- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. companies have donated more than $180 million in cash and products to assist victims of the tsunami that ravaged Indian Ocean nations two weeks ago — an outpouring that some philanthropy observers say eventually might exceed corporate giving tied to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

So many corporations have joined donor ranks that the cause is seen increasingly as one that the biggest, most visible companies can ill afford to sit out.

The list is topped by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.’s gift of $10 million in cash and $25 million worth of its products. Competitor Merck & Co. is giving $3 million in cash and $7.4 million in products. The Coca-Cola Co. is contributing $10 million.

But it also includes companies with no obvious ties to the region, such as Hifn Inc., a Los Gatos, Calif.-based computer network security business, which donated $100,000.

“Just about every company of every size is doing something,” said Curt Weeden, president of Contributions Academy, a South Carolina company that trains managers of corporate philanthropy programs. “It really has engendered an amazing kind of response.”

Companies say they are acting because the need and scope of the disaster cannot be ignored.

But their generosity also is being driven by a strong push by employees at many firms to respond to the disaster and by companies’ own desire to improve their standing with consumers, observers say.

“Our reasons for doing this are not directly connected to our business,” said Mark Schussel, a spokesman for insurer the Chubb Corp., which has earmarked $1 million. “I think it’s more from a good citizenship standpoint.”

But the outpouring is raising concerns in fund-raising circles that it could lead businesses to cut donations that they would have made to smaller, local causes. That was the case in 2002, as companies rethought their contributions after September 11.

Firms downplay such worries, however, and for now, the response of companies to the disaster is drawing attention primarily for its largess, which has been topped only by the $410 million pledged in 2001 by businesses and their foundations after the September 11 attacks.

“There was this follow-the-leader scenario [after September 11], and corporations that had never made a $1 million gift were making million-dollar gifts … because they didn’t want to appear out of touch with the needs of the country,” said George Ruotolo Jr., vice chairman of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, an association of fund-raising consulting firms.

“The same thing is going to be happening here,” said Mr. Ruotolo, who also is chairman of Ruotolo Associates, a Creskill, N.J., fund-raising firm.

Corporate philanthropy observers say the figure likely will swell in coming weeks as firms fulfill pledges to match employee contributions and as more businesses join or increase their gifts.

Mr. Weeden estimates that corporate tsunami donations eventually could reach as high as $750 million — based on an assumption that companies will earmark about 5 percent of their total charitable gifts for the year to the cause. That would far exceed donations after the September 11 attacks.

Other observers, including Charles Moore, executive director of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, doubt the total will reach that high.

By the end of last week, at least 142 U.S. companies had announced $182.7 million in donations or pledges to assist tsunami victims, according to a tally compiled by the Associated Press.

The donations include $89.9 million in cash, $25.8 million in matching funds and at least $55 million in products and services.

The list does not include gifts by smaller companies that likely have gone unnoticed, as well as some large contributions reportedly made by firms that would not publicly confirm them.

It also does not include contributions by numerous overseas firms, although it does include donations made specifically by U.S. subsidiaries of international firms.

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