Wal-Mart gave 8 pc to charities

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. increased its U.S. charitable giving by 8 per cent last year to $296.2 million, slower than its overall profit growth for the year and below the increase in 2006.

But the world’s largest retailer said Monday it expects it had retained its position as the nation’s largest corporate donor for the third straight year.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart said its international giving in 13 countries where it has stores jumped nearly 50 per cent to more than $41 million.

Its U.S. donations last year rose slightly slower than in 2006, when it was up 10 per cent to $272.9 million after a spike of 19 percent in 2005 driven by Hurricane Katrina relief.

Wal-Mart’s net profit last year rose 12 per cent to $12.73 billion.

”Our customers count on us to be a good neighbour, and we’re pleased to be in a position to help people live better. As Wal-Mart continues to grow, so will our philanthropic support to all of the communities that we serve,” said Margaret McKenna, president of the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Companies are not required to publish charitable giving numbers, according to Stacy Palmer, editor of the biweekly newspaper The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Wal-Mart has made more of an effort to publicise its charitable giving in recent years to help defend its corporate image against organized attacks by union-funded campaign groups.

The Chronicle ranked Wal-Mart as the country’s top corporate cash donor in 2005 and 2006. Wal-Mart said Monday it expects to win the top slot again for last year.

Palmer said it is too early to make a final call, since the annual ranking only comes out in the summer, but noted that Wal-Mart has traditionally been one of the largest U.S. corporate donors.

A Chronicle survey published last August found that of 75 large companies that provided an advance estimate of their 2007 giving, 28 said it would grow by more than 3 per cent. Thirty-nine said their giving would remain roughly the same as the year before and 8 said it would decline.

Wal-Mart said most of its U.S. giving was cash, about $259.2 million versus $36.9 million of in-kind donations.

Most donations were made locally by the more than 4,000 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores to charities they pick.

Wal-Mart said U.S. donations went to organizations including the National Teacher of the Year program, hospital aid group Children’s Miracle Network, The Salvation Army, United Way and food bank America’s Second Harvest.

For this year, Wal-Mart said its charitable priorities will be in the areas of education, job skills training, sustainability, and health and human services.

It will also give more to statewide programs to expand its impact from the locally oriented giving by its stores.

The Wal-Mart Foundation has already given approximately $16 million to support programs that will rolled out in the first quarter. These programs will provide opportunities for school age children and individuals up to 24 years old to develop literacy skills, complete or pursue educational degrees and learn job skills.

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