Guest Articles

February 18

Akhtar Badshah

Developing a ‘Purpose Mindset’: How Microsoft’s Employee Giving Efforts Are Impacting the Company – and the World

Most people know the story of how Microsoft revolutionized the world of technology. But fewer know the story of how Microsoft has created the “great giving machine,” in which employees give their time, talent and treasure in support of causes around the world. In my new book, “Purpose Mindset: How Microsoft Inspires Employees & Alumni to Change the World,” I tell that story from the inside, based on my time leading Microsoft’s Philanthropy program for a decade.

While this past year has brought about extraordinary challenges — from the pandemic to racial equity — it has also provided opportunities for many of us to come together. For millions of people, the overlapping crises of our time have served as motivation to develop a sense of connectedness and shared responsibility, and to apply that to bettering the world.

This desire to address our shared challenges is having a real impact on businesses. When I interviewed Bill Gates for my book at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that companies like Microsoft — and their employees — have a pretty dramatic ability to contribute to social causes. And as the magnitude of the crisis has become increasingly apparent, we have seen many individuals and organizations step up. Below, we’ll discuss a few examples, the impact they’ve had, and the broader potential of employee giving to effect social change.


Mobilizing the Seattle Community for COVID-19 Relief

Seattle was the first metropolitan area in the U.S. to experience recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths. In response, the Seattle Foundation launched the COVID-19 Response Fund last March, which has mobilized 60 institutions, along with thousands of individual and corporate donors, to raise over $34.5 million (as of October 2020). Along with Microsoft, the fund’s partners have included Alaska Airlines, Amazon, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co and The Starbucks Foundation. Similarly, the All-In-Washington COVID-19 relief fund, also led by the Seattle Foundation, had raised $60 million by last September.

In addition, Microsoft also committed $20 million in financial grants, plus technical support, to nonprofit organizations around the world to help people acquire the digital skills they’d need to succeed in a virtual, COVID-19 economy. Microsoft employees themselves also immediately rallied around relief efforts impacting both the Seattle community and others; in just three months they raised $42.8 million for COVID-19 relief efforts, supporting more than 10,000 nonprofits in 69 countries.


How Collective Action Benefits Employees — And the World

While there is an opportunity to step up in addressing the current crisis, there is also an opportunity to step out. When we are driven by purpose, we are more willing to step out of our comfort zones to extend the common good.

Today, as relief efforts around COVID-19 continue to build momentum, a collective sense of purpose and hope is building in many communities, bringing us together. In this way, purpose acts as a bridge between people who would have otherwise been strangers, allowing networks to form that will ultimately move humanity forward. When companies provide opportunities for employees to embrace this sort of purpose and empathy, they are also providing them with the opportunity to shift their focus from “me” to “we,” thereby contributing to their teams’ collective well-being.

So how does a company provide these opportunities, especially in times of financial, social and political instability? In “Purpose Mindset,” I share how Microsoft’s employee giving program has been able to grow year over year, thanks to innovative, evolving approaches from leadership and a laser-focus on purposeful, employee-driven giving.

For instance, to inculcate new employees into the “giving DNA” of the company and maintain the momentum among existing staff, Microsoft introduced its “dollars for doers” volunteer match program in 2005: This initiative allows employees to contribute to nonprofits by volunteering their time, while also directing Microsoft funds to these nonprofits. And in 2013, the company introduced a $50 new-hire credit for all new employees, which starts them on their giving journey by allowing them to direct these funds to an eligible nonprofit of their choice. Microsoft has also encouraged micro-volunteering, which Karen Bergin, its Senior Director of Employee Engagement, calls “snackable” volunteerism — it’s meant for employees who have limited time but still want to be involved. This focus on giving back to the community has meant that even during the Great Recession, Microsoft was able to grow its employee giving program.

While those three program offerings may seem small, they add up to enormous impact across the organization. Offering employees, a myriad of ways to get involved — beyond large financial contributions — is part of the genius of Microsoft’s giving program, allowing it to thrive even during challenging times. It also makes employees feel like the company is behind them in their charitable efforts, no matter how big or small.

My hope in writing Purpose Mindset is that other companies will glean lessons from Microsoft’s efforts, inspiring them to create their own institutional structures that enable a culture of purpose and empathy. When purpose becomes ingrained in the DNA of a company, employee passion expands from business impact to societal impact, and the world is better for it.


Note: You can order a signed copy of Purpose Mindset: How Microsoft Inspires Employees & Alumni to Change the World from Island Books or directly through your favorite bookseller. It is published by Harper Collins Leadership and is part of the Microsoft Alumni Network imprint.


Akhtar Badshah is Founder and Chief Catalyst at Catalytic Innovators Group.


Photo courtesy of geralt.



Coronavirus, Technology
COVID-19, nonprofits, philanthropy