Arts, cultural activities likely to suffer from slowdown in corporate giving


CHICAGO -- Corporate budget-cutters may be taking a hard look at the bottom line, but where charitable contributions are concerned, there's still a soft spot for the needy.

If anyone suffers from a slowdown of corporate giving, it's likely to be arts and cultural activities.

In 1983, following the last recession, total cultural giving declined 15 percent, while total corporate donations jumped 25 percent, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel.

"From talking with other people in the field, I believe corporate giving patterns are changing," said Sara Levy, manager of community relations for R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. "There is deep concern to protect programs already being funded and a tendency to direct funding to core needs of society."

She said that in the current economic climate, corporations will look more carefully at human needs.

"Fundamentally, this means less funding for the arts and also for new organizations," she said. "Companies will find it harder to justify giving to cultural programs."

With the economic downturn, "we are braced for an increase in requests for funding," said Gretchen Reimel, executive director of the Sara Lee Foundation, which administers corporate contributions from Sara Lee Corp.

Although attention is focused on the hungry and homeless in a recession, she said, "We maintain funding in these programs continuously because this is a long-term, systemic problem."

Robert Lauer, foundation president and a Sara Lee corporate vice president, said the corporate goal is to contribute 2 percent of pretax profits.

"We realize we cannot do everything," he said. "Our giving has a dual focus: 50 percent to programs for the disadvantaged and 40 percent to the arts." As profits have grown, he said, funding commitments have built.

Companies whose profits are affected by the economy will proceed with caution when it comes to budgeting for charity, said Valerie Lies, executive director of Donors Forum of Chicago.

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