THE Christmas just gone was a tough one for charities, with some describing it as the worst in recent memory.
But the head of Philanthropy Australia says Australians are among the world's best when it comes to corporate giving, through acts such as pro bono professional work, allowing staff a day off for charity work and funding a moustache for Movember.
Louise Walsh, the philanthropy body's newly appointed chief executive, said the Sydney Olympics raised the bar for Australian corporate philanthropy.
Volunteers then sprung from large companies such as AMP and Westpac and companies gave up on the traditional model of "free tickets and putting up logos".
Nowadays, it was accounting company PwC and electronics company JB Hi-Fi that were leading the way on corporate giving, Ms Walsh said. Start-up incubator Atlassian has also attracted plenty of kudos for promising to donate 1 per cent of its profits to charity.
But there's more to be done before Australian companies can get comfortable.
First, there is a dearth of hard data on corporate giving. The most comprehensive research was the government-commissioned Giving Australia report, released in 2005, which said that in the four years to 2004, the proportion of businesses giving through donations rose from 40.5 per cent to 58 per cent.
The report said that corporate giving was more likely to be made by larger businesses, particularly those that had "won management commitment, have a formal budget, qualified staff and systems in place to manage this function within the organisation".
Those least likely to give, the report said, were often small and medium enterprises (SMEs) focused on business survival or concerned that giving contradicted their responsibility to stakeholders.
But Ms Walsh said workplace-giving initiatives, in which employee donations were matched by employers, had been a success story at large companies and work was under way to encourage smaller companies to adopt the practice.
Charities Aid Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to match donors with charities, will use a recent donation to tailor workplace-giving software for SMEs.
Meanwhile, religious charity Anglicare said although schools and churches were the biggest supporters of its toy and food appeal, many businesses were weighing in.
The number of "giving trees" at the top end of Collins Street increased to five this festive season from just two in 2011, Anglicare Victoria communications manager Andrew Yule said.
Mr Yule said donations to Anglicare's broader Christmas appeal had been stable since the start of the financial crisis, with the number of donations slightly down but an increase in the average amount given.