The blogosphere is buzzing  about a changing of the guards at Google's philanthropic arm. Larry Brilliant is stepping down from Google.org to become chief philanthropic evangelist at Google.com; Megan Smith, the company's VP of new business development, will add Google.org to her portfolio.
The shift has been portrayed as a technocratic and highly hubristic one: Google has discovered that its most valuable contributions to saving the planet come not from the cash it gives nonprofits but from the brains of its own engineers, like PowerMeter , which I wrote about last week , and FluTrends , which tracks epidemics. Brilliant writes on the official Google.org blog :
"By aligning Google.org more closely with Google as a whole, Megan will ensure that we're better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions. As a first step, Google has decided to put even more engineers and technical talent to work on these issues and problems, resources which I have found to be extraordinary."
I wonder if this closer alignment between business aims and philanthropic ones couldn't also be seen as an anti-recessionary measure. Profits fell for the first time last quarter  and the Goog has gone through quiet cutbacks in perks  and personnel .
Brilliant emphasizes that Google retains its commitment to invest 1% of equity and profits to make the world a better place, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily giving billions away. On the contrary, of the $100 million Google.org has given to support global health, clean energy and access to information, almost half has gone into for-profit investments.
By putting the wildly popular Brilliant out on the road more as a brand evangelist, adding to Smith's job description, and tapping more Googlers' 20% time for do-gooder projects, Google gets to shine its image and build its business at the same time for less cash. Good thinking!
UPDATE: I goofed. Google has granted and invested a total of $100 million, not earned $100 million as the post previously stated. This projects page details Google's investments and grants to date.