Charities Brace Themselves Amid Big Three Woes The struggles of the Big Three automakers are sending shock waves through the philanthropic community: The three companies gave a combined $116 million in charitable donations last year.
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Charities Brace Themselves Amid Big Three Woes

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Charities Brace Themselves Amid Big Three Woes

Charities Brace Themselves Amid Big Three Woes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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LYDEN: Last week, the government said, GMAC, the finance arm of General Motors could become a bank to avoid bankruptcy. But it told GMAC to wrap up the complicated financial deal by midnight Friday, and it failed to meet the deadline. So its future is still up in the air, as is the future of much of Detroit. Reporter Jennifer Guerra took a look at how the automakers' woes are affecting the non-profit world.

JENNIFER GUERRA: $58.7 million, $37.3 million, $20.1 million, that's how much General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, respectively, contributed to non-profit organizations last year. That's almost $120 million for non-profits across the country.

Mr. JIM VELLA (Ford Fund, Ford Motor Company): A lot of people do say to me, you know, you're giving away money. It's a tough time with the company, how can you do that?

GUERRA: That's Jim Vella. He runs the Ford Fund. It's the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company.

Mr. VELLA: We have been involved in philanthropy as a company for 105 years - really, since Henry Ford started it. Henry Ford felt that in order to be a successful company, you had to have a sustainable society, and part of the way to do that was to give back to the communities where you did business.

GUERRA: All three of the auto companies expect to cut next year's philanthropic dollars significantly. That's not good news for the Detroit area which received nearly $40 million from the auto industry last year. And that's not all it got.

Ms. FAITH FOWLER (Cass Community Social Services, Detroit): Ford volunteers helped us move out a commercial kitchen. They helped us set up a warehouse so that...

GUERRA: Faith Fowler runs Cass Community Social Services in Detroit. It's a combination women's shelter, homeless shelter, a food bank, and more. It takes $6 million to run Cass Community. And while Ford's contributions cover just around five percent of Cass Community's total budget, Fowler says what's really priceless is what comes with it - the street cred.

Ms. FOWLER: To be able to say that Ford supports our work is a major thing. I mean, that's a name that's recognizable around the world. And so, once you have a friend like Ford, then other people are more likely to join in our efforts.

GUERRA: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have all had a big hand in Detroit's arts and culture scene, as well. Just ask David DiChiera. He's the director of the Michigan Opera Theater.

Mr. DAVID DICHIERA (Director, Michigan Opera Theater): They have represented, for us, in terms of non-earned income and in terms of contributed income, 25 percent of our yearly income. It's a major amount of money.

GUERRA: All in all, about $1 million, but DiChiera says that companies have cut their contributions by more than half, which has forced him to cancel an opera next season and lay off some staff. Ian Wilhelm is with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. He says even though it makes good business sense for a corporation like Chrysler or General Motors to give to charities, it's a little harder to make that argument when your company is hemorrhaging cash, and jobs, and asking for federal loans.

Mr. IAN WILHELM (Chronicle of Philanthropy): The argument has been long made that a company's main responsibility - their only responsibility, is to its stockholders. And you know, it will be interesting to see if they go back to that type of thinking that, hey, we have to take care of ourselves and our stockholders first before we start thinking about taking care of others.

GUERRA: But Jim Vella, from the Ford Fund, he says to drastically cut back on contributions to social services like - say, the United Way, would actually hurt his own employees.

Mr. VELLA: Because as the number of people who are working here in southeast Michigan, particularly at the auto companies, we've all had to reduce our work force. The number of people who are able to contribute is diminishing by significant numbers. Some of those same people who are contributors in the past are now asking for help.

GUERRA: So as the need goes up, the auto industry's contributions go down. And in the non-profit world, that could be a brutal combination. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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