'Tis The Season: General Motors, Mercedes-Benz Announce Major Grants

December 13, 2010

While many of us cruise the interweb (and, less enjoyably, the malls) for perfect holiday presents, two automakers have announced great giving plans of their own: General Motors and Mercedes-Benz USA have launched new philanthropic initiatives, and both earn big points in our book.

The General Motors Foundation will soon dole out the largest gift in its history -- $27.1 million -- to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The funds will be used to create "Networks of Excellence" among five Detroit-area high schools. The goal of those networks is to boost graduation at the five schools, which now see dropout rates hovering near the 50% mark. The Foundation launched a similar program in 2008, and within one year, the five participating schools saw 83% of their student bodies on-track for graduation -- up from 65%.

Mercedes-Benz USA has a different sort of giving in mind. The company has announced support of The Conservation Fund's ShadeFund initiative, a microloan program for green entrepreneurs. From the ShadeFund FAQ

Established by The Conservation Fund with a lead grant from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, ShadeFund enables individuals, companies and foundations to help green entrepreneurs across America grow their businesses and create jobs. Tax deductible contributions to ShadeFund are pooled and lent to qualified small green businesses nationwide. As entrepreneurs repay their loans, those same dollars are recycled to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

There's no specific dollar amount tied to Mercedes-Benz's contribution; rather, the company has said that it will support 10 - 12 "Mercedes-Benz Signature ShadeFund Entrepreneurs...select, small business owners who display an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to environmental values and exceptional artisanship." Since ShadeFund applicants can request from $5,000 to $50,000, Mercedes' gift could run as low as $60,000 or as high as $600,000, depending on who's asking. The first two businesses supported by Mercedes are City Bench and Bluebird Hill Farm.

It's important to note that GM's contribution comes from its foundation -- a nonprofit that has been funded largely by the for-profit automaker over the past 34 years. Like all American foundations, the GM Foundation is required to give away at least 5% of its investment assets each year, but since the Foundation's holdings totaled around $138 million at last count (at the end of 2008), the $27.1 million gift seems especially large -- not to mention very commendable.

Mercedes' gift, on the other hand, comes from the corporation, which explains why it's significantly smaller. Corporate gifts are often meant for sponsorship of events, stadiums, and the like -- things meant to generate publicity for the corporation, though not necessarily improve the community. This gift manages to do both.

To learn more about these two charity initiatives, check out the press releases below.

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GM Foundation Donates $27.1 Million to Help Raise Graduation Rates

DETROIT – The General Motors Foundation will donate $27.1 million to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to create Networks of Excellence from five existing area high schools with the goals of dramatically increasing graduation rates and ultimately rebuilding the area’s skilled workforce.

The money, which is the largest donation in the 34-year history of the GM Foundation, is aimed at reducing the nearly 50 percent dropout rate in parts of Metro Detroit where the most manufacturing jobs have been lost in recent years.

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