Does Size Matter? Should Top Dollar Charitable Donations Be Touted?

money treeA recent Fortune magazine article documented the dizzying amounts the “Top 20 Most Generous Companies” gave last year; some $3.5 Billion was donated to charity.  While it starts out with an inspiring anecdote in a graduation address to 33 participants in 10,000 Small Businesses, an intensive entrepreneurship program funded by Goldman Sachs, the story goes on to rattle off eye-popping donation totals from some of the nation’s largest, most profitable organizations.

Nothing bad about that, setting aside the question of whether this generosity comes at the expense of employee compensation or well-being.  Or whether it’s in lieu of corporate taxes.  (Stories for another day…..)

Giants Gilead Sciences gave $446.7 million, Walmart did $301 million and Wells Fargo $281.2 million.  Goldman and ExxonMobil took the fourth and fifth positions, with $276.4 million and $268 million respectively.  Pretty lofty, to be sure.

But when considered in the context of reports about financial fraud cases, employee wage gaps, executive compensation woes and environmental shenanigans, might we wonder whether the goodwill could be disingenuous, or at least bad actors’ attempts to whitewash?

To be fair, many of the organizations represented focus their social investing on advancing economic opportunity, with carefully selected beneficiaries. (See the full list, along with descriptions of their designees here.)  However, even assuming the best possible intentions, it begs the question of whether achievement of the highest dollar amounts is the truest measure of corporate philanthropy.