discrimination—but who gets to decide what falls into those categories?
We’re not neutral, it turns out. We can’t be. And in our attempts to be open and inclusive, platforms like GlobalGiving necessarily take opinionated stands on a variety of issues.
We call this problem the Neutrality Paradox. The promise of the internet was to create open, democratic spaces online. But as an organization that powers an online platform, we have to take responsibility for how our platform and technology are used.
The Ethos approach
As I settled into my job, many complex dilemmas that pitted one’s approach against another’s standards crossed my desk. Enough that we knew we needed a more effective way to handle them. A way that took less time and made our team feel more confident in our decisions. These dilemmas weren’t going away.
We worked through the dilemmas at hand—with some successes and missteps—and then we committed to finding a better process. Two years of research and testing yielded a surprising conclusion: The approach needed to emphasize shared behaviors, not shared values.
At a global organization that works with thousands of partners like we do, people on different sides of a dilemma will rarely share the same set of values or be able to agree on beliefs.
But we can agree to the way we will treat each other when we solve complex dilemmas.
So GlobalGiving came up with five principles centered on shared behavior. This constellation of principles became Ethos—both an approach and mindset to help everyone make more confident decisions with integrity. The principles are simple:
1. Treat everyone with dignity.
2. Minimize harm.
3. Hold space for uncomfortable ideas.
4. Seek healing; don’t judge.
5. Be creative.
The Ethos principles won’t tell us exactly what to do in each situation, but Ethos helps us start and finish a rich conversation about a solution. It prioritizes dignity. It helps us align our priorities despite those differing principles, experiences, and worldviews. And on that foundation, we can build a solution to any dilemma.
No matter the platform or the problem, we need to be able to make progress with people who don’t always see eye to eye with us. Ethos gives us a way to do that.
Want to learn more about using Ethos to solve complex dilemmas with confidence and integrity?
Featured Photo: Sherpa Family Fund by American Himalayan Foundation