The Highs and Lows: How Sporting Events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy

Timing is everything for nonprofits looking to engage locally-based corporations, according to a new report from Harvard Business School. Punctuated Generosity: How Mega-events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy in US Communities,  published in Administrative Science Quarterly, examined how natural disasters and major sporting events in the community of a corporate headquarters affects that corporation's philanthropy. It examined 2,571 firms in 157 metropolitan areas between 1980 and 2006.

The findings show that despite trends toward globalization, major local events are connected with short term spikes in corporate philanthropy. In the case of major sporting events such as the World Cup, Olympics and Super Bowl, there were definite increases in local corporate philanthropy. However, the effects were generally limited to the year of the event and could not be found to impact the preceding or following years. In Olympic years, local corporations increased their charitable donations by an average of 30 percent, and Super Bowls corresponded with a 10 percent increase.

While the magnitude of a sporting event generally determined the magnitude of the increase in philanthropy, this did not hold true for all natural disasters. The researchers found that natural disasters that did up to $5 billion in damage to the local community caused short term increases in corporate donations. However, past the $5 billion mark in local damage the trend reverses and donations decrease. The researchers suggest that local corporations become overwhelmed and many start re-allocating philanthropic dollars towards damage to their own local operations or facilities.

Read the Forbes summary or the full report from HBS.