You can hardly buy a product today without seeing an appeal for aid for tsunami victims. Some chains are donating a percentage of a sale, others are acting simply as conduits for the American Red Cross and other groups by collecting and forwarding donations. Gel bracelets for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and rubber wristbands for other organizations have become as ubiquitous at the cash wrap as winter markdowns. Charitable endeavors are a feel-good way to win consumer approval and loyalty. But how do the retail and manufacturing industries stack up against other sectors? The Conference Board tallied up charitable gifts by industry. Companies involved in controversial projects or products often step up corporate giving as do those trying to clean up a tarnished image.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

    Total: $1.94 billion

    Since the Food and Drug Administration revealed that Pfizer’s Celebrex and Merck’s Vioxx might cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke, pharmaceutical companies have been on the defensive. The industry also has been criticized for sunny advertising that markets drugs directly to consumers. Pharmaceutical companies donated 1.85 percent of worldwide sales to charities last year.
    Total: $544.7 million

    The charitable foundation of Microsoft Inc. co-founder Bill Gates is the world’s largest, with an endowment of about $27 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. While Gates is recognized as one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, the industry as a whole contributed only 0.15 percent of 2003 sales to charity. Giant chip maker Intel Corp. provided Internet access and technology training to children and IBM developed an Intranet site allowing volunteers to access technologies for use in a variety of educational projects.
    Total: $423.6 million

    Health professionals (and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) have made cigarette smokers feel like social deviants. Dentists and nutritionists preach the ills of soda and fatty burgers and fries have been vilified by the food police. What’s a tobacco, soft drink company or burger chain to do? Donate 0.21 percent of global sales to charity.
    Total: $395.6 million

    Banks are duking it out for customers with services such as free checking and extended hours at a time when low interest rates make investing in real estate and the stock market more attractive. Banks made charitable contributions worth 0.24 percent of worldwide sales in 2003.

    Total: $314.2 million

    The Federal Communications Commission has become a lightning rod for controversy during the Bush administration. The FCC, under departing chairman Michael Powell, has cracked down on obscenity on TV and radio as the President continues to push for deregulation. Some cable television- and telephone service-related issues have yet to be resolved. The industry turned over 0.11 percent of global sales to charitable causes in 2003.
    Total: $288.5 million

    So much for the so-called biases of liberal media elite. Conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract from the Health and Human Services Department to promote the agency’s pro-marriage initiative and Armstrong Williams, the conservative columnist and radio-TV commentator, got $240,000 from the Education Department for helping to promote the No Child Left Behind program. Whatever its political orientation, the press always can use some good will, which is why the industry parted with 0.51 percent of global sales in 2003.
    Total: $245.2 million

    Target supports a variety of arts organizations, especially in areas where it opens new stores or wants to raise its profile. The company in 2003 prominently linked its credit card to a program that donated 1 percent of the cardholder’s spending to a school of the cardholder’s choice. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which had the most negative publicity of any American retailer in the last two years, hiked its 2003 gifts by 13 percent over 2002, to $176 million. Retail and wholesale firms combined gave 0.07 percent of global sales to charity in 2003.
    Total: $218.7 million

    Drilling, air pollution, oil spills. The petroleum, gas and mining industries will never win a popularity contest, especially among those concerned with the environment. Just look at the continuing controversy over the Bush administration’s proposal to drill offshore in the Alaskan wilderness. The industries combined gave 0.04 percent of worldwide sales to charity in 2003.
    Total: $216.5 million

    Sometimes it seems as if the transportation industry is on life-support and in danger of becoming a permanent welfare recipient. Major airlines are bankrupt, plans to build a bullet train system in California are stalled and Amtrak is still losing money. President Bush just cut the rail system’s aid budget this week. The reality is that no large U.S. transit system is self-sufficient, let alone profitable. The industry needs good p.r., so it spent 0.02 percent of worldwide sales on good causes in 2003.

    Total: $198.5 million

    The chemical industry has at times been a poster child for negative public opinion. Enter the Chemical Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization, whose job includes burnishing the industry’s image. As its Web site explains, CHF “serves the community of the chemical and molecular sciences, and the wider public, by treasuring the past, educating the present, and inspiring the future.” Funding worthwhile programs also helps; the industry donated 0.06 percent of 2003 worldwide sales to charities.