Small companies in the United States - those with fewer than 500 people and, in most cases, fewer than 20 - number 27 million and employ about half of the nation's workers.
The median amount the small businesses in the survey gave to charity was $500 to $2,000 in cash last year, meaning half gave more and half gave less. Companies in the survey had annual revenues of $100,000 to $250,000.
But the poor economy has already started to hurt small businesses' philanthropy. 60 percent of small-business owners say the economic turmoil has affected their giving. The survey also found that 38 percent of businesses gave less over the last year, 47 percent gave the same amount, and just 14 percent donated more.
The survey found that small-business leaders take an ad hoc approach to their giving. While they say they value the importance of philanthropy to their work, most do not consider it to be influential to the success of their business or have a plan for giving away money.
But more young entrepreneurs are starting to incorporate philanthropy into their business plans from the beginning, according to the survey. People who own businesses that are less than five years old are more likely than those with older businesses both to align their giving with their business goals and to involve employees in giving.
Among the survey's other findings:
- Social-service charities won the largest share of support - 62 percent - from small companies. 62 percent say they gave to such organizations, more than any other cause. 55 percent gave to educational organizations, 44 percent to health charities, 28 percent to arts institutions, and 27 percent to environmental causes.
- Just 43 percent of small-business leaders say they use charitable giving as a way to promote their company.
- Many small-business leaders - 43 percent - say their business is not doing enough charitable giving. They say a lack of money, organization, and time are the three main reasons they do not contribute more.