Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Maria Di Mento

America’s big companies are slowly increasing the amount they give to charity since making big cuts in their philanthropy during the recession, but they are still donating far less than they did before the hard times began in 2007, according to preliminary results of a new study that were released today.

The downturn has also reinforced a trend that has swept corporate philanthropy in the past decade, as more and more companies have decided to focus their giving to one or two causes rather than supporting a broad range of groups. Just 4 percent of the 144 companies in the study said they support a wide array of causes.

The study, by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy and the Conference Board, found that the median amount donated by companies rose slightly less than 1 percent last year, to $24.4-million. While that was just a modest rise, it is still a 7.4-percent gain from 2009, when many companies sliced their donations because of hard times.

Nonetheless, companies have a lot more to do if they want to return to the levels of giving they achieved before the recession. Last year’s figures are nearly 7 percent lower than in 2007.

The biggest gains came at health-care businesses and at companies that produce food and fuel. Such companies increased their giving by 25 percent last year.

Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, said it was striking how many more companies were focusing their giving on one or two causes rather than spreading their money on disparate causes.

Education appears to be the main beneficiary of this trend, along with health and social services. Four out of five of the companies said they gave at least 20 percent of their contributions to such causes last year.

Companies also continue to support programs that are closely related to their businesses. For example, the study shows that financial firms give to community and economic development; health-care companies give primarily to health and social-science programs; and information-technology businesses concentrate on elementary and secondary education.

The companies in the survey gave a total of $15.7-billion in cash and product donations to charity in 2011. About 85 percent of the businesses are based in the United States.

Full results from the survey will be available in the fall.