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Cash contributions

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Wal-Mart and its foundation top list of cash givers.

By Ret Boney

Cash donations are perhaps the most direct form of corporate giving, and with an outlay of almost $223 million last year, Wal-Mart Stores was the top cash contributor among U.S. companies.

And the vast majority of that cash was given out at the local level at the direction of local stores.

“The overall goal is to ensure we are supporting the communities that are supporting us,” says Brad Fisher, director of corporate giving for the company. “The primary focus of our giving has been to give back through each store, back into the communities we serve.”

The company’s overall giving strategy is formulated at the corporate level, along with budgets and guidelines, says Fisher.

But within those parameters, the company’s 4,000 local U.S. stores are able to decide how to donate the funds to benefit their communities.

The company has been giving back since its inception in the early 1960’s, says Fisher, but the practice was formalized in 1979 with the creation of its corporate foundation, which manages all cash outlays to nonprofit organizations.

“Before that, most of what was done was without direction from the overall company,” he says.

Establishing corporate foundations, which are funded by contributions from their corporate counterparts, is a common way to formalize and focus a company’s philanthropic efforts, experts say.

“Foundations are a way for you to structure and standardize philanthropic responsibilities,” says George C. Ruotolo Jr., CEO of Ruotolo Associates and board member of the Giving USA Foundation.

That was the case for the Wal-Mart Foundation, says Fisher.

“The company was embarking on a fairly lengthy growth spurt,” he says. “The foundation allowed the company to really focus on giving back in a more strategic manner, and gave formality to the process.”

Wal-Mart’s foundation falls within the company’s corporate giving department, which has about 20 employees and manages the foundation as well as all other philanthropic efforts.

Funded throughout the year by the corporation, rather than operating off an endowment like independent foundations, it spends the majority of its assets annually, says Fisher.

For as long as Fisher can remember, Wal-Mart has increased its charitable contributions each year, and he expects 2006 to be no exception.

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