Charitable Giving: How Companies Are Doing More With Less

Corporate charitable giving is down. But three trends are making it easier for individuals to get the most out of their employer when it comes to personal philanthropy.

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Charitable giving was a notable casualty during the Great Recession, and with the economy’s health still in question, getting folks — businesses as well as individuals — to pry open their wallets hasn’t got much easier.

Indeed, giving by America’s corporations decreased last year: The median level of corporate giving was $24.4 million in 2011, down from $24.6 million in 2010, according to the annual Corporate Giving Standard Survey by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. But that is above the recession lows of 2009, when median giving was $22.6 million.

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There have been some positive developments. Among them, the fact that 60% of companies have increased their giving, and 48% have done so by more than 10%.

It also appears that many companies are trying, because of their limited resources, to be more strategic with their charitable efforts. Three major trends have emerged along these lines:

  • Corporate giving is becoming more focused Companies are choosing to make larger gifts to fewer causes. Only 4% gave to a wide variety of charities last year; 31% gave at least half their charitable dollars to a single program area. This has long been a trend in personal giving, where individuals target a cause dear to them and hope to make a significant impact. Companies are making a bigger effort to align with the values of their employees.
  • Matching gifts are a high priority Companies with a workplace giving campaign rose to 59% from 53% two years ago and those with a “dollars for doers” program encouraging volunteerism rose to 63% from 53%. Matching gifts are a great way for employees to maximize the value of their personal giving. “Companies have been paying a lot of attention to crafting employee engagement programs that are meaningful and can be seen as an employee benefit,” says Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.
  • International giving is on the rise This is partly driven by overseas profits, which are difficult to bring home without incurring big tax liabilities. But overseas giving also rose as a result of company-sponsored volunteerism; where employees are given time off to take part in local causes around the world. This is another trend that individuals may find beneficial. Employers are increasingly willing to let workers engage in causes that are important to them anywhere in the world. “Millennials in particular are asking more from companies,” says Coady. “They want to give back and want those they associate with to do the same. Companies are embracing this mindset and establishing the strategies and programs to back it up.”
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