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Nov. 3, 2021, 3:03 p.m. EDT

Facebook, Amazon, Google and others pledged billions for racial justice in 2020. Tracking where all the money went is ‘almost impossible.’

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Leslie Albrecht

U.S. companies last year pledged to spend billions of dollars to help solve the country’s longstanding racial inequities. But more than a year later, it’s nearly impossible to know where all of that money has gone and exactly who benefited from it.

While companies typically publicized select pieces of information about their donations, a MarketWatch review of pledges made by Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.38% , Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -1.14% , Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.67% and others in the wake of George Floyd’s murder found that none of these companies shared a complete public accounting of all of the recipients of their pledged money and the exact amounts each group received. 

MarketWatch contacted all of these companies for comment. In some cases, companies said they couldn’t disclose all this information for privacy reasons, or because they didn’t have permission to do so from the groups to which they donated. Some recipients of funding also said they would prefer to stay private, including one who raised safety concerns.

‘It’s almost impossible to know’

Broader research on corporate America’s 2020 racial justice pledges has found a similar lack of transparency. Some 461 U.S. companies announced intentions to spend a collective $8.8 billion on racial equity last year through their corporate giving programs or company-run foundations, according to one estimate by Candid, an organization that builds data tools to track nonprofits and foundations. 

A year after Floyd’s death, most of the money (92%) had gone to either “unknown” or “multiple” recipients, according to Candid’s analysis, meaning that the company announced it was donating money toward racial equity, but did not say who received the funding; or that the company mentioned multiple recipients, but didn’t say how much each group received.  

“We are not saying that funders aren’t fulfilling their commitments,” wrote Anna Koob, the director of research standards at Candid, and Adia Colar, Candid’s communications and outreach manager, in an analysis of the pledges. “We are saying that it’s almost impossible to know — unless corporations choose to disclose it.” 

Not sharing “this valuable information weakens philanthropy’s collective efforts,” they added.

Companies are often the first to send money out the door

Companies were quick to step up during the country’s reawakening to racial injustice, and they played a significant role: Their giving accounted for about 45% of total philanthropic funding for racial equity in 2020, according to Candid. The rest came from high-net-worth individuals and private foundations. 

Often moving faster than foundations and individual donors, many companies announced financial pledges just days after Floyd’s murder. “Corporate funders are often the first to publicize their response,” Koob said. With a brand to protect, companies want to be seen as being part of the solution when a crisis arises, and they’re eager to communicate action to a variety of stakeholders, including their own employees, Koob said.

That action took many forms. Many companies vowed to make internal changes such as hiring more Black employees, appointing more Black board members, or doing more business with Black-owned suppliers. This story examines promises companies made to address racial inequity by donating money to nonprofits or to small businesses. 

Information about how companies followed through on those promises — including basic details such as how much of the pledged money has been spent, which groups received the money, how much they got and what they spent it on — often isn’t nearly as well publicized as companies’ initial pledges. 

Why it’s difficult to track companies’ giving 

Unlike traditional philanthropy, in which grantmaking foundations are legally required to disclose whom they make grants to in filings with the IRS, there are no such reporting requirements for direct corporate giving, where a company makes donations directly to a nonprofit. Some companies make donations through company-sponsored foundations, which must follow reporting requirements. 

But of the racial equity funding that companies pledged in 2020, 93.5% of the money came from direct corporate giving programs and 6.5% came from company-sponsored foundations, according to Candid. 

Timing, recipients and exact amounts can be unclear

Gleaning details on those monetary pledges takes detective work. Some companies put the information in press releases; others in annual corporate social responsibility reports. Others only provided specific information on their pledges in response to MarketWatch inquiries. 

Companies used a variety of words to describe the money they’re spending on racial justice, which can make it difficult to discern the on-the-ground reality. Some companies said they would “commit,” others planned to “invest” or “designate,” and one said it “drove” money to the cause. 

The monetary amounts companies pledged didn’t always tell the full story. Some included money donated by a company’s employees, not just money donated by the company itself; some included the value of in-kind donations, such as providing free services to nonprofits.

The exact timing can also be unclear: Companies announced huge amounts that would be spent over a number of years, and used fuzzy tenses (“we are donating to”) that obscure whether the money has actually been disbursed yet.

What three major companies pledged, and what they publicly revealed

Amazon

Amazon publicly listed the names of 12 nonprofits that received a total of $27 million donated by both Amazon and its employees, but a spokeswoman said she couldn’t share the specific dollar amounts each group received or details about what the groups did with the money.

