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Pamela Passman Headshot

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Giving

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In the past year, more than 30,000 people across the United States gave their time, money and energy to help nonprofit organizations and local communities help the most vulnerable in our society. Through their efforts, over $96 million was raised and over 350,000 hours of personal time were volunteered. This is the essence and the impact of the Microsoft employee Giving campaign.

At the start of each year we sit down to plan for the Giving campaign. Part of that process is making a number of smart assumptions to ensure that we have the resources we need to support our people in their acts of giving. I clearly recall that as we prepared for 2010, one of our assumptions -- and a pretty solid one -- was that the current economic difficulties would probably result in lower participation and lower results. People are worried about the economy. It makes sense they would take a more conservative approach to their personal philanthropy.

We were wrong.

In fact, 2010 was the largest year of employee giving in Microsoft's history, with more money donated year-on-year in absolute and per-capita basis.

Contrary to our fears, it quickly became apparent that the problems facing the less fortunate in our communities actually encouraged our people to step up and give more time and more money.

Over 60 percent of our people got involved and raised over $96 million, which assisted over 16,000 community organizations of all sizes.

What's most important is the impact those donations are having in our community. For example, our employees raised more than $2.76 million for our local United Way. That money is helping their new Parent-Child Home Program, which ensures that children from low-income, struggling families enter school with an equal chance. A smaller organization, Summit Assistant Dogs, received about $118,000 from employees -- roughly one-third of their operating budget -- enabling them to hire an additional full-time employee and train more dogs for people with disabilities. For some organizations, like Seattle Children's Hospital, Microsoft employees are their largest, active source of ongoing donors. The funding ($840,000 this year) goes toward uncompensated care, so no one who comes to Seattle Children's is turned away for insurance or financial reasons.

While it's clear from this experience that we continue to learn about the dynamics of our employees' giving, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the things we have already learned from the past couple of decades.

Culture matters. It's probably not surprising in a company founded by two epic philanthropists -- Paul Allen and Bill Gates -- that we have a culture of giving, but that culture is nurtured and developed by our people. As new people join the company, it's incredible to see how this commitment and passion is passed on. Heroic tales of past giving initiatives are a core part of our company folklore and our culture. It's clear that people view giving as a great benefit of working at Microsoft.

Competition is healthy. There's no doubt that competition plays a part in our annual giving results. Across the company we see teams and groups setting aggressive giving goals -- and then we see the teams competing for greater participation and results.

Passion leads to potential. Our corporate philanthropic efforts are strategically focused on how we can drive social and economic development through technology and skills in areas such as education and learning. With employee giving, however, we empower our people to support the causes and organizations that they're passionate about. Of course, as a technology company, we see many of them using their technology skills as a core part of the Microsoft Giving campaign. But we have found that providing people with the freedom to support the causes that resonate with them leads to a more successful outcome for them and the community.

Time is money. Along with increased cash donations we've seen a marked increase in the amount of time being volunteered to organizations in the community. We have focused on making volunteering easy and also added the incentive of paying organizations for the time our employees spend volunteering with them. Our next project is the creation of a company-wide tool that will make it even easier to find volunteering opportunities.

Make philanthropy strategic. Each year, every full-time employee at Microsoft can avail of corporate matching of donations they make to nonprofit organizations up to $12,000. Our employees are increasingly sitting down with their families and thinking about their family's approach to philanthropy and how that gift will be used to best effect over the course of the year.

With 2010 behind us, we're now planning for our 2011 Giving campaign, but this year we'll be reexamining our planning assumptions with a more optimistic lens.