FirstEver Survey Looks At Corporate Giving

June 4, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Tis the season to be giving. At least that’s what the “Give A Little Bit” Gap TV ads have tried to remind us of for the past six weeks. But for corporate Kent County, it seems that the reminders aren’t really necessary and their giving season certainly isn’t limited to the last two months of the year.

According to the first comprehensive survey of philanthropic giving in the county, local companies donated about $7 million in cash gifts last year and another $2.7 million in non-cash gifts to a vast array of charities and nonprofit organizations.

“It was quite promising and it feels like the corporations that do follow through on charitable giving really do it with compassion and with some real deliberate approaches — meaning they are making some thoughtful decisions,” said Diana Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF).

The telephone survey was done in November by Wirthlin Worldwide for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University and GRCF. One hundred of the largest local corporations were identified as potential participants in the survey, but only 36 of those companies actually took part in the study.

Sieger felt that one reason why more firms didn’t participate was they may have been concerned that they would be identified in the report, instead of just being included in the aggregate. Another reason, she said, may have been that they were too busy to participate.

Still, learning that just 36 companies gave $7 million in cash gifts last year was a very significant finding for Sieger. What also impressed her was that half of the firms surveyed reported having a program that matches contributions by employees.

“They are also trying to encourage their own employees to give back to the community. Setting up a matching gifts program takes some time and effort,” she said.

Other key findings were:

**94 percent of the reporting companies donated money, while 64 percent donated goods or services.

**Cash contributions topped $500,000 for 17 percent of the companies, while half gave up to $100,000.

**More than 80 percent gave to community improvement and educational causes, followed by youth services (78 percent), health organizations (75 percent), human services (72 percent), and arts and cultural groups (67 percent).

**Three-quarters reported supporting the United Way.

**The highest average proportion of gifts went to education, health and faith-based organizations.

So why did corporate executives give? Because they felt a social responsibility to do so, saying it was their duty to “give back to the community.” A firm’s top managers and key customers were reported as having the most influence in getting a company to give. One of the least successful methods to generate a corporate gift is to hold a recognition event, such as an appreciation banquet.

Half of the companies reported that they have specific guidelines for charitable giving requests, while nearly 90 percent said they preferred to receive requests by e-mail rather than in-person or over the phone. Nearly a third of the firms said the number of solicitations they received qualified as a “burden.” The companies also reported that they responded to about a quarter of all requests received last year.

Another finding that pleased Sieger was the forecast the firms gave for giving next year, especially under the current economic conditions. Fifty-eight percent said they would give the same amount; 14 percent said they would give more; while only 20 percent reported that they would likely give less.

“I actually thought they would have been far more cautious. What this tells me is that perhaps there is some sense of optimism within these companies that profits will continue to be made and good decisions can be made back into the community,” she said.

“I was not disheartened by that finding at all.”

The Council of Michigan Foundations reported that Kent County has 200 foundations with assets of $10,000 or more. In 1999, CMF said the combined assets totaled $1.34 billion, while contributions topped $96 million for a 7 percent payout rate.

The firms that took part in the survey had an average of 735 employees in Kent County. Forty-four percent were manufacturers, while 17 percent were classified as being in finance and insurance. Thirty-eight percent of the companies reported giving both cash and non-cash gifts last year, and three-quarters of the cash contributions remained in the county.

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