Pfizer sent $10 million in cash and $25 million worth of pharmaceutical products. DHL provided chartered flights to help in the delivery of relief supplies. Kimberly-Clark donated health and hygiene products, including Huggies diapers, Kotex feminine pads, and Scott tissue products. And Procter and Gamble has pledged 15 million sachets of its water purification treatment product, Pur, which can purify ten liters of drinking water, vital for the devastated communities in affected areas.

Overall, American companies have donated more than $180 million in cash and products to assist victims of the tsunami that devastated South Asia just before Christmas.

“Just about every company of every size is doing something,” says Curt Weeden, president of Contributions Academy, a Charleston, S.C., company that specializes in corporate philanthropy. “It really has engendered an amazing kind of response.”

Within hours of the disaster Pfizer began working with local governments and relief organizations in the region to assess which of the company’s medicines were needed. As a result, the company says it will contribute approximately $25 million worth of the healthcare products, including the anti-infective products Zithromax, Zyvox and Diflucan.

“Pfizer is responding to this enormous tragedy through the donation of needed medicines, funds, and logistical support to assist both in the immediate relief and the longer term management of the disease and health risks,” said Hank McKinnell, chairman and chief executive officer. “In addition to our financial contribution and product donations, we are ensuring that Pfizer colleagues with the needed medical and technical skills are available to assist with the relief effort throughout the affected areas.”

But smaller companies have been just as generous—and sometimes even more so in relative terms. Texacan Beef & Pork Co., a leading online purveyor of pecan-smoked barbecue meats and sauces, says it will donate all retail and Internet sales revenue generated in January and February to the American Red Cross Tsunami Relief Fund.

“We were prepared to add a link to our site, like other Internet companies have done, so customers could contribute to a relief organization,” said Blake Barker, president. “We felt we had to take it a step further. It’s the least we can do to help meet this overwhelming human need.”

Other companies were able to offer logistical support.

According to Fred Beljaars, executive vice president of operations for DHL Americas, “DHL has a long-history in aiding countries and organizations, on local, regional and global levels, that have been affected by natural disasters or other extenuating circumstances. As a global company and corporate citizen, we are committed to assist these countries with our logistical expertise and humanitarian aid during this time of need.”

As a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Disaster Resource Network, DHL quickly mobilized to offer immediate assistance. To date, it has chartered seven flights, via a mix of DHL aircraft and commercial uplift to areas such as Phuket, Colombo, and the Andamans from India, transporting more than 126 metric tons of relief supplies, including medical supplies, food, clothing, and drinking water to tsunami-affected areas in the region.

The company is also providing free use of storage facilities for relief supplies in Jakarta, Indonesia to the United Nations relief operation.

For most companies, however, cash donations are the most effective way to help.

“The short-term need for most NGOs is financial,” says Carol Cone, president of Boston-based public relations firm Cone, which specializes in cause branding and social responsibility. “Product donations, food and blanket drives and other material goods require delivery structures to be implemented and do not reach intended recipients in the short-term. We recommend waiting for information from relief organizations on what will be most needed in the long-term.

“Relief efforts will take months, even years, to be completed. Although donations will be large during the first few months, statistics show that most donors lose interest before the effort is complete.” For that reason, Cone says, companies should onsider making a multi-year giving commitment.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation increased its cash contribution to the United Nations Children’s Fund to $500,000 and said it would match dollar-for-dollar gifts made by its employees to UNICEF’s relief operation, up to an additional US$500,000.

“As the magnitude of this disaster has grown, all of us at Kimberly-Clark felt compelled to do more,” said Thomas Falk, Kimberly-Clark chairman and CEO. “With a tragedy of this enormity, we know it will take the combined efforts of governments, charities, individuals and companies to assist the millions of people affected.”

MasterCard International, meanwhile, announced today it would waive its fees to the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, UNICEF, Save the Children and CARE USA for donations for tsunami relief.

“With the generous backing of the financial institutions who participate in the MasterCard network, we are honored to be able to support the massive relief efforts now underway, and ensure that 100 percent of the donations Americans make through these organizations are available to help victims of this horrible tragedy,” said Ruth Ann Marshall, MasterCard president of the Americas. “Americans have opened their hearts to the people of South East Asia, and we want to make sure their contributions go as far as possible.”

Other companies have promised to match employee donations—in some cases driven by the expectations of employees themselves. When the Intel foundation announced it would match employee donations, employees gave $200,000 in just the first day.

“In the last five years, employees realized they have clout and pushed companies to do things,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

And so far, there have been one of the errors in judgment that marred an otherwise impressive corporate response to the last major disaster relief effort.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center three years ago, Starbucks reaped a whirlwind of negative publicity after one of its franchisees charged rescue workers for bottled water, but this time the company was among the first to respond. It quickly donated $100,000 and says it expects its contribution to exceed $1 million by matching employee donations and giving a percentage of sales of its Sumatra coffee, which is imported from the Indonesian island devastated by the tsunami.

The fact that at least 142 companies had made public announcements about their donations suggests that companies understand the need not only to act, but also to be seen to act.

“It is always a tricky thing for a company to strike the right tone in making a contribution of money or resources to help after a human tragedy,” says Cone. “No company wants to seem exploitative or inappropriate. That said, Cone’s latest research continues to indicate that consumers want to hear about the social responsibility efforts of companies. So we believe the discussion shouldn’t be about whether to communicate externally, but about how to do so appropriately.

“In the wake of the September 11 tragedy, companies like Honda and Proctor & Gamble made major donations without external communications, and got complaints from customers and shareholders who believed the companies had failed to step forward to help. On the other hand Verizon officials talked frequently to the media about the company’s extraordinary efforts to restore telecom for Wall Street and emergency crews, and some people complained Verizon was exploiting the tragedy for marketing gain.”

For that reason, Cone recommends that clients emphasize employee communications, use their websites to make a “brief, to the point, announcement” about their actions; and issue a news release “without flowery language or self-praise- reporting the facts of what has been done and expressing thoughts for the victims.”