For a long time, corporations tended to avoid controversy when they could, seeing it as bad for business. When they engaged in philanthropy it was with causes that everyone could get behind, or at least which didn’t alienate many people.
But we’re seeing a shift in recent years, well illustrated by Tumblr joining forces with Planned Parenthood.
While corporate advocacy has been going on for a while, tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have the ability to reach millions across the country and around the world. And tech companies are not only becoming vocal in their opinions, they’re engaging in actions like petitioning the government, filing amicus briefs in court cases, and other boots-on-the-ground activism.
“The third rail is changing,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Dawn Laguens told VentureBeat. “The third rail used to be companies should not get involved—they’re a blank canvas and should just do their business. Tech companies have changed companies. They have become personalities. They’re an expression of their users.”
Tumblr staff actually spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to vocally support Planned Parenthood, but they eventually settled on a rule of thumb: If the company could contribute anything to the fight and if it could have an impact, then they would act.
“We’re still thinking through a lot of this,” said Tumblr Social Impact and Public Policy Lead Victoria McCullough. “What we’re seeing now and why we feel so compelled to act with swiftness and again be a little more definitive on certain issues, we do feel like [the president’s Executive Orders] are impacting a group that does not have a voice and does not have the political space to advocate for themselves.”
Tumblr has long used its voice for raising awareness of issues like wage equality and education, but this year the company is not just supporting Planned Parenthood, they’re going to advocate on four other issues as well: LGBTQ equality, mental health, racial justice, and freedom of expression related to media protection and net neutrality.
Tumblr’s move will hopefully benefit Planned Parenthood, and maybe inspire other companies to take similar steps. “I think they are going to unleash a flood of other organizations and corporations that say that this is what the new moment demands of us,” said Laguens.
But even if Tumblr’s actions don’t inspire other companies to take action, at the very least, it is reaching its audience and rallying them to support a cause that they as a company believe in.