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Philanthropy: How to still do good when times are bad

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

THE ECONOMY IS IN shambles, the end of the year’s approaching and you’re just now thinking about having your business make some sweeping philanthropic gesture.

Is that a wise move to make?

“By all means do it,” says Laura Winter, vice president for advised funds with the Oregon Community Fund, a nonprofit that administers some 1,400 charitable funds across the state. “There are a lot of resources in our state and a lot of foundations doing great work here.”

Many larger companies budget for charitable contributions on an annual or quarterly basis, so their resources have already been allotted for the year. But for businesses that still want to make contributions in 2008, it’s not too late — and it’ll be worth it.

For starters, contributions of cash, merchandise, property or other assets may be deducted on a business’s income tax return. In order to enjoy the tax benefits, however, donations must be made to legitimate public charities. A list of registered charities in Oregon is available at the Oregon Department of Justice’s web site: doj.state.or.us.

“And [OCF] would certainly be able to help any business in a community connect with an organization that is providing important services,” Winter says. The foundation is online at ocf1.org.

During this economic slump, companies may also get creative in their giving by, say, supporting employees who volunteer for an organization or by matching employee contributions to a nonprofit. Winter also says that financial hard times will be hitting organizations such as food banks and homeless shelters hard, so those areas are likely to need more help in the coming months.

Beyond the financial benefits, businesses may also find that charitable giving goes a long way in earning respect in a community.

“Certainly it provides a very positive community profile for the business,” Winter says. “We all enjoy good corporate and business partners.”

And finally, Winter says, there’s no doubt the current fiscal woes are bound to have businesses tightening their charitable belts in the coming year. Companies that have made contributions in the past would be wise to meet with their charity partners to lay out what kind of support might be available in 2009.

“The giving pool is going to be less in 2009 because of what’s happening in the economy in 2008,” she says. “Start talking to your nonprofit partners now just to let them know if there is potential that you might be giving less until this turns around.”


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