A couple of years ago, Mari Horita asked her friend David Jones, a longtime Microsoft employee, if he could answer a few questions about Excel.
She had asked the right guy: Jones, who spent almost seven years earlier in his career working on the spreadsheet program, was happy to help.
Last year, Jones spent dozens of hours volunteering to help ArtsFund, the Seattle nonprofit Horita leads, plan and build an Excel model to help allocate grants among the groups ArtsFund supports.
“To me, it’s fun,” Jones said. For nonprofits, many of which operate without a dedicated technology specialist, “that kind of help is so valuable,” he said.
Microsoft’s annual employee giving campaign contributed $125?million to nonprofits in 2015, including the check the company wrote to ArtsFund to match the hours Jones spent there. That’s a record for the company, and a 7 percent increase from a year earlier. About $62 million of that sum went to organizations headquartered in Washington state, which is home to 70 percent of the company’s U.S. employees.
The software giant’s philanthropic efforts, rebranded in December with a broader set of goals under the Microsoft Philanthropies banner, are relatively generous for corporate America, a habit that dates back decades.
Microsoft matches employee donations of up to $15,000 each year. Employees who, like Jones, donate their time to a cause, see their hours matched in Microsoft donations to that nonprofit to the tune of $25 an hour.
“I’ve been here 27 years,” said Mary Snapp, a longtime Microsoft attorney who in December started leading Microsoft Philanthropies. “I remember in the first year, sitting in the all-company meeting at Seattle Center, and hearing Bill Gates talk about the giving campaign. It’s a big thing here . a huge range of employee volunteer activities.”
Snapp said 71 percent of Microsoft’s U.S. employees donated time or money in 2015.
Among them is Juan Lema, a Microsoft software engineer who is in his second semester teaching computer science, via video chat, to high-school students in Quincy, Grant County. The Central Washington town counts a Microsoft facility among a cluster of data centers drawn to the region’s cheap electrical power.
“A lot of kids at that age are thinking about what to do in university,” Lema said. Computer science and other fields that require similar computational thinking skills aren’t among the obvious career options for many in the agricultural community.
Three-quarters of the town’s residents identify as Latino or Hispanic, groups underrepresented in the ranks of technology companies like Microsoft. Some of Lema’s students are first-generation U.S. citizens.
“We’re very privileged in many ways” at Microsoft, Lema said. “Giving people the opportunity to reach their potential, or at least discover they have that potential, is very important to me.”
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