Publix Takes Top Spot Among United Way Corporate Donors

Publix Super Markets employees (associates, in the chain’s parlance) pledged $38.6 million to United Way Worldwide during a 12-month period. When matched with $25 million from Publix Super Market Charities, the resulting $63.6 million was the largest from a corporate entity during the year ending June 30.

Publix’s total meant the Lakeland, Fla-based company supplanted Wells Fargo in the number one spot. The New York City-based financial services firm had been the top corporate contributor for the previous nine years, according to United Way Worldwide President and CEO Brian Gallagher.

Wells Fargo fell to what Gallagher called a “wildly generous” third place, behind UPS.

“For a regional grocery store chain to be the number one corporate supporter of ours is pretty impressive, because the other top 10 include UPS, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PwC, BMO Financial Group, Costco, Enterprise, IBM and Deloitte,” Gallagher said. 

“These are big national companies, and they are unbelievably generous,” Gallagher continued. “At Publix, this is just ingrained in their culture. They work hard to truly become part of their communities. They see United Way as a partner in helping that integration into communities happen. They are as the saying goes, punching above their weight,” he said.

“We’re honored to be recognized as United Way’s No. 1 Global Corporate Leader,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said via a statement. “Our founder, George Jenkins, believed in the benefit of giving to United Way because the funds raised support the critical needs of the community through local agencies,” Jones continued. “I’m proud of our associates for continuing the legacy of giving Mr. George exemplified.”

Gallagher noted that United Way has had a longstanding relationship with all of the companies among its top 10 donors. “Long before there were terms like ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘double bottom line,’ it was embedded in the culture of these companies to give back to their community,” he said.

Publix took the top spot by increasing donations from the 220,000 employees who work within the footprint of 109 local United Way organizations. It helps that the chain has been growing: in June 2020 alone, Publix opened eight locations within Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

The coronavirus pandemic may also have played a role in the increased donations. By the time United Way’s fiscal year ended, the pandemic was several months old.

“[Publix is] a company focused on making sure the basic needs of the people that live in their communities are met,” Gallagher said. “Folks that had never been in a food line, had never drawn unemployment, had never been out of a job – that has now happened to millions and millions of Americans.”

It helped that United Way turned much of its assistance to aiding those affected by the coronavirus. In the period between mid-March and the end of June, the organization’s United States operations raised more than $600 million for Covid-19 response, Gallagher said.

“Anybody who was working and had the ability to give was giving,” Gallagher added.

Despite consistent double-digit unemployment rates during the early months of the pandemic, topline giving remained steady, according to Gallagher. But he is not as sanguine about the next 12 months.

“You can’t have employment and Gross Domestic Product going down and giving going up,” Gallagher acknowledged. “Those things are correlated. Nonprofit donations are down between 10 and50 percent during the first four months, especially among nonprofits that couldn’t or didn’t pivot to responding to needs driven by the pandemic

“I don’t think we will be down 50 or even 30 percent, but we will be down double digits, would be my guess.”