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Corporations dig deep in response to Katrina

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Donations near $650 million, expected to eclipse tsunami giving.

By Ret Boney

The corporate response to Hurricane Katrina has been strong and swift and is on track to surpass giving to tsunami relief efforts, says the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy.

A sample of committee members shows that cash contributions and employee matching have already outpaced tsunami efforts and, while non-cash donations are lower, they are expected to increase as reconstruction efforts begin.

As of Sept. 15, corporations had donated about $648 million, including $310 million in cash and $125 million in products and services, says Stephen Jordan, vice president and executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

“It’s the second-most after 9/11,” he says of corporate relief efforts.  “And this is on track to exceed $1 billion.”

More than 160 corporations have made gifts in excess of $1 million, he says, and some have made mammoth donations, including $17 million in cash from Wal-Mart and $10 million from Freddie Mac and the Freddie Mac Foundation.

General Electric has donated more than $22 million in cash and goods and services and, through telethons hosted by its NBC television stations, has mobilized another $50 million for Red Cross relief efforts.

And to date, GE employees have given more than $270,000 to fellow employees displaced by the disaster, funds the company’s foundation matches.

The company’s contributions to Katrina are in addition to regular corporate philanthropy efforts, and GE does not plan to reduce any of its ongoing commitments as a result of the outlay for Katrina relief, says Russell Wilkerson, director of communications for GE.

But while corporate America’s response has been impressive, some companies may not be able to keep up the break-neck pace.

“There’s a very real fear,” says Jordan of the Center for Corporate Citizenship.  “This model isn’t really sustainable. There’s going to be one of these and folks are going to say, ‘Sorry, look to somebody else.’”

But for now, Jordan finds the outpouring of support encouraging.

“There’s been a lot of focus on the gaps in coordination,” he says. “But we’ve found how universal the generous feeling of the American people is.  We’re seeing the best part of the human spirit.”

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