06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Need for a Blended Approach to Philanthropy

I am in Denver at the Council of Foundations Annual Conference which brings together thought leaders and influential organizations concerned with philanthropy and a variety of social issues. The conference theme is Intersections: Social Change, Social Justice, Social Innovation. The morning session for Corporate Grantmakers was title Beyond Corporate Philanthropy: The Opportunities and Challenges of Shared value. Harvard Business School's Michael Porter and Mark Kramer have been writing and speaking on this issue - where a company creates shared value when it takes ownership of a social problem integral to the company's long term success, leverages its assets and expertise against a social problem. The concept of shared value is gaining increased attention within corporations - from business, CSR and philanthropic leaders - yet the challenge of pursuing it can be incredibly daunting.

At Microsoft the notion of shared value has been an inherent part of our philanthropic program design. Examples of this commitment include Unlimited Potential a program designed to provide sustained social and economic opportunity for people around the world and the Elevate America initiative which provides IT skills training and certification to unemployed and underemployed people in the United States. My colleagues and I approach our work in Community Affairs to identify the points of intersection between the social issues and the potential impact of the company's core competencies. We collaborate with both our internal and external business partners to ensure we have a one Microsoft approach to workforce development - an issue the company cares about deeply.

As the corporate sector pursues a path toward shared value, there is reason for concern that this may result in a move away from 'philanthropy' that ultimately results in a move away from supporting organizations that specialize in addressing major social problems. All corporations, especially those that constitute a considerable footprint in their community, have a tremendous opportunity, and a responsibility, to their community. Regardless of the opportunities we see to align our technological resources with major social issues, Microsoft maintains a commitment to support education, arts and culture, social and human service organizations in our own community. We also encourage our employees to do so and match their contributions dollar for dollar up to twelve thousand dollars.

It was refreshing to see that many corporations attending the conference do share this same philosophy of a more blended approach where they do have a focus on their core competencies but also take on areas that address social problems that are not in their core competencies as it is the right thing to do. It would be regrettable if our efforts to be innovative and create greater alignment between our philanthropic works would actually result in us losing the ability to make thoughtful and impactful decisions that benefit the community at large. Judith Rodin the CEO of the Rockefeller Foundation put it best in her session on social innovation, that since its inception foundations have been at the leading edge of supporting all areas of social innovations. I believe corporations and corporate foundations should have a blended approach - invest where the greatest need is in their community and also find a clear area of focus where we can bring the full power of resources from the company to address that social issue. At Microsoft we strive to do both.