In the future, global automakers are likely to give more of their charity budgets to new markets. Ford and General Motors, the biggest and most international of automakers, are already asking their grant-makers to send more donations to new markets overseas.
'There's a lot of pressure for global giving,' said Tom Kimble, vice chairman of the General Motors Foundation.
International managers want to help charitable efforts near the parts of the company that are growing the fastest, he said.
For several years, Kimble said, General Motors was making money overseas while struggling in North America. At the same time, most GM philanthropic dollars were donated in the USA.
'We have been contributing $110 million, mostly here, with a very small amount internationally, so we're trying to change that,' he said.
General Motors is No. 9 on a list of the '10 Best Big Corporate Givers,' published by the Capital Research Center, a Washington DC based research institute focusing on philanthropy, culture and society. Eli Lilly & Co. (drugs) and Amoco (oil) are at the top. GM gives about 2.2 percent of its profits to good causes.
Ray Byers, contributions program manager for the Ford Motor Co. Fund, said Ford is also feeling obliged to donate more abroad. He said Ford recently set aside $1 million for international giving.
In spite of globalization, there are clear differences between practices in Europe and North America.
General Motors' European brand, Opel, follows the German code of conduct, where it is considered unbecoming to publicize your charitable work. Thus, a spokesman said, Opel will give no information on the subject.
The same is true for Volkswagen. Spokesman Kurt Ripholz said simply that 'the group releases no information on this topic.'
However, it would be a mistake to assume that Europeans don't give to charity because they don't talk about it. Cyril Ritchie, director of Interphil - a Geneva-based association which organizes conferences on philanthropy and consults regularly for the Council of Europe -says that he understands the reluctance of many companies to talk about the subject.
Charity, he says, has an argumentative side, stemming from political implications.
Sometimes a charity's goals conflict with the goals of potential customers. For example, he said, charities supporting planned parenthood, women's health and abortion may offend Catholics and Muslims.
Foundations funded by automotive profits can more easily fund projects that might be considered controversial.
The Agnelli family foundation associated with Fiat supports projects to promote intercultural dialogue and fight xenophobia.
The Agnelli Foundation sees its role as an advocate of pluralism in Italy. The 1996 Senatore Giovanni Agnelli Prize, endowed with L200 million ($120,000), went to Tunisian historian Mohammed Talbi, for fostering understanding between the Christian and Islamic religions.
Through the 'Bertha-Benz Lectures' - a tribute to the first woman to drive an automobile -the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation seeks to promote the role of women in science.
However, the link between a foundation and an auto company is often no more than the name, said Jacques Derrider, spokesman for the European Foundation Center, an association of 150 European foundations.
Certain types of corporate givers - including automakers and tobacco companies - are considered 'undesirable' by some charities, because the corporate goals conflict with those of the charities.
Tobacco companies are being ejected from Formula One racing, because sport doesn't want to be associated with the higher risk of lung cancer. Automakers are the 'enemy' to some environmental charities.
Corporate culture determines how and why companies give.
Renault says its philosophy is to support efforts to solve the most urgent needs (hunger, illness) in the Third World.
PSA talks of its involvement as a 'humanitarian patron' in numerous good causes which it prefers not to publicize.
In Germany, Ford managers say they apply the corporate principle of 'good citizenship' when it comes to charity.
Globalization of business could be good for charities in areas that have little history of corporate charity.
'Philanthropy is very different in different cultures,' said Lillian Bauder, a vice president at US supplier Masco Corp. and president of the Masco's charitable foundation.
'As businesses become more international and become more ingrained in other countries,' she said, 'their ideas about philanthropy are also being carried over with them.'