By Jake Seaton, CEO · October 08, 2020
Column's public benefit status is our binding commitment to do right by our stakeholders. This commitment was unanimously approved by the company's shareholders and signed by every member of our board of directors. It will endure a change in leadership, ownership and control, and even a public offering.
Column is now a public benefit corporation and is in the process of becoming a certified B-Corp.
What does this mean for the future of our company?
What is a Public Benefit Corporation?
A public benefit corporation (PBC) is a type of corporate entity whose charter purpose includes one or more specific "public benefits," in addition to the traditional for-profit goal of maximizing shareholder value. PBC status holds the company legally accountable to its mission and offers a guiding framework through which the company can navigate critical business decisions.
Public benefit corporations have a fiduciary duty distinct from typical for-profit companies. At other kinds of corporations, the board of directors must prioritize maximizing shareholder value. In contrast, the directors and officers of a PBC must also take into account the best interests of stakeholders — those "materially affected by the company’s conduct, and the specific public benefit outlined in the company’s charter."
To become a PBC, Column filed an amendment with the Delaware Secretary of State's office, adding our public benefit declaration to our corporate charter and changing our name from "E-NOTICE, INC." to "COLUMN, PBC." You can read more about the decision to change our name here.
What is Column's public benefit?
At Column, our specific public benefit purpose is "to build technology that improves the utility of public interest information and supports the distribution of that information by journalists that serve their communities."
Column's first product aims to provide a modern, collaborative workflow for public notice. In America, public notice dates back to 1789 and guarantees that important public interest information is distributed in the public square by journalists.
At Column, we acknowledge that improving public notice presents a complex economic and public policy challenge with a wide variety of stakeholders. Chief among those stakeholders are the local journalists who do the hard work to create government transparency, and who often depend on public notice as a mission-critical source of revenue.
At first glance, one might assume that the long-term goal of a software tool for public notice must be to eliminate publication requirements. We intend precisely the opposite. Rather, we believe that innovation in public notice is necessary to illuminate the value of those requirements and fortify a healthy public notice system. We are building collaborative software that enhances the existing working relationships between media and government.
Column's public benefit status is our binding commitment to do right by our stakeholders. This commitment was unanimously approved the company's shareholders and signed by every member of its Board of Directors. It will endure a change in leadership, ownership and control, and even a public offering.
"Everyone who cares about media — and about democracy itself — recognizes how vital it is to save local news. The Column team doesn’t just have a passion for that mission; we actually have a strategy." - Nancy Gibbs
To hold the company accountable to our mission, we were honored to appoint Nancy Gibbs to our board as an Independent Director. Nancy was formerly the editor-in-chief of TIME, and she currently serves as the Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
To triple down on our commitment to that mission, Column is in the process of becoming a certified "B-Corp."
What is a B-Corp?
B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
In addition to supporting the news business, our charter purpose is written to capture a subtle yet massive ambition: to build technology that increases the utility of public interest information, beginning with public notice.
Coordinated by the international non-profit B-Lab, the B-Corp certification process involves a comprehensive impact assessment that measures our company's impact on its stakeholders, workers, customers, community and environment. As B-Lab describes, "The combination of third-party validation, public transparency and legal accountability help Certified B Corps build trust and value."
Column's score on the B-Impact Assessment qualifies the company to become a certified B-Corp. We have submitted our application and are looking forward to receiving our certificate from the B-Lab.
Importantly, we don't believe that becoming a B-Corp will materially change the way we operate. Our certification will simply solidify an accurate understanding of the company we were already building and the decisions we have already made.
Column has always been focused on supporting journalism, solving hard problems and creating long-term value through sustainable innovation. At every step, we have asked ourselves whether our actions are in the best interest of our stakeholders. The public benefit designation captures that spirit, while ensuring that our mission guides us for the long term.
© 2020 Column, PBC. All rights reserved.