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December 18, 2008 10:30 AM

Microsoft named top U.S. company for community investment in survey of peers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft has been recognized by a survey of major corporations as doing the best job of investing in its community. The survey was part of a study published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The study was presented with a broader report on the relationship between business and their communities. Seattle was one of eight cities where the report held forums with business leaders, providing a not-too-surprising list of threats to innovation: education, "the Seattle process," and transportation. Read on for more details.

Microsoft came out on top in an online survey, focused on corporate community investment in 2007. The pool of companies evaluated included "large companies in larger U.S. cities along with U.S. Chamber member firms and thus responses are not truly representative of all corporations in the U.S.," the study's authors note.

The purpose of the study was more to look at best practices in corporate philanthropy, but survey respondents were asked to "name other companies they thought were doing the best job of investing in the communities in which they operate." (Note: The survey is based on 468 responses from corporate employees, a response rate of 1.6 percent. The authors added this caveat: "No statistical tests of the representativeness of the sample or respondent group have been made. Therefore, all conclusions herein should not be considered representative of the general business community.")

corporate ranking for community investment.JPG

The authors introduce their report in the context of globalization and its implications for "how business leaders
view their companies' role in U.S. communities." Contrary to what the authors call "the popular stereotype," many companies choose to stay in a community for years, and invest significantly. "[C]orporate community investment (CCI) is motivated by a desire to improve local competitive conditions and quality of life, 'give back,' and recruit and retain employees and customers."

Education is the top recipient of corporate philanthropy, the report found. "This seems to proceed from a view that education is related to the future competitiveness of the communities in which they are involved," the authors wrote. "... 'Combination funds,' in third place, are gifts made to organizations such as the United Way and Catholic Charities. Therefore, the results suggest that quite a large portion of corporate philanthropy is still not targeted toward particular issues and initiatives, despite the progress the field has made toward more strategic philanthropy in
the past decade."

top areas of corporate giving.JPG

Seattle is one of the eight communities studied in detail in the report. Participants in a forum convened for the report focused on "how Seattle is simultaneously characterized by progressive, forward-looking leadership and conventional urban dysfunction that regularly threatens innovation." The top three issues they identified for Seattle were schools, public decision making (aka "the Seattle process"), and transportation.

The forum participants did not have much faith in existing institutions to solve the "Seattle process" problem. "They ... agreed that no chambers of commerce or other business alliances exist that can confront the slow public processes that threaten Seattle’s continued growth, and therefore believed that a new set of alliances would need to be created to deal with the realities of Seattle’s development challenges."

The Seattle-specific information begins on page 42 of the report (72-page PDF).

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