Facebook

As part of a broader $1.1 billion “investment in Black and diverse suppliers and communities in the U.S.” announced in June 2020 , Facebook gave out $25 million to Black content creators (people who make videos or other content posted on Facebook or apps it owns) and unveiled a new page called We The Culture designed to “elevate their vision for the world.”

But the company does not provide a public list of the people who received that funding, “in order to protect the privacy of our creators,” a spokeswoman said. There is also no public list of the “over 10,000” Black-owned businesses in the U.S. that were given cash grants and credits to buy Facebook ads, “in order to protect the privacy of the grantees,” a spokeswoman said.However, the company was “happy to share success stories” from businesses that had given permission to share their stories, she said, and provided links to two articles on the Facebook for Business site about businesses that received funding. Each business received a $2,500 cash grant and “had the option to” receive $1,500 in Facebook ad credits, the spokeswoman said. 

Facebook also donated $10 million to 36 nonprofits focused on racial inequity in 2020, and publicly announced three of the groups that received money. The company could not share the names of the other recipients because it did not have permission from the groups to do so, a spokeswoman said, but she confirmed that each group received $277,777.77. A Facebook spokesman noted that the company regularly provides public updates on its racial justice funding and grants program, but declined to comment on calls for more transparency around corporate giving in general.

Google

Google publicly listed some, but not all, of the recipients of $12 million in donations that CEO Sundar Pichai said the company would make in June 2020 . Two groups that received $1 million each were announced in Pichai’s initial post, and several others are listed in an undated company blog post , but not the amounts they received. In an update one year later, Google said it had handed out the entire $12 million through its charitable arm, Google.org. But instead of listing the grantees, the update linked back to Pichai’s June 2020 announcement.After MarketWatch asked, a spokeswoman provided the names of the groups that received $8 million of the unaccounted-for $10 million in funding and the amounts each received. The other $2 million was “composed of smaller grants to regional organizations working to advance racial justice,” she said, including the U.K.-based OneTech; Fundo Baobá in Brazil; and Roses in Concrete, a public K-8 charter school in East Oakland, Calif.

Some funding recipients would prefer to stay out of the spotlight

Not everyone who has benefited from companies’ racial justice pledges believes there’s a need for complete transparency about where the money has ended up. 

Roderica James and Francina James, sisters who co-own a Detroit luxury inn called The Cochrane House, received a 2020 grant from PayPal that saved their business from permanently closing, they said. While the sisters said that big companies should be held accountable for their racial justice pledges, they preferred not to reveal the exact amount their business received from PayPal. Publicizing that information could ultimately harm their business, they said, because other potential benefactors might see the news and assume that The Cochrane House didn’t need any more financial help. 

That’s especially important because of the unique challenges that Black women business owners like the James sisters face: A history of housing and labor market discrimination means they don’t have as much generational wealth as their white counterparts to draw on, and it’s more difficult for them to get loans, Roderica James said. The PayPal grant was “definitely a blessing,” Roderica James said, but “we don’t want other people looking and saying, ‘They got [that PayPal grant] and they’re good for the year,’” she told MarketWatch. 

One recipient of Google.org funding said the issue of transparency was “slippery.” Jeff Duncan-Andrade, the founder of Roses in Concrete, said there was “absolutely merit” to holding companies accountable for their promises. But he questioned the value of splashy public announcements about Google.org’s support of Roses in Concrete, even though the school’s relationship with Google.org has been a very positive one, he said. 

The school, named after a Tupac Shakur poem, teaches a social justice-focused curriculum during a time of conservative backlash against how schools teach about systemic racism and American history. Roses in Concrete would likely be “blasted with all kinds of hate speech” if it received a grant that was highly publicized, Duncan-Andrade said.

“Once you start publicly announcing, the risk on the other side is that you put us in a spotlight that literally puts us physically in jeopardy,” Duncan-Andrade told MarketWatch. “Yes, it’s nice to have the profile and be acknowledged for the work that we’re doing — and in this climate that we’re living in, there’s another side to that.” 

One economist wants to know how much money ‘will actually reach Black people’

The lack of detail about where the pledged money has gone leaves some big questions in the mind of one Black economist. William Michael Cunningham, the founder and CEO of the consulting firm Creative Investment Research, wants to know how much money companies committed to Black communities and how much “will actually reach Black people,” he told MarketWatch. 

His firm created a donation tracker to measure how much corporate America promised. Cunningham wants to go a step further in holding companies accountable: He has petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission, proposing that publicly traded companies be required to disclose their donations. 

His efforts echo a proposed 1997 bill — whose cosponsors included Rep. Michael Oxley, the late Ohio Republican who co-authored the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley anti-fraud law — that would have required companies to disclose their charitable giving.

Oxley noted at a hearing on the bill that under existing law (and this is still the case) corporations were under no obligation to disclose their charitable giving “even if the money is being funneled to a not-for-profit on which a director or a director’s spouse serves, or to groups opposed by the majority of shareholders.” 

“Since corporate gifts are donated out of shareholder earnings, it is only reasonable to provide shareholders with information about where the money, which would otherwise be returned to them in the form of a dividend, is being spent,” Oxley added. The bill was never brought to a vote. 

The SEC did not respond to a request for comment on Cunningham’s petition. 

“Companies are making these pledges to have a positive impact on shareholder value — there’s no question about that — and to retain employees, which also impacts shareholder value,” Cunningham told MarketWatch. SEC disclosures would help the public monitor progress, he wrote in his petition, and “hopefully, help reveal which pledges are sincere and which are not.” 

Other examples of what companies disclose — and don’t 

Capital One

Capital One /zigman2/quotes/204480509/composite COF -1.02% publicly announced eight organizations that received the first $3 million it handed out as part of a $10 million pledge, and described what each group did with the money, as well as how much each received. At least 18 other groups that later received funding aren’t listed publicly, but a spokeswoman provided their names and detailed descriptions of what they did with the money after MarketWatch asked. That information isn’t listed on the company’s website or in its 2019-2020 corporate social responsibility report.

As for “an initial $200 million, five-year commitment to support growth in underserved communities” that Capital One announced in October 2020, “Grantmaking is underway and we will have a full view of our 2021 community investments at the end of the calendar year,” a spokeswoman said. “That said, hundreds of nonprofits and small businesses have already been recipients of funds.” 

General Motors

General Motors /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -2.15% announced in a June 2020 press release that it had “designated” $10 million to racial justice groups through a combination of corporate giving and matching employee donations. It named one recipient of that funding, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which received $1 million. The company hasn’t issued any press releases since then about the funding, but in a LinkedIn post near the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death, GM’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Telva McGruder, named many, but not all, of the groups that received $4 million of the pledge, though not the exact amounts they received.

“On our journey to become the most inclusive company in the world, GM is aligned by our guiding principles: Our Words (what we say), Our Deeds (what we do) and Our Culture (who we are). Through our giving, we are activating on Our Deeds as we continue to establish alliances to advocate for and achieve equity in racial justice, education, health care and economic opportunities,” McGruder said in a statement to MarketWatch. The $5 million distributed so far has come directly from GM; the company has also promised to match up to $5 million in employee contributions, McGruder said.

PayPal

PayPal /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL -1.72% did not release the names of the 1,391 Black-owned businesses that received $15 million in empowerment grants, of which The Cochrane House was one. The company posted the names of nonprofits to which it donated $5 million, but not the exact amounts they received. A PayPal spokeswoman said the company tried to strike a balance between transparency and accountability, while also wanting to respect the privacy of grant recipients, especially small Black-owned businesses.

The company announced a $530 million “commitment” in June 2020 to support Black and minority-owned businesses and communities in the U.S., and later added an additional $5 million in “empowerment grants” for Black-owned small businesses. In an analysis examining whether companies were following through on their racial justice pledges, Candid noted that PayPal has provided more details than others about the money it has handed out, because it specified how much money it was devoting to each part of its initiative in follow-up press releases and in its 2020 ESG report.

Salesforce

Salesforce /zigman2/quotes/200515854/composite CRM -1.10% does not have a public list of all the groups it has donated to, a spokeswoman told MarketWatch, but she said “transparency will continue to be essential” as “we take action to address racism and systemic inequality within the walls of Salesforce and across our society.” To that end, Salesforce provides quarterly public updates on the 2020 pledge it made to donate $200 million over five years, she said, and lists grants in its 10-K and annual stakeholder report.However, the quarterly updates only list some of the organizations that have received money and only sometimes list exact amounts and a description of what the group did with the money. While the 10-K and stakeholder reports say how much the company has donated overall, they do not list which groups got money and how much they received. The company doesn’t specify exactly how much of the donated money comes from its foundation and corporate giving program and how much is from employee donations. A spokeswoman said the majority is from the foundation and corporate giving programs. 

<STRONG>Editor’s Note Nov. 3, 2021:</STRONG> This story has been updated since its initial publication with new figures from the nonprofit-tracking website Candid on the total number of companies that made racial justice pledges in 2020, the total amount of money they pledged, and the share of racial justice giving in 2020 that came from companies.

Also read: Citi reverses course on racial-equity audit, will look at $1 billion pledge made after death of George Floyd

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