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Corporate Australia breaks philanthropic records in the face of 2020 disasters

16 February 2021 at 8:18 am
Maggie Coggan
But experts warn that this level of generosity is not expected to last long 

Maggie Coggan | 16 February 2021 at 8:18 am


Corporate Australia breaks philanthropic records in the face of 2020 disasters
16 February 2021 at 8:18 am

But experts warn that this level of generosity is not expected to last long

The back-to-back crises of 2020 saw Australian corporates dig deeper than ever to support disaster relief efforts on top of their usual contributions, new research reveals. 

The latest figures from Strive Philanthropy’s GivingLarge Report, show the top 50 corporate donors gave away $1.1 billion to philanthropic causes last year, up $155 million or 17 per cent from the previous year. 

BHP landed the top spot giving away $221 million, with $50 million of that going towards coronavirus research.

The mining giant was followed by Coles, which distributed $125 million, and Commonwealth Bank, which donated $70 million. 

But, it’s important to note that it’s not just large corporates that have upped their giving. As reported in the Australian Financial Review, Who Gives a Crap donated $5.9 million to clean water and sanitation projects in developing countries in 2020. This represented  a 750 per cent increase on the year before and means the social enterprise donated more than some of Australia’s best-known brands, Coca-Cola Amatil ($5.2 million) and Sydney Airport and Qantas ($4.4 million each).

The report found that companies less financially affected by the pandemic such as big banks, mining groups, and retailers were more likely to donate to coronavirus research and to fund local communities. 

These companies included Macquarie Group, Newcrest, and Rio Tinto, which all contributed around $20 million towards COVID-19 related support. 

Meanwhile, the bushfire response was far more widespread, with money going towards rescue, shelter, fire-fighting facilities, food, water and medicine. 

The largest bushfire contributions came from the big four banks, which gave an estimated $19 million in total, and media giants News Corp and Seven Group, which gave $5 million each. 

Report author and Strive Philanthropy founder Jarrod Miles said that what makes the record level of corporate philanthropy particularly notable was that it happened at a time when profits dropped significantly for some of these top institutions. 

Miles told Pro Bono News that seeing increased donation levels in response to a crisis was not a surprise, but the fact that companies maintained giving to other beneficiaries was an unexpected positive. 

“While we can’t say for certain, the data suggests that many companies took the opportunity to increase their community budgets based on the needs of 2020,” Miles said. 

Generosity has its limits  

But Miles noted that in previous post-disaster years, companies have tended to wind back on their giving levels, despite the need still being there.    

“Historical data tells us that healthy company earnings is a predictor of future community contributions. With 2020 being a tough year for many companies it is important to recognise this trend and unfortunately prepare for a potential drop in investment in the years to come,” he said.

“Companies need to understand that a long-term response is required, and that not only do we need them to continue to give to areas such as the COVID-19 response, but also to ensure continued support of their existing beneficiaries.” 

Charities to take note 

The report found that this year’s key areas of corporate support included education, health, social welfare and emergency and disaster relief, something that Miles said charities and NFPs needed to pay particular attention to. 

“I think that they [charities] certainly should take the time to assess that and look at where the money goes,” he said. 

He also noted that the majority of giving came from about 10 large companies, and that charities needed to look further afield for partnerships and support than they had in previous years. 

“Grant making and donations may be tighter for industries more impacted by the pandemic, likely resulting in a squeeze on sectors and companies that have been less affected. Fundraisers may need to look at smaller and medium sized businesses for opportunities rather than just relying on the top end of town,” he said.    

More information about the 2020 GivingLarge Report can be found here.    

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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