Editor’s Note: This post by Brad Smith, Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft, originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

If you had visited one of Microsoft’s locations in the United States during October you might have found an employee’s office filled with pink flamingos. For a small sum donated to a nonprofit of their choice — and matched by Microsoft — an employee can have their co-worker’s office “flocked” with plastic pink flamingos. It’s one of hundreds of creative fundraising activities that make up our employee giving campaign at Microsoft. The 2011 campaign was our largest year of employee giving since the program began in 1983, with $100.5 million donated and matched for community organizations and nonprofits.

It should be no surprise that a company founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen has a deep culture of employee giving. Even so, we continue to be thrilled by the new records being set by Microsoft employees in giving their time, energy and resources; it never ceases to amaze me. The $100.5 million donated by Microsoft employees in the United States with corporate matching is an increase over the $96 million raised in 2010. Since 1983, our employees have now donated more than $946 million to community organizations around the globe.

To support this giving, we offer a $12,000 corporate matching gift to each U.S.-based employee. We match financial donations to eligible nonprofits on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And for the past five years we’ve donated $17 to nonprofits for every hour our employees volunteer for an organization. The number of employees participating in the matching program has steadily risen each year, and in 2011, more than 64 percent of our U.S. workforce contributed, making donations to more than 18,000 community organizations. In addition to cash donations, volunteers from the company committed 426,671 hours, which raised $7.2 million for nonprofits. That’s an increase of more than 73,000 hours over the previous year, bringing the total number of volunteering hours, since we started tracking them in 2006, to 1.7 million hours.

The topline numbers, while impressive, only tell part of the story. The real stories are from our employees who passionately give their time, resources and expertise to help create opportunities for others:

· James Liao, a recent college grad who works for us in North Carolina, volunteered over 700 hours and raised $12,000 in his first six months at Microsoft to share his technical skills with Dream Corps, a nonprofit that promotes reading in rural China.

· Ross Heise, a senior content publisher in Windows, has volunteered more than 1,220 hours since 2005 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (a long-time partner of Microsoft nationally) in the Puget Sound region. Specifically, he applied his technology skills to help build a website for the club’s football league.

· Adnan Mahmud, a program manager for Microsoft Research, used his technology skills to start a micro-giving nonprofit, Jolkona, which provides donors with proof of impact for donations made on the platform. Adnan has mobilized his colleagues to volunteer for more than 2,000 hours to support Jolkona’s 100-plus nonprofit partners around the globe.

There are thousands of stories of employees getting involved to make a difference. So you may be wondering, “How can a company empower their employees to find the time to give back?” Let me share some of what we’ve found to work best:

· We make giving about individual passions. The culture of giving comes to life during the month of October when our campuses across the United States are transformed into fundraising centers. And there are a multitude of events and campaigns that speak to the diverse interests of our employees, ranging from cook-offs and photo books featuring employee art, to cat lovers who put together cat calendars for sale.

· We make giving social. Whether it is running with 2,000 colleagues in the annual 5K run around our Redmond campus (see the picture below) or participating with 230 co-workers in different countries to complete a virtual 24-hour relay around the globe, there are tons of ways our employees work together to raise money for important causes.

5K

· We reward giving. One of our signature fundraising tools is an internal online auction (see screenshot below) that was developed by employee volunteers and during which employees bid on a myriad of items from the world’s largest bologna sandwich to reserved parking (on a campus where even our CEO doesn’t have his own spot!) or being able to box against one of our executives. In 2011, our auction raised more than $670,000.

auction1

We’re incredibly proud of how our people are making a positive difference in both their local communities and beyond. Their commitment is part of what inspires me each day to ensure our citizenship programs have the impact and creativity our employees embody.