Sidney R. Hargro is waiting.

Waiting to see if the big corporate tax cuts enacted by the White House earlier this year would lead to more corporate donations.

"I've only heard that there are some corporations nationally who are looking at increased giving directly as a result of the tax law," said Hargro, director of the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, an organization of private and corporate foundations. "I reached out to a few members."

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But he's still waiting.

Eileen R. Heisman, president of the National Philanthropic Trust, a Jenkintown-based organization that manages donor-advised foundations, hasn't heard much either. Nor has Laura Otten, executive director of La Salle University's Nonprofit Center.

When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December, a flurry of corporate announcements followed, many promising immediate raises and bonuses for workers along with sizable capital investments in their own businesses. Some also announced increased charitable donations.

Sidney R. Hargro, executive director of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, outside his office in Center City.
TRACIE VAN AUKEN
Sidney R. Hargro, executive director of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, outside his office in Center City.

Among them were large corporations, such as Best Buy, which said it would make a one-time $20 million donation to support its teen tech centers and Geek Academies across the nation. In Pennsylvania, Fulton Financial Bank in Lancaster said it would increase its corporate donations by $20 million. Wells Fargo said it would hike corporate giving by 40 percent to $400 million in 2018.

But, these experts and others say, the full impact on both corporate and personal giving won't be immediately obvious. Whether it's corporate or personal, most giving happens in the fourth quarter, which starts at the end of September. And even within the quarter, most giving takes place within the last six weeks, right up until New Year's Eve.

"There's a huge sprint of giving in the last three months of the year, with the biggest sprint at the end," Otten said.

Experts told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that pressure to reward shareholders has risen along with profits, lessening the likelihood for significant increases in corporate philanthropy.

Shortly after the tax cuts were enacted, Laurence D. Fink, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of BlackRock Inc., referred to the cuts in a headline-grabbing letter he addressed to the corporate community and to companies looking for BlackRock investment.

"In the current environment," he wrote in January, "these stakeholders are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues. And they are right to: a company's ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth, which is why we are increasingly integrating these issues into our investment process."

Some wealthier donors responded to changes in the tax law by setting up their own donor-advised funds through, for example, the National Philanthropic Trust. "We had a big rush in 2016 and 2017," Heisman said: in 2016 because candidates were talking about changing laws involving donations, and in 2017 because the change was looming.

Opening donor-advised funds in 2017 allowed donors to make their contributions under 2017 tax laws, with the money being disbursed to the donors' preferred charities in future years.

On the personal giving front, donors worried about being unable to itemize deductions under the new tax law may have speeded up their 2018 donations, writing checks before midnight on Dec. 31, 2017. How those people's strategies will affect nonprofits won't really be known until 2019, when there is more of a status quo.

The rule primarily affects nonprofits that receive many donations in the $25-$100 donation range.

Meanwhile, changes in Washington are posing a different challenge to local bread-and-butter charities, Otten said. In response to President Trump's election, donations to the American Civil Liberties Union skyrocketed, with the ACLU collecting $24.2 million in online donations in one weekend, six times more than it collects in a year, competing with other causes.

Another threat? GoFundMe campaigns, which siphon off dollars from established nonprofits. In Philadelphia, a GoFundMe campaign that collected $400,000 for a homeless man is now in litigation with the couple that organized the fund accused of mismanaging the money.

Nonprofits need to do "a really, really good job of telling their stories and communicating the work they do and the impact they are making," Otten said.

In some ways, Otten said, the uncertainty around the impact of the tax changes presents an opportunity for charities to reach out to donors. "We can ask them, `What are you thinking now? Have your priorities changed in light of these tax changes?' " she said. "We don't always want to be in touch with them just when we are asking for money."