I recently read and posted on my Facebook a USA Today story (Using The Chronicle of Philanthropy as their source) that Walmart, Beloved Low Price Supplier or Hated Evil Corporation (depending on whom you ask), topped the list of charitable cash contributors, donating $288 million last year. AT&T was second at $240 million, BoA third at $209 million, and down the line (source). A friend of mine from Grad School posted the following comment:
I thought this was an interesting question, so I ran some numbers. Walmart made about $14 billion in profits last year, and donated $288 million in cash, roughly 2%. AT&T, by comparison, made about $8 billion (Info from here, taking income and removing re-investment and dividend payments), donated $240 million in cash, roughly 3%. It’s undeniable that Walmart could donate more, however the difference between 2% and 3% isn’t so huge as to be a glaring difference (e.g., it’s not like Walmart donates 2% and AT&T is donating 6% or 10%), and these are huge numbers here to be sure.
One thing I thought was interesting was that Walmart seems most interested in providing for those who need food, as the article cites, pledging $2 billion over 5 years to combat hunger. This seems to me like one of the best uses for corporate donations today – to help people who desperately need help on a basic level. Donations helping stop hunger, and advance education and personal growth, all rank highly on my most deserved cause list. Donations to political campaigns however? Those aren’t too high on my list.
I bring that up because another philanthropy related piece that came up this week involved Target & Best Buy giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a politician, Tom Emmer, who isn’t very friendly to pro-gay causes (some might even label him a Bigot). Whatever your view on gay issues, I find it deeply disturbing that companies donate so much money to politicians in general, especially polarizing ones such as Emmer, all in the name of supporting candidates who “seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives”. Now to be fair, Walmart also shells out a lot of money to politicians, and I’m sure some are just as unsavory as Emmer appears to be. So where do I shop? Do I go to a store with low prices that some feel are set on the backs of their underpaid and poorly treated workers? Do I go to stores with higher prices that aren’t afraid to support a possible bigot in the name of profit? Do I just not shop at all?
Well, obviously the last one isn’t an option. I need to buy toilet paper somewhere. In the end I guess it comes down to price, for good reason. Shopping at Walmart let’s me keep more of my own money, that I may donate to causes I agree with. It’s less money that I’m giving to them to control and spend, and thus less money going places I potentially might not want it to go. If I shop at Target or Best Buy, I’m spending more money for products that I can usually find of equal quality at Walmart, and more money goes toward issues that I may or may not agree with. In the end, I’d rather control my money philanthropically, so I can be like this guy and freak people out by donating to causes I choose.