Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 4, 2013

Corporate culture of giving built by the people of Microsoft

Participants in Microsoft YouthSpark's Innovate for Good Brazil use Gorilla Glass to imagine how they can help solve pressing problems in their communities. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft)
Lori Forte Harnick 

As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in the company’s 2013 Citizenship Report, “Our commitment to citizenship is brought to life by the work we do in serving communities, championing the growth of our people, and meeting our commitment to responsible business policies and practices.”

Behind that commitment, you’ll find a company that is dedicated – at all levels – to fostering a culture of giving. Doing so requires two critical elements: executive leadership with a commitment to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, and employees who are passionate about making a difference through the products they create for the world and the causes they support in their local communities.

I joined Microsoft knowing that the company had a deep commitment to both. Undoubtedly, Microsoft is in a unique position with a founder and chairman of the board whose reputation for philanthropy is unmatched in the world. But every company – no matter the size or industry – can foster a corporate culture in which philanthropy plays a substantial role in their value system.

Last year, we galvanized Microsoft’s corporate philanthropy around one theme: empowering the next generation through YouthSpark, our global initiative to create opportunities for 300 million youth by 2015 through education, entrepreneurship and employment. One year later, we are seeing the impact and feeling inspired, though we know there is more work to be done to combat a youth unemployment rate expected to increase to 12.8 percent by 2018 (International Labour Organization, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013).

Since launching YouthSpark, we have created new opportunities for more than 103 million young people in over 100 countries through collaboration with nonprofit organizations and governments. We’ve worked to improve digital literacy and access to technology skills training through Technology Education And Literacy in Schools (TEALS), Office 365 for EDU and Partners in Learning; to unleash future innovators by providing access to technology tools and mentorship through DreamSpark, Imagine Cup and DigiGirlz; and to increase employability and entrepreneurship opportunities through BizSpark, Students2Business and Give for Youth.

The TEALS program, for example, pairs high-tech professionals with in-service faculty in high schools to help provide curriculum resources to students eager to learn computer science skills. This school year, TEALS is in 70 schools in 12 states with 280 high-tech professionals volunteering to teach basic and Advanced Placement computer science courses to more than 3,000 students. The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story. We invest in TEALS and all of our YouthSpark programs because of youth like Jeremy Moore from rural Beattyville, Kentucky, who can see a future they never imagined emerging in front of their eyes.

Microsoft employees are among the 280 TEALS volunteers, but through our Employee Giving Program, they, and many others, also dedicate time and money to support a wide array of causes that matter most to them, such as global health and disease eradication, environmental sustainability, poverty and homelessness.

Our annual Employee Giving Campaign is held every October – a magical month at Microsoft. Some employees choose to volunteer or donate money quietly on their own, while others look forward to more than 300 organized events throughout the month, such as a 5K Run/Walk on our main corporate campus and a 24-hour international fundraising relay across time zones when they can share the joy of giving back with colleagues around the world.

We are very proud of our employees for their passion and determination to help so many people less fortunate. And we are eternally grateful to our nonprofit partners whose tireless work has a real impact in our local communities and around the world. Every day.

Last October, we celebrated the 30th Employee Giving Campaign and hit a milestone of $1 billion (inclusive of company match) for more than 31,000 nonprofit organizations since the program began in 1983. To further extend our employees’ generosity, this year we increased the matching funds available to each employee from $12,000 to $15,000, and we continue to match volunteer time at $17 per hour.

This culture of giving has been created by the people of Microsoft.  It’s not a top-down check-box effort implemented by executives. Equally, it’s not a grassroots effort that lacks corporate support. It’s a breathtaking blend of corporate and personal values coming together to make magic happen. So now, onwards, toward the next billion!

Lori Forte Harnick is general manager of Microsoft Citizenship & Public Affairs.

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