News and analysis
July 22, 2012

Most Big Companies Expect Flat Giving, Despite 2011 Gains

Todd Rosenberg

Kraft, the food company, has a garden at its headquarters tended by employee volunteers. The produce is given to local charities.

Charitable giving by America’s biggest businesses rose slowly last year and shows little sign of gaining in 2012, according to a Chronicle study of 166 large companies.

(See an interactive table that pinpoints how much each company gave in cash and products and the causes they supported.)

Donations grew by 4 percent in 2011, according to the 115 companies that provided two years’ worth of data. That’s far less than the 13-percent rise from 2009 to 2010, when companies saw a sharp rebound in profits after the recession.

More than 7 in 10 corporate leaders anticipate their philanthropy budgets will be roughly the same this year amid continued worries about the economy. About 27 percent say they will give more and 2 percent will donate less.

Among other findings:

• Thirteen companies donated more than $100-million in cash, compared with 11 in 2010. Wal-Mart gave the most cash ($342.4-million), followed by Goldman Sachs ($337.1-million).

• Five companies increased their giving by more than 50 percent. Starbucks grew the most, with a nearly 197-percent rise, followed by CSX, which increased its giving by nearly 70 percent.

• Donations of products are growing at a faster rate than cash. Overall corporate giving, when both cash and products are counted, rose by nearly 15 percent in 2011. Pfizer donated the most ($3.1-billion) when counting both cash and products, followed by Oracle ($2.3-billion)

• Alcoa gave the biggest share of its profits in cash to charity (6.2 percent), followed by Merck & Company (4.2 percent). But most companies donated far less: The median was 1 percent.

• Four companies in the survey lost money in 2010 but still contributed to charity in 2011: Bank of America, Caesars Entertainment, First Data Corporation, and Office Depot.

Solving Social Problems

While a handful of companies started new philanthropy projects this year, many are winnowing the causes they support in favor of bigger, higher-profile gifts to fewer organizations.

That’s in part because of a long-term trend of companies zeroing in on social issues that threaten their bottom lines, like people’s ill health, high transportation costs, or diminishing fresh water. They are also focusing on causes that help them tap into new markets, appeal to their customers, and use their employees’ skills.

UnitedHealth Group, for example, continues to pare its arts giving in favor of efforts to improve Americans’ health. Over the past three years, it has given nearly $2-million to help the American Heart Association establish safe and accessible walking paths around the country. Last year, it gave a total of $59.5-million, 11 percent more than in 2010.

Employees’ Skills

Companies are also using their giving to strengthen Americans’ job skills, in part to create a pipeline of future employees.

For example, CSX Corporation, the railroad company, increased its giving this year to Future Farmers of America, one of a few key national groups it supports. The nonprofit won $1-million.

Tori Kaplan, assistant vice president for corporate social responsibility, says many of CSX’s employees are on the cusp of retirement, while the young people who participate with Future Farmers tend to have the skills and interests the company seeks in its workers.

“We’re hoping to foster relationships with FFA where the students would look at transportation and its connection to agriculture as a viable career,” she says.

As money remains tight, companies also seek to do more with volunteering programs and find creative ways to encourage employees to get involved.

Corporations continue to pursue new ways to encourage volunteering: General Mills workers around the world spend a week volunteering on office teams, while UnitedHealth started a “micro-volunteering” site to let its employees perform quick tasks for charities, like sprucing up their Web sites or crafting press releases. Kraft planted a garden at its corporate headquarters; during harvest season, employees pick fruits and vegetables destined for local soup kitchens.

Google’s Giving

While many corporate grant makers are focused on advancing their business’s goals, some companies also want their giving to propel social change.

Google, which contributed $115-million in cash last year, is one big business that tries to do both. Though most of its grants focus on math and science education, it reserves a share of its budget for a “human need” that doesn’t fit so neatly into business goals.

Last year, the focus was human trafficking and slavery; Google gave $11.5-million to groups working on that issue in the United States and around the world.

One of the resulting projects was Slavery Footprint, a Web site that allows users to investigate how many forced laborers helped produce their computers, T-shirts, coffee, and other goods.

Jacquelline Fuller, director of charitable giving at, says she is “particularly proud” of that portion of the company’s philanthropic portfolio. She says, “The primary driver here is to make the world a better place.”

Chronicle subscribers can read the full 2012 corporate-giving survey report. Premium Link

Maria Di Mento, Raymund Flandez, Marisa López-Rivera, reported this article, which was written by Caroline Preston. Also contributing to The Chronicle’s corporate-giving report were Noelle Barton, Peter Bolton, Emily Gipple, and Cody Switzer.