News and analysis
August 07, 2010

How the Chronicle’s Annual Survey of Giving By America’s Largest Corporations Was Compiled

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s survey of charitable giving is based on information collected about the American companies that earn the most according to the Fortune 500 rankings.

The Chronicle asked the largest 300 companies on the Fortune list to complete a questionnaire about their charitable giving in 2008, 2009, and 2010. In addition, Chronicle researchers gathered informational tax returns from companies with corporate foundations. Based on data from the questionnaire and tax returns, an analysis of giving by 162 companies was compiled.

In 2010, for the first time, the Chronicle collaborated with USA Today on this special report about corporate charitable giving.

Donations that businesses make through their company’s foundation must be publicly disclosed on the foundation’s annual Form 990-PF, an informational tax return that grant makers file with the Internal Revenue Service. That form does not include data about giving directly from company coffers or departments within companies separate from the corporate foundation, so companies do not necessarily disclose those figures.

Interpreting the Data

Information collected by The Chronicle includes data on cash and product donations by company headquarters and affiliates as well as company foundations. Companies were asked about their donations to charities in the United States and overseas.

The value of paid time off given to employees who volunteer, money that employees contribute to charity through United Way drives, and other fund-raising efforts are not counted as corporate donations in the Chronicle’s survey.

Comparing information among companies may be difficult because some figures may reflect giving only by the corporate foundation or may exclude corporate giving programs. Even comparing year-to-year information on the same business may be misleading because of mergers, accounting changes, or other reasons.

Information Disclosed

Of the 300 companies that were sent questionnaires, 197 declined to complete a Chronicle survey (56 of these are included in final results based on data from their foundations’ IRS Form 990-PF).

Some companies said disclosing such information is against company policy, while others cited a lack of resources or time to fill out the survey. Many companies simply did not respond to the request for information.

Among the companies that declined were Toys R Us, whose representative said the company did not want its information published, and Nordstrom, whose representative said the company considers the information proprietary.

While many companies have created their own foundations that they use to make grants, at least two of the companies on The Chronicle’s survey have created their own charities so they can solicit and accept money from a wide range of donors. Under federal law, foundations must have only a single main source of money, such as a company or wealthy family.

Rite Aid, the drugstore chain, says some of the companies that supply goods and services to the company donate to the Rite Aid Foundation.

Avon Products created the Avon Foundation for Women, which collects charitable donations connected with its annual breast-cancer events and walks. The company contributed $21-million to the foundation in 2009, which was a portion of the $66.5-million in total revenue the foundation raised that year. It distributed more than $35-million to charities in 2009.

More data from this project, plus a searchable database and a list of companies that did not participate in the survey, are available here.

The Chronicle’s survey of corporate giving was compiled by Noelle Barton, Emma L. Carew, and Alex Richards, with assistance from Grace Bacon, Jon Hood, Sheila V Kumar, and Lisa Marrs. In addition, Rachel Huggins, a news assistant atUSA Today, and several other reporters and researchers from USA Today helped compile data.