Hope on wheels for charities

LOS ANGELES – The recession hasn't just meant a decline in corporate profits, it also has put a serious crimp in corporate philanthropy.

No company wants to say “no” to a worthy, needy cause. But when the economy goes in the tank, everyone cuts back. Sure, folks still dig deep when a humanitarian tragedy like the Haiti earthquake occurs. But the idea of finding spare corporate change for our many ongoing societal, economic and medical ills has all too often seen the bean counter's red pen.

General Motors has slashed charitable giving, because it has been more focused on survival and emerging from bankruptcy [Dear Reader, insert your snarky comment about GM being a charity of the American taxpayer here].

The Ford Motor Co. Fund, which is separate from the Ford Foundation, is giving about $20 million this year to charities, and Ford Motor Co. is giving another $10 million, but both are down significantly from healthy years.

“We have had to strategically focus on longer-term partners and signature programs in specific areas of education, driving safety for teens, American heritage and community life,” Ford spokeswoman Della DiPietro said.

Volvo's admirable Volvo For Life award, which backed “heroes” helping long-shot and underfunded causes, has been suspended. However, the automaker still supports Alex's Lemonade Stand, which funds pediatric cancer research.

Even companies that have fared better in the recession have cut way back.

At Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., charitable giving has dropped to $39 million from its pre-recession figure of $48 million, although Toyota boasts a total of $500 million given to U.S. charities since 1991.

Still, the Lexus Pursuit of Potential – which provided up to $3 million annually in matching funds for dealers helping children's charities – has been put on hiatus, although the affiliated Lexus Eco Challenge still provides $500,000 in environmental grants and scholarships.

American Honda has yet to see a quarter in the red, but profits have fallen sharply. As a result, its corporate giving has declined by 30 percent.

So, perhaps it's a sign either of corporate stubbornness – or, dare I risk saying, of an economic recovery – that this week Hyundai Motor America announced its continued strong support of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

The “Hope on Wheels” effort entails Hyundai dealers donating $3 million toward childhood cancer causes, with a matching $3 million donation from Hyundai Motor America. That's on top of $14 million in Hyundai donations to the cause to date.

Maybe other automakers can take heed from Hyundai's budgetary stoicism in funding this effort. Backing a charity is a different sort of stimulus package: It funds research, it creates jobs for folks interested in the greater good, it helps out people in need, and it gives people hope. And isn't that what the economy, and America, needs right about now?