How Will Caterpillar’s New Chicago Headquarters Affect Corporate Philanthropy?

There’s been quite a bit of buzz around Chicago ever since the construction machinery company, Caterpillar, announced that it would be leaving its long-time home in Peoria, Illinois to relocate a little further north. Not only that, but Caterpillar’s name has been all over the news lately, and not in a good way. First, the federal report was released accusing Caterpillar of tax fraud, and now evidence keeps trickling out about how the company’s noncompliance was intentional and fraudulent. The highly publicized raid by three federal agencies on Cat’s headquarters was nothing short of humiliating. Caterpillar has been holding up the Peoria community for a very long time, so that and scrapping plans to rebuild in downtown Peoria in favor of Chicago hasn’t gone over well with local residents, to say the least. 

When media coverage and public perceptions take a turn for the worse, corporate conversations often shift to philanthropy. That's certainly the case with Caterpillar right now. There has been a great deal of speculation that when the dust settles on this scandal and Caterpillar finds its groove in Chicago, it will also be bringing millions of dollars for Chicago-area nonprofits. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cat has expressed intentions to be actively involved in local Chicago philanthropy when it arrives.

Not much is actually known yet about Cat’s philanthropic plans for Chicago, but then again, the company has a lot of other pressing matters to deal with at this moment. Still, this is a corporate funder to keep on your radar for the foreseeable future. 

The Caterpillar Foundation has given out over $685 million to charities since 1952; however, much of this giving has had a global focus. Other topics of interest, both nationally and internationally, have been education, the environment, basic needs, and poverty-fighting measures. When it does give locally, this is a foundation that tends to support big-name nonprofits like Feeding American and United Way.

The company reported that it gave nearly $7 million to causes in Illinois last year, but that’s less than 20 percent of its total annual giving. So, while there hasn’t been any indication that Cat’s giving will make a dramatic shift from global to local, we wouldn't be surprised to see some of Peoria’s old funding make its way up to Chicago. This is a funder that invests in the communities where employees live and work, and the Chicago-area office is expected to employ up to 300 people. In turn, nonprofits in the Peoria area may have to endure some rough days ahead. The company has said that it will still stay engaged in Peoria after the move, but locals are skeptical.

Given the tax scandal, we wouldn't be surprised to see Caterpillar's overall giving go up in coming year. We've seen other corporations accused of wrongdoing increase their philanthropic giving. And while buying positive media like this feels unsavory, nonprofits will welcome the money.

While we keep watching the news to see how Caterpillar’s tax situation and headquarters move play out, take a look at the Caterpillar Foundation’s website get more familiar with what it funds in the event that more Chicago-centric opportunities are around the corner. You can even take an eligibility quiz to determine if the type of grant you need is eligible for potential funding.