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From left: Bill Gates, Brad Smith, Steve Ballmer and United Way King County CEO Jon Fine helped Microsoft celebrate passing $1 billion in charitable donations since 1983 on Thursday. Smith said afterward that Microsoft’s reputation as a giving company helps recruit talent.

While high-tech companies like Google and Facebook have made it tougher for Microsoft to recruit and retain top employees and engineers over the years, the Redmond-based software giant believes that its philanthropic efforts are attracting talent now more than ever.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, sat down with reporters after Microsoft marked its 30th Employee Giving Campaign Thursday afternoon and touched a bit on how the company’s reputation as a charitable organization is a recruiting tool.

“It’s an area I feel where Microsoft continues to set the pace for the entire technology sector,” Smith said.

Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel

Each year, Microsoft matches contributions to all eligible nonprofits up to $12,000 per employee, as well as volunteer time at $17 per hour. On Thursday, the company passed $1 billion in donations to over 31,000 nonprofit and community organizations since the Giving Campaign’s inception in 1983.

Microsoft isn’t alone in playing up this angle. Google says that giving back is “part of the corporate DNA,” and in 2011 gave more than $100 million to groups around the world. Apple, not exactly known for their giving habits, gave $100 million to charity last year.

Smith says he considers Microsoft a leader in charitable efforts down in Silicon Valley, despite having far fewer employees than its competitors like Apple and Google. He also thinks that the focus on employee amenities like free food and other on-campus extras reached its peak in 2008 due to the global recession.

“When you’re living through a time when unemployment is up and when people see more human needs, there is a greater focus now on what companies and employees are doing to address those human needs,” Smith explained.

Smith said he “frequently” hears from young interns and employees that Microsoft’s broad citizenship efforts are part of what people find attractive about the company.

“The opportunity to work on great products and services is hugely important and always will be,” he says, “but they also really value the broader connections that a company has in the community.”

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