NEW YORK (Reuters) - Requests for help from top U.S. corporate charities has risen sharply, but spending in 2009 by some of America's largest foundations is likely to be flat as the companies behind them weather the global financial crisis.
Spending by the philanthropic arms of Wells Fargo, Bank of America and General Electric has risen in recent years, but all three foundations told Reuters their 2009 giving was likely to hold steady next year.
This is despite Wells Fargo and Bank of America saying they are receiving more requests for help compared with last year amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
"We're getting about 20 percent more requests ... compared to last year," said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Melissa Murray. "We have been focused on providing more grants (in smaller amounts) to meet the large volume of requests."
"Wells Fargo has contributed $78.9 million to 10,000 nonprofits in 2008, so for 2008, we're on track to give 10-11 percent more than we did in 2007. We're expecting our 2009 grant giving to remain flat," she said.
U.S. philanthropic research group The Foundation Center ranks The Bank of America Foundation No. 2 on its list of the largest corporate philanthropists by giving, while the GE Foundation comes in at No. 5 followed by Wells Fargo at No. 9.
Bank of America spokesman Ernesto Anguilla said that in 2009 the company's foundation would embark on a 10-year $2 billion philanthropic plan. "When you do the math there that adds up to $200 million a year, which is pretty much where we're going to be at for 2008," Anguilla said.
"In 2009 there is going to be more focus on neighborhood preservation, which is our effort to work with nonprofit organizations directly involved in mitigating foreclosures and addressing the broader housing crisis," he said.
The U.S. Treasury Department has invested in Wells Fargo and the Bank of America as part of its bailout package aimed at averting a banking collapse, while General Electric has warned Wall Street that its 2008 profit will fall.
"Our feeling is, at times like these, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy are more important than ever," said Frank Mantero, spokesman for General Electric which gave more than $93 million in 2007. "The plan is that the budget will remain the same."
The Wachovia Foundation, which the Foundation Center said gave nearly $97 million in 2007 making it the fourth largest U.S. foundation, said it is uncertain of its 2009 forecast due to the planned takeover of Wachovia Corp by Wells.
But Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, and Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company -- ranked No. 3 and No. 7 by the Foundation Center -- both say they are faring well amid the financial crisis and gave positive 2009 outlooks for their foundations.
"The Wal-Mart Foundation did increase charitable giving this year and plans to increase charitable giving again in 2009," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Wyatt-Moore. "In these difficult times, the work that we do to support the communities we serve is more important than ever."
She said the foundation would be "refocusing its attention toward efforts that support those hit hardest by the crisis."
Experts have warned the economic woes will likely hurt charitable efforts by individuals and corporations but say it could lead to more creative humanitarian work and greater leadership by independent foundations that have benefited from years of asset growth.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman