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After 16 years of growth, charitable contributions by U.S. corporations have reached a "steady state," where they are expected to remain for the foreseeable future, according to a report by the Conference Board.

Annual giving reached a peak of $4.6 billion in 1986 and 1987, according to the study, "Corporate Contributions in an Era of Restructuring." But based on a series of workshops with chief executives and business specialists from Fortune 1,000 companies, the report predicted "no dramatic growth or drop on the horizon."

In an era of increased foreign competition, hostile takeovers, mergers, acquisitions, and leveraged buyouts, the report noted, "there isn't much time left over for social concerns."

Nonetheless, it concluded, corporate contributions have become a "mild part of corporate mores," accounting for under 2 percent of pre-tax earnings.

The report also noted that education will remain the number one priority of contribution programs, with precollegiate education attracting an ever-larger share of business attention.

In a survey of 130 community-affairs managers, conducted by the Conference Board this year, strengthening public education was ranked as the top priority.

The report predicted that corporations will place a particularly heavy emphasis on the problems of dropouts and underprivileged youths. Aids and homelessness "have also made their way onto the corporate agenda," it stated.

Copies of the report, Research Bulletin 226, are available for $45 each from the Conference Board, Publication Sales, 845 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022; (212) 759-0900.

The Conference Board's predictions for the future are echoed in a new survey of corporate executives by the Council on Foundations.

Major business executives are "deeply committed to corporate charitable giving," the council reports. But it cautions that many ceo's think the economic outlook for business is not good. And that perception could depress future corporate donations.

"This survey represents a very complex and uncertain picture for the future of charitable giving," said James A. Joseph, president of the council.

The survey was conducted by the Daniel Yankelovich Group, based on interviews with 225 ceo's of major corporations and 100 executives identified as "next generation ceo's."

On the bright side, the business executives reported that their corporate giving is more "community-focused" than in previous years. And they identified education as the "community-centered need" receiving the most new attention. Three of four ceo's of top 1,000 companies said they had singled out education for increased support.--lo

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