Oil Spill Aid Remains Small, But Some Corporate Donations Trickle In

Although individual and corporate donations after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have paled in comparison to responses to other disasters, some corporations are stepping up with gifts to charities working in the region, the New York Times reports.

Six weeks after the April 20 explosion that caused the disaster, about $4 million had been donated to relief efforts, compared with more than $580 million within eight days of Hurricane Katrina and more than $560 million within seventeen days of the earthquake in Haiti, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. However, as the summer has progressed, several companies have made significant cash and in-kind commitments to oil spill relief efforts. Pepsi, for instance, will give out thirty-two grants totaling $1.3 million through its Pepsi Refresh Project; that sum is in addition to the $20 million Pepsi already committed this year through the cause marketing effort. Voting on about three hundred submissions will continue through August 31, with winners announced on September 22.

In addition, Chevron gave $750,000 to the National Audubon Society to support a volunteer response center in Moss Point, Mississippi; Dawn, a Procter & Gamble brand, shipped two thousand bottles of dishwashing liquid to bird-rescue sites in the gulf region to clean soiled wildlife as part of a long-term partnership with the International Bird Rescue Research Center; shoe maker Teva gave $100,000 to the Waterkeeper Alliance; S.C. Johnson distributed five thousand units of Off! insect repellent to volunteers in cleanup areas that are rife with mosquitoes and donated $25,000 to the National Wildlife Refuge Association; and the Borders bookstore chain gave almost $38,000 to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

According to experts, the relatively small philanthropic response to the oil spill can in part be attributed to the mistaken belief that BP's $20 billion fund will address all of the Gulf Coast's needs and the tendency for manmade disasters to draw fewer donations than natural disasters.

"Since the BP crisis is a manmade disaster versus a natural disaster, it's easy for people to point fingers at BP and the government, and for the government and BP to point fingers at each other," said Alison DaSilva, executive vice president of philanthropic marketing company Cone. "So it's a little bit of the blame game, and that hardens the compassions of both consumers and companies to help out....With natural disasters you can donate to international relief organizations and you know the money is going to help people in need. But [after the oil spill] there wasn't a clear ask. There wasn't an Oxfam or Red Cross to stand up and say, 'Here's what we need, and here's what you can do.' "

Andrew Adam Newman. "Oil Spill Aid Is Small, But Some Companies Step Up." New York Times 08/02/2010.