Hurricanes Turn Dealmakers Into Philanthropists

In the wake of hurricanes like Harvey, Irma and now Maria, companies like Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, PepsiCo, Walmart and the Home Depot have pledged millions of dollars for aidand relief.

Executives and institutions normally known for their big-ticket dealmaking and political pronouncements have taken on an almost activist stance in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

During the worst of Hurricane Irma, Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, sought refuge in the wine cellar of his Necker Island home in the British Virgin Islands, along with members of his family and company executives, according to Reuters. 

Writing on his blog he pledged, “We will do whatever we can to support and assist our local community through this extremely testing time.”

Branson urged that governments do more about climate change, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increased frequency and ferocity of hurricanes. He called for individual donations, provided his yacht for transporting supplies to devastated areas and proposed a “Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan,” referring to the plan that helped rebuild parts of Europe after World War II.

Bank of America, among other companies, pledged a total of $3.5 million for relief from both hurricanes, including matching employee contributions, along with delivering mobile financial centers and ATMs for affected islanders. 

Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, PepsiCo, Walmart and Home Depot each pledged $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, while Exxon Mobil pledged $500,000 and Starbucks pledged $250,000.

As well as providing much needed aid, these donations will likely reinforce the ‘good corporate citizen’ status already enjoyed by Branson’s Virgin Group and other companies. “While some would say that corporations should pass philanthropy over to their shareholders—in the form of dividends—and let shareholders decide what to support, corporations have an opportunity to show model citizenship,” suggests Paul Bates, assistant professor of leadership at Canada’s McMaster Divinity College. “This can occur both through direct giving and through matching donations made by employees.”