January 17, 2008 5:45 PM PST
Doing philanthropy the Google way
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As far as Google.org working to improve the flow of information for governments' public service efforts and lobbying public officials for changes, "You won't see many companies stepping up and dealing with governments like that," Moore added.
Google.org carefully chose the initiatives it is funding based on the types of information and engineers it could offer, as well as global reach, Brilliant said. "We took a look at the biggest problems in the world and...then looked at Google and said what do we have to offer?" he said. Those "fit who we are at this moment in time."
A survey of leading Silicon Valley companies found varying focuses when it comes to philanthropy.
Through its corporate responsibility and citizenship initiatives, Microsoft donated nearly $70 million in cash and more than $330 million in software to nonprofits globally in 2007. Many of the projects involve digital literacy, youth programs, and community technology centers in developing countries.
Cisco Systems contributed nearly $117 million in cash and in-kind contributions during 2007. The company plans to spend $15 million over five years on mitigating global warming by integrating network technologies into city infrastructures.
Intel spends more than $100 million a year, mostly supporting education projects, including efforts like teacher training and building computer clubhouses around the world, said Brenda Musilli, president of the Intel Foundation.
Hewlett-Packard also focuses on education, with some funding targeted at economic development and the environment. In 2006, HP spent $45.6 million in cash and equipment toward community investment and has donated more than $1 billion in 20 years.
Salesforce.com has given more than $10 million in grants, mostly focusing on youth and tech programs, since 2000, including $3.5 million globally in 2006.
Online auction company eBay has given more than $8 million to nonprofit organizations through the eBay Foundation since it was created in 1998, including microenterprise development grants aimed at providing access to credit and markets, technical training, economic literacy, and asset development.
But what about Bill Gates and his renowned largesse?
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tops the list of U.S. foundations in terms of total giving (more than $2.8 billion in 2007 alone), according to The Foundation Center. But it's not really fair to compare the Microsoft founders' private philanthropy with that of a corporate foundation whose activities are linked with the corporation, experts say.
"I think the comparison of Google with the Gates Foundation is not particularly useful," especially since charitable giving by corporations is limited by law to 10 percent of their taxable income, said Moore of CECP.
Under the social entrepreneur framework, one could argue that there is a greater incentive to generate results and provide a rate of return than with traditional charities.
"We're not trying to accomplish the giving away of money, but find a solution to a problem, and if that takes a buck it takes a buck," said Raymond of OnPhilanthropy. "It's not ungenerous because it only took a buck to solve the problem."
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