Microsoft’s employee giving program, which the company has been evolving since its inception and which has generated a total of $1.6 billion according to its recently released annual results, redefines how people can harmonize theirs careers with their instincts to do good.
The program began in 1983, back when teams of employees would compete with one another to raise funds and win the chance to dunk then-CEO Bill Gates in the campus lake. Microsoft launched its first employee Giving Campaign with United Way, and $17,000 was raised for the community.
In 1990, the program was opened to other eligible US-based 501c3 organizations.
Another milestone came in 2005, when the company introduced the volunteer matching program, known in the philanthropy world as “dollars for doers.” When the benefit began, employees who volunteered a minimum of 10 hours would earn $17 per hour for the nonprofit.
“I remember hearing about [volunteer matching] for the first time at a company meeting and being really blown away by it,” said Microsoft Philanthropies Program Manager Jill McGovern, who was in a different role at the time. “You could give time and get a monetary match for organizations you care about.”
The volunteer time matching, which is now $25 per hour, has been, according to feedback, the single biggest motivator for many employees to get involved with a cause they care about.
“I don’t have that much spare money that I can give to nonprofits, so the time matching is huge. That’s what enables me to do more good than I otherwise would be able to,” said Josh Goldberg, a software engineer who teaches prison inmates to code through a nonprofit called Unloop. “It almost gamifies the process.”
In recent years, Microsoft has evolved the program to increase its accessibility to even more employees. The program expanded to interns in 2014. The minimum volunteer hour rule was reduced and then eliminated in 2016; the annual company donation match limit and the hourly volunteer match rate were both increased. Two years ago, the company also formed Microsoft Philanthropies, a new organization to lead the company’s philanthropic efforts, including employee giving.
Employee participation in the giving program rose to 75 percent in 2017, and total dollars to nonprofits increased $14 million from the prior year. In 2017, all-up participation, volunteer participation, and total dollars were the highest in the program’s history.
“The passion of our team and the infrastructure of this program are what make it happen,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Philanthropies. “We’ve become so flexible in the ways that we invite people to give and so nimble responding to causes people care about that we are actually attracting purpose-driven employees to work at this company because of the history, legacy, and strength of the giving program.”