As Vice President of Corporate Affairs for AutoNation, Gale Butler spends her days sifting through dozens of requests each week for donations or grants. They come from arts organizations, after-school programs and other charities. “I get phone calls, emails, packets; people will even stop me on street or at an event or even in the supermarket and ask for money.”
Like most corporations, auto retailer AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale pulled back some on community giving during the depths of the brutal impact of the economic recession. But now, with consumers once again buying cars, Butler has resumed corporate giving at earlier levels, doling out a large portion of her budget to South Florida. The company focuses its giving, about 1.5 percent of annual revenue, on a defined mission: supporting local community efforts involved in the health and welfare of family, with an emphasis on education and the safety of children.
AutoNation has committed to giving $10 million over 10 years to the IMAX at the Museum of Discovery & Science and another $2.5 million over 10 years to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts box office — multi-year pledges where the company gets signage. But it also has made a smaller donation of $500 to a daycare center in Miami. “The smaller donations are important, too, because that can mean a difference in the lives of children,” Butler said.
Much like AutoNation, public companies nationwide that have weathered the worst of the economy are recommitting to philanthropic investments. About 60 percent are reporting increased giving levels in 2011 over 2009, the year companies reported the biggest retreat. In 2012, corporate giving is expected to level off, with few companies expecting their total giving to rise by more than 10 percent, according to a report by The Committee Encouraging Corporate Giving (CECG).
Because of their limited resources, companies are trying to be ever-more strategic with their charitable efforts. Many are choosing to make larger gifts to fewer causes and narrowing their giving to groups with which they have an ongoing relationship where there is an alignment with their business objectives. Certain causes are increasingly popular: 81% of companies give 20% or more to either education or health and social services.
Navarro Discount Pharmacy operates 31 stores in Miami-Dade County and Pembroke Pines with sales of more than $320 million. The pharmacy chain, the largest owned Hispanic pharmacy in the United States, has concentrated its corporate giving in the local communities where its customers and employees live.
“We’re bombarded with letters for donation and we want to help as many as possible, so coming up with a strategy is key,” explained Cristina Leon-Rivero , Vice President, Director of Marketing at Navarro Discount Pharmacy. Navarro’s focus is helping the elderly, children and families, and health-related causes. Two of its key charities are La Liga Contra el Cancer and Centro Mater, both founded in Miami to respond to medical and childcare needs in the Latin community.
Leon-Rivero said the pharmacy chain has reduced its corporate giving budget in recent years and instead, “we have created ways for employees and customers to fill that gap,” she said. For example, the stores generate dollar donations through pin-up campaigns — asking employees and customers to donate at the register. “It makes donating affordable and accessible to people who would not consider giving to those organizations.”