Dell philanthropy evolves to create greater value for the world and the company

The face of corporate philanthropy is changing. No longer are companies simply writing checks from their corporate foundations, taking a traditional grant-maker role and leaving the work to charities. Increasingly, we want to roll up our sleeves — still providing essential funding, but also manpower, services and expertise. And, we want measurable impacts.

Last year, my team met a little girl named Brooke Hester, who reminded me why this shift is so vitally important.

Brooke is a bubbly 5-year-old from Kingsville, Texas, who loves to dance and play. She is also part of an FDA-approved personