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microsoft-building99Is it Bill Gates and his foundation? The company’s corporate giving program? Or maybe it’s just Steve Ballmer’s passion-packed speeches.

Whatever the reason, Americans believe Microsoft is the most-inspiring company according to a new study by consulting firm Performance Inspired.

The firm, which helps leaders of organizations learn how to activate inspiration in others, surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers about five companies they find inspirational and reasons for why. It found that people who are inspired by certain corporations tend to spend more with those companies, encourage others to do so as well, and exhibit loyalty to the company.

Microsoft, which came in first place three years ago, returned to the top spot in 2013. Apple, meanwhile, dropped all the way to 12th after finishing in first for the past two years.

From left: Bill Gates, Brad Smith, Steve Ballmer and United Way King County CEO Jon Fine speak at Microsoft’s 30th Employee Giving Campaign event.
From left: Bill Gates, Brad Smith, Steve Ballmer and United Way King County CEO Jon Fine speak at Microsoft’s 30th Employee Giving Campaign event.

Terry Barber, the “chief inspiration officer” with Performance Inspired, told Forbes that people respect how, despite bringing in huge profits, Microsoft runs a generous giving program. The Redmond company’s Employee Giving Campaign has raised $1 billion in cash since 1983 for approximately 31,000 nonprofits and community organizations worldwide.

Each year, Microsoft matches contributions to all eligible nonprofits up to $15,000 per employee, as well as volunteer time at $17 per hour. When the campaign began in 1983, 200 employees raised $17,000 for nonprofits. That’s a far cry from the 35,000 workers who raised more than $100 million in 2012.

Steve Ballmer gave another inspiring speech at his final company-wide annual meeting last week in Seattle.

Barber also added that “visionary CEOs,” were important in terms of inspiring consumers. Microsoft’s Ballmer, who is leaving the company within 12 months, could certainly be labeled as inspiring.

“This isn’t about any one person — it’s about this company,” Ballmer said at his final company-wide annual meeting last week. “It’s about a company that is important, forward thinking, that’s innovative, that’s ethical, that hires great people and lets them lead great lives, that helps people around the world realize their full potential.”

Google came in seventh-place, while Amazon finished right behind in eighth. Three other Seattle-based companies made the list: Starbucks (13th), Costco (14th) and REI (24th).

Here’s the full list of the top 25 most-inspiring companies:

1. Microsoft
2. Disney
3. Walmart
4. Chick-fil-A
5. Target
6. McDonald’s
7. Google
8. Amazon
9. Johnson & Johnson
10. Toms Shoes
11. The Coca-Cola Company
12. Apple
13. Starbucks
14. Costco
15. Ford
16. Whole Foods Market
17. Southwest Airlines
18. Wegmans Food Markets
19. Goodwill Industries
20. Pepsi
21. Nike
22. American Express
23. Zappos
24. REI
25. Kohl’s

So, readers, does Microsoft inspire you?

Update, 10:20 a.m. on 10/2: This story was updated to reflect the fact that Microsoft increased its corporate match from $12,000 per employee to $15,000.  

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