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The holidays are the time of year when philanthropic organizations of all kinds -- from local food banks and winter coat drives to global efforts to reduce hunger -- can count on the spirit of giving to kick in. Many of us feel inspired to open our wallets to help those less fortunate and support charitable causes as we celebrate the season. In fact, Americans are a pretty generous lot overall, giving about $218 billion last year to charities, according to the "Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy."
But what do the big IT companies -- and IT CEOs and entrepreneurs -- do to give back? Are they using their wealth to help others or are they just squirreling it away? Is the industry filled with Santas or Scrooges?
As it turns out, a lot of tech companies make philanthropy a big part of what they do. They donate their technology, their employees donate time and expertise, and they give cash donations to a variety of causes in the U.S. and abroad, including efforts to address educational, health care and environmental problems. And some tech leaders have made a name for themselves in the world of philanthropy, most notably Microsoft's Bill Gates.
In 2010, Gates and his wife, Melinda, together with renowned investor Warren Buffett, established the Giving Pledge to encourage the wealthiest Americans to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. The 93 billionaire families who have signed the pledge include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff; even Oracle CEO Larry Ellison joined, perhaps to the surprise of some.
Glasspockets.org, a website created by the Foundation Center, a New York-based organization that tracks philanthropy, profiled the pledge signers and mapped out the sources of their wealth. Twenty-four percent are from the technology services and software sector. Banking and investment was the top industry represented, at 29 percent.
"If this was done 50 years ago, you would have seen most of the wealth coming from industrial manufacturing, energy and mining," said Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center. "That's a tremendous shift -- the source of wealth that's coming into philanthropy is coming out of technology and finance."
But true to their innovative nature, IT entrepreneurs and companies aren't content with old styles of philanthropy. Throughout the tech sector, you'll find disdain for "checkbook philanthropy," and a penchant for innovative giving that tries to address social issues over the long term.
"In general companies are no longer writing checks and sponsoring a function. Instead, they are thinking about how to best invest in the community," said Jackie Norris, executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute, which provides resources and consulting services to companies on community services initiatives. "Tech companies have been on the cutting edge for quite some time."