A .org Does not a Non-Profit Make

| Bonnie Patten

alt, among other sites, has turned me into what some might call a charity slacktivist.  Over the past year or so, from the comfort of my own couch, I’ve signed dozens of petitions simply by clicking a button.  But for all the feel-good moments brought on by my supporting someone else’s cause, there is a darker side to  Because it isn’t actually what it appears to be (“.org” usually implies a nonprofit organization), we felt it important to add the following entry to our glossary:  The online petition site,, is a for-profit, B Corporation: known as a benefit corporation, B Corps are for-profit corporations that must consider their impact not only on shareholders, but also on employees, the community, and the environment, and they must publicly document their performance in these areas using established standards. that makes money by running campaigns for organizations that are willing to pay for access to’s users’ Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number, which includes their name, e-mail address, and mailing address. According to its privacy policy, “[i]f you sign a petition … even if you uncheck the box ‘Display my signature publicly’, your Personal Information may be delivered to the intended recipient of such campaign and/or the creator of such campaign either electronically or in writing …”  It is estimated that will have revenues of $15 million in 2012.

In order to draft this glossary entry, I actually had to read’s privacy policy, which, by the way, took four pieces of chocolate to get through. The initial thing that struck me about the policy was its first privacy representation:  “The Company does not run any commercial ads …”  Hmmm. Let’s review what we know:

  • Partner organizations post “campaigns” on
  • then sends these “campaigns” to registered users that it thinks will be interested in the cause, or as puts it, “[w]e use cutting-edge technology to feature your organization in front of individuals most passionate about your cause ….”
  • The partner organizations then pay for the personal information of people that sign onto the “campaigns.”  As explains it, “[w]e guarantee 100% unique names and no overlap with your current list of supporters.  …  Our team of experts will partner with you to make sure we are recruiting the best supporters for your organizational goals – all fully included in the low per-supporter rate.”
  • Finally, in order to “recruit” even more “supporters,” gives you the option of sharing the “campaign” with your friends on Facebook, or you can share it with all your email contacts.

So, with the assistance of, an organization sends you a “campaign,” which you may sign onto. If you do, the organization then gets your personal information from so that the organization can send you more “campaigns,” and potentially get a donation from you. If the organization is lucky, it will also get the personal information of the people that you sent its “campaign” to.  While may call it a “campaign,” to me it appears to be a sophisticated pay-per-click advertisement.  Which brings us back to that initial privacy representation that doesn’t run commercial ads – I’m thinking that’s not really an accurate statement.

Bonnie Patten

Bonnie, executive director of, is an attorney and mother of three. Her commitment to educating the public about deceptive marketing stems from her belief that education is the only…

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