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Big companies donate a smaller percentage of their income than regular people

While businesses laud themselves for giving 1% of their pretax profits to charity, most people who give individually give at least double that.

Big companies donate a smaller percentage of their income than regular people
[Source Image: Ludmila_m/iStock]

Many of the U.S.’s most successful companies give less of what they take home annually to charity than their customers typically do.

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That’s based on findings from a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of the 300 largest companies on the Fortune 500 list. Out of 300 businesses surveyed, 63 volunteered data about their corporate giving habits over the last two years. All told, the companies that responded typically give about 1% of their pretax profit to charity. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but most Americans who give, typically give between 2% and 3% of their income to nonprofits, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

[Source Image: Ludmila_m/iStock]
While there isn’t a direct correlation between people’s own behavior and their expectations for companies, it’s pretty obvious that most shoppers seek out goods and services from places they believe reflect their values. As the Chronicle reports, Curt Weeden, the head of a Georgetown University program that works to boost corporate support for nonprofits, thinks companies should be willing to at least match the 2% trend among the general public.

Such an incremental change could make a big difference. Charitable giving in the U.S. reached $410 billion last year, primarily on the strength of individuals donating more. Still, corporations accounted for about 5% of that based on Giving USA’s analysis. It’s a sign that companies can obviously do more, and that their gifts have a huge impact in the overall pool of contributions.

[Source Image: Ludmila_m/iStock]
The key is to plan ahead so that money is “strategically planned and administered,” Weeden tells the Chronicle. Among companies surveyed, giving back to the community ranked as the top priority, followed by primary and secondary education. After that, the most common cause work areas included higher education, the arts, and the environment, respectively.

The survey measured just cash gifts, not things like employee volunteering. But in terms of total dollars, the top five leaders for respondents included Gilead Sciences ($338 million), Wells Fargo ($287 million), Goldman Sachs ($280 million), Google ($255 million), and JP Morgan Chase ($250 million).

The scoreboard breaks out a bit differently in terms of giving percentage: That would be Gilead at 2.9%, then Goldman Sachs (2.5%), and Pfizer (1.7%). Either way, there’s plenty of research that shows everyone wants to see more progress: Despite their own behavior, people generally think others should be giving at least twice the amount that they typically already do. Companies might want to pay attention to that. After all, they are supposedly trying to set trends, not chase them.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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