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A Microsoft employee willing to lose his man bun for a good cause. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft has again broken its record for employee giving, donating $142 million to nearly 19,000 charities last year. That’s a 14 percent increase over the previous year’s donations, and the sixth straight year that Microsoft workers have given away $100 million or more.

The effort has come a long way from the $17,000 raised when the program began in 1983. Since then, Microsoft employees have given $1.5 billion through donations, corporate matching and volunteer hours, making the company a philanthropic front-runner.

Corporate leadership largely attributes the 2016 bump to the giving program’s increased visibility — which includes the creation of Microsoft Philanthropies. The program, which launched a little more than a year ago, aims to expand technology access, targeting under-served populations worldwide.

Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and lead for Microsoft Philanthropies.

Microsoft Philanthropies’ efforts include a three-year initiative to donate $1 billion in cloud computing resources to university researchers and nonprofit groups; support for expanding broadband access globally; funding for international computer science education through YouthSpark; support for U.S. tech education from kindergarten to high school; and donations to global aid organizations assisting children and refugees.

In total, the Redmond-based software company and its employees donated $650 million to charities last year.

“Technology has the power to uplift, to connect, and perhaps most important, to save lives,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and lead for Microsoft Philanthropies, in a prepared statement.

“Together with our grantees, partners and employees around the world, Microsoft Philanthropies is using the power of technology to help those impacted by some of the world’s biggest challenges, including economic disruption, inequality, disasters, war and famine,” she said.

To encourage a culture of philanthropy, Microsoft matches the cash contributions of its U.S. employees and when workers volunteer with nonprofits, the company donates to charity $25 per hour of time volunteered. Microsoft matches each employees’ donations up to $15,000 annually.

A Quidditch match facsimile was one way that Microsoft employees raised money last year. (Microsoft Photo)

All of this generosity costs the company, but Karen Bergin, director of Employee Engagement for Microsoft Philanthropies, said that there is a significant payoff in terms of attracting and retaining highly sought-after tech employees.

“Year over year, we’re starting to see millennials coming on board, and they are very keen to participate in the volunteering aspect,” Bergin said in an interview. “I hear almost every day of every week that one of the reasons that they joined the company is that they were very aware of our giving program.”

National research by Deloitte supports the idea that corporate philanthropy does more than just generate warm, fuzzy feelings. Workplace-driven volunteerism is associated with greater employee loyalty and career satisfaction.

Karen Bergin, director of Employee Engagement for Microsoft Philanthropies.

“It’s fair to say the culture of giving is very much part of our DNA,” Bergin said.

There’s also the fun factor. The company’s largest fundraiser is the annual October auction, in which employees last year donated 1,700 items and raised $1 million. Donations included a trip to Burger Master with CFO Amy Hood and carpool karaoke and breakfast with Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president of Human Resources. Quirkier offerings included the honor of chopping off the man-bun of a Microsoft colleague — with garden sheers — and a Harry Potter-inspired Quidditch match.

Nearly three-quarters of the company’s U.S. employees made charitable contributions last year.

That’s on top of other charitable efforts by Microsoft:

  • In 2016, the company donated $465 million in cloud services to more than 71,000 nonprofits. Its Affordable Access Initiative is helping 11 countries connect rural schools, community centers, healthcare clinics and police stations to the internet.
  • Three years ago, Microsoft launched YouthSpark, an international effort to provide digital literacy and computer science education, with a focus on under-served communities and female students.
  • Microsoft is the largest financial contributor to Code.org, which targets computer science education for women and underrepresented minorities in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Their support for SOS Children’s Villages International helps lost, orphaned and displaced children and their families in 135 countries. The group is also setting up technology centers in Europe for Syrian refugees, assisting them in researching their journey, finding information on host countries and connecting to loved ones.

Bergin attributes the success of the Microsoft’s employee giving efforts to “the blend of leadership investment and visible support, and the absolute freedom that our employees have to put on events and organize events to support charities they care about.”

“Alongside that is the very clear investment of the company,” she said.

Despite Microsoft’s eagerness to promote its charitable endeavors, Bergin gave a measured response to a question about Microsoft’s philanthropic role in contrast to other corporate efforts.

“Companies approach employee giving programs in vastly different ways, and we celebrate every company that is working to advance a future that is for everyone,” she said. “Together, we can all help nonprofits achieve their missions faster. Every dollar and hour donated makes a difference. Our people tell us time and time again that giving is personal.”

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