Microsoft Employees Make 2010 Biggest Giving Year in History

REDMOND, Wash. – Jan. 14, 2011 – Microsoft employees made 2010 the largest year of giving in the company’s history, raising more than $96 million for 16,000-plus community organizations.

Giving was up across the board in 2010 – more employees participated, donating more time and money than ever before, which came as a surprise to Giving Campaign planners.

The slideshow below highlights just some of the people and activities that helped make the 2010 Giving Campaign Microsoft’s most successful ever.

The record year is extra special given how economic uncertainties could have lowered participation and results, said Pamela Passman, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global affairs, in a blog post today.

“People are worried about the economy. It makes sense they would take a more conservative approach to their personal philanthropy,” Passman wrote. “We were wrong.”

Employees and Microsoft with its matching program gave $8.1 million more than in 2009. In addition, 4,251 employees donated 353,541 hours of their time to community organizations. Overall, more than 60 percent of the company’s employees got involved in the Giving Campaign at some point during the year.

Employees Leif Hemstad and Kristen Marchus-Hemstad, who work on Microsoft’s Fargo, N.D., campus, are two of those who participated. The husband and wife duo regularly donate to the Giving Campaign – Leif even participated in the United Way’s loaned executive program, where employees are allowed to leave their post for six months to work with a charity group.

A few years ago a relatively simple act of giving captured the couple’s hearts, transforming them into passionate advocates for their community.

At their annual Summerfest party at their home on Minnesota’s Otter Tail Lake, 75 miles (“and 75 minutes”) from Fargo’s Microsoft campus, they invited guests to bring donations for the local food bank. They collected about 50 pounds of food and a few hundred dollars.

Two weeks later, the couple went to drop off the food and money at the local food bank. They weren’t prepared for what they saw – surprisingly empty shelves along with looks of hunger, humiliation and despair on the faces of the people waiting.

“Once we walked into the food shelf, we began thinking that our gesture, while noble, was not significant or impactful to the thousands in our county who face hunger,” Hemstad said.

No one would look them in the eye. The experience was so unsettling that the couple returned to their car and sat in the parking lot.

“I cried, and Leif got direct,” Marchus-Hemstad said. “We decided we were going to do this – we were going to make a difference.”

The couple partnered with the United Way and other concerned locals and planned another party for friends and friends of friends. They aimed to get 75 guests and raise $7,500, and were delighted when 190 people showed up, raising $23,000. A year later the couple held another party and raised $61,000. This year, the party is two weeks away and the couple hopes to raise $75,000.

One kid from a local town of 800 heard about the effort and wanted to help. He put his DJ skills to work for the cause despite a personal battle with cerebral palsy, raising $1,700.

“It was great to see it become infectious,” Hemstad said. “If we hit our goal with this year’s party, we will have raised $150,000 over the last couple of years. More important is that we’re changing the face of what hunger is in our community.”

The couple had looked directly at the face of hunger, and learned some surprising things, Hemstad said. Many of the food bank patrons had full-time jobs. In addition, the couple was heartbroken to learn that hundreds of children weren’t getting enough food – or any food at all – on the weekends. The children would eat at school on Friday, and return on Monday morning with headaches and a lack of concentration that school officials would later learn was because they hadn’t eaten all weekend.

In addition to supporting local food banks and funding semi-truck “food drops” in local communities, the Hemstads and their friends decided to use some of the money they raised to give the local backpack program a boost. On Friday, volunteers anonymously load up backpacks of school kids who need food on the weekends. When the Hemstads started raising money to fight hunger in their community, only one school district in the county had a backpack program for hungry children. This year, all eight school districts in their county will be participating.

“At the local food drops, we’ve met parents who had to make the decision to spend their money to drive to a food drop rather than sending their child to an extra-curricular activity,” Hemstad said. “That’s just something I wasn’t exposed to too much.”

Added his wife: “You always think of food as a given, but then you find out about all the choices people have to make in order to eat or not.”

Both employees were blown away by the 2010 Giving Campaign total.

“Holy smokes! I’m so proud of this company. It’s such a big company, and yes we make a lot of money, but we give so much back. That’s so encouraging; it makes you want to charge on ahead,” Marchus-Hemstad said. “Microsoft is just a confidence and economic multiplier. It’s just amazing what kind of ethics and responsibility this company really puts in you, no matter if someone says you can’t do it or it’s not going to work. If it’s something you believe in, you can make anything happen.”

The Hemstads said they credit their supportive friends in Otter Tail County and Microsoft for perpetuating the kind of success stories like the one happening in their community.

“Our $1,500 donation to the United Way becomes $3,000 with the Microsoft match, and this $3,000 is enough to fund a semi with 12,000 pounds of food that feeds 160 families for part of a week,” Hemstad said. “There’s a need everywhere. You don’t have to look that far to find a way to make an impact in your community or anywhere else on the globe. It’s easy to say that, but what makes it easy to execute is that Microsoft, from the top down, has the ability to support every employee who wants to make a difference in their community.”

The Hemstad’s fundraising team also includes locals Ed and Georgia Pullen, Kim Peterson, Arne and Neil Gudmestad, Dave and Sue Sethre, Connie and Woody Caspers, Bernie and Patty Steeves, and Kathy and Rob Bope.

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