A Corporate Cornucopia

There's a reason why corporate philanthropy goes almost completely unstudied: The documentation is spotty at best. Companies aren't required to publicly report their philanthropic spending, and even if they do so voluntarily, there are few agreed-upon standards for valuing gifts, either cash or in-kind goods and services.

To create our ranking, we went straight to the companies. We surveyed all Standard & Poor's 500 stock-index companies and received responses from 233 companies, or nearly 47%. A total of 199 companies provided numbers for cash gifts, while 126 companies offered figures valuing their in-kind giving. Other companies chose to weigh in on our qualitative questions only. Using the numbers that we collected, we created ratios of giving to fiscal year 2002 company revenues as measured by the S&P 500. We used those percentages to calculate our rankings of the top 15 monetary and in-kind givers.

We reported the two rankings separately, in part because of the challenges of valuing in-kind gifts. We relied on the companies themselves for valuations -- and their standards undoubtedly varied widely. Some companies attached monetary values to their employee volunteer hours, while others didn't. Some lumped their corporate foundation's assets into their giving totals, while others kept a strict firewall.

There can also be wide discrepancies in the values companies assign to products they donate as part of their in-kind giving programs. Definitions of in-kind gifts ranged from material that would otherwise be thrown out to products such as drugs created specifically for communities in need. Still, some standards have emerged in recent years. Most software companies we spoke to, for example, said they now factored in the usual discount for sales to schools when valuing software donated to educational institutions.

Despite these challenges, we believe our ranking can offer insights into the field of corporate philanthropy. Throughout, we relied on the counsel and expertise of Charles Moore, executive director of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, as well as other experts in the field.

By Jessi Hempel in New York

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