Image: Kroger
Al Behrman  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
updated 10/24/2011 12:13:16 PM ET 2011-10-24T16:13:16

At a time when the Occupy Wall Street protests are shining a light on greed in America, some companies make a point of donating a significant chunk of their profits to charity. Example: In 2010 Kroger, the Cincinnati supermarket operator, gave away 10.9% of its $589 million in 2009 pre-tax profits, amounting to $64 million. Kroger tops an annual list put together by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The magazine tracks corporate giving through a survey it sends to 300 of the nation’s largest companies by revenues. This year the Chronicle compiled data on 180 companies, culled from survey results and tax forms. (For more on the survey’s methodology, click here.) In 2010, total cash donations by this group rose 13%, to $4.9 billion, a boon to nonprofits after the recession resulted in a 7.5% decline in giving in 2009.

The Chronicle helped Forbes put together two lists. The one we think is most meaningful: The companies that are most generous in their cash donations as a percentage of pre-tax profits. Kroger tops that list. According to the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, Lynn Marmer, $40 million of Kroger’s cash giving flows through a 15-year-old community rewards program, where shoppers who carry Kroger’s loyalty cards name a local charity they want to support. Kroger then gives 2%-5% (determined by local stores) of each shopper’s bill as a cash contribution to the school, church, or community group chosen by the customer.

Macy’s comes in second on that list; it gave away 8.1% of 2009 profits in 2010, or $41 million. The third most generous: Safeway, the Pleasanton, Calif. supermarket chain, which gave away 7.6% of 2009 profits, totaling $76.5 million.

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The second list shows companies that gave away the most cash as a raw number. Wal-MartStores, which donated $319 million last year, tops that roster. Given that the Bentonville, Ark. retail colossus had pre-tax profits of $22 billion in 2009, its charitable cash donations came to just 1.45% of that sum. Wal-Mart maintains that it is also giving away products and expertise. Last year it announceda $2 billion five-year effort to fight hunger. But most of that donation will be in food and only $250 million, in cash. Food and other product donations are meaningful but tough to measure, since both corporations and the Chronicle survey measure product giving in terms of fair market value, while the cost to the company of such donations is far lower. For that reason, we focused our lists on cash giving.

Second on the list of companies who donated the most cash in 2010: Goldman Sachs, which increased its contributions by more than three-fold to $315 million, at a time when its pre-tax profits dropped 35%. Critics have voiced skepticism about Goldman’s generosity, suggesting it may be a way to fend off the criticism of its actions during the liquidity crisis. In April, a Senate panel issued a report accusing Goldman of betting against the mortgage assets it was pitching to clients.

But Goldman officials have said that planning for the three projects responsible for its giving surge was in the works before the financial meltdown. One, a donor-advised fund that takes contributions from firm partners who then recommend charity recipients, was announcedin November 2007. Goldman also has a program to help female entrepreneurs in the developing world, called 10,000 Women, announced in March 2008, and another, 10,000 Small Businesses, that aids small enterprises in the U.S., announced in December 2009.

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Wells Fargois third on the raw cash list, with $219 million in 2010 donations. A recipient of $25 billion in government bailout money in 2008 which it repaid in 2009, last year the company boosted its giving by 8.5% over 2009. However it didn’t restore donations to the $226 million it gave in 2008, the year it merged with Wachovia.

The Chronicle also asked survey respondents about their giving plans for 2011, and most said that donations would remain steady. Of the 103 companies that responded to this query, 71 said they would keep their cash giving at the same levels as 2010. Lynn Marmer of Kroger, which supports food banks through a hunger charity called Feeding America, says Kroger’s giving level has remained flat in 2011, though she says the company has seen a hike in demand by the food banks it supports. Kroger donates both cash and food that Marmer says is the equivalent of 125 million meals a year, to food banks. “Food stamps only provide about a half a month’s worth of food,” she points out. “Food pantries have seen their volume not just double but quadruple.”

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