News and analysis
July 24, 2011

How The Chronicle Compiled Its Survey of Corporate Giving

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s survey on charitable giving by America’s largest companies gathers data from companies that appear at the top of Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 companies with the most revenue.

For the second year in a row, USA Today collaborated with The Chronicle to gather data for this report.

The Chronicle sent questions to the 300 highest-ranking businesses on Fortune’s list, asking for figures for 2009, 2010, and 2011. The Chronicle’s analysis includes data for 180 companies, with 117 submitting their most recent information.

Chronicle researchers also gathered figures from the informational tax forms that company foundations are required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. The figures on this form do not necessarily reflect all of a corporation’s charitable giving, since they do not include any giving made directly from company accounts or by individual departments outside of a company’s foundation.

Of the 300 businesses surveyed, 183 declined to respond. The Chronicle has included figures reported on tax forms for 63 of those corporations.

Several of the groups that declined to participate cited a lack of staff time, while others said it was their company’s policy not to disclose any information that is not already public.

What the Figures Show

The Chronicle collected data that show the value of cash and product donations, both in the United States and in other countries. Cash totals include grants awarded by company foundations and cash donated directly by the corporation to charities in the United States.

Totals that include product donations are based on the products’ fair market value. Amounts transferred to company foundations and the value of paid time off for employees who volunteer are not counted.

Because some figures are based only on the informational tax returns and could have left out other giving, comparisons of donations among companies in the survey may be difficult.

Changes in accounting methods, mergers, and other factors can render year-to-year comparisons even about an individual business’s giving difficult. For instance, Halliburton and Whole Foods provided their giving figures for 2010 but not updated numbers for 2009. Previous reports by The Chronicle included data from those companies’ foundations only. Those totals are not comparable to the figures provided this year.

Corporations usually report the giving totals for their parent company and affiliates, Southern Company, however, did not include information for its affiliates or their foundations.

Three companies in The Chronicle’s report have formed charities that can accept and solicit donations: Avon Products, Home Depot, and RiteAid. Avon and Rite Aid said that as a result, they could not answer The Chronicle survey, but the Home Depot Foundation provided the amount that the company gives directly to its charity.

The Chronicle’s survey of corporate giving was compiled by Marisa López-Rivera, with assistance from Peter Bolton and Caitlin Harrison. Christie Garton, a reporter at USA Today, also provided reporting assistance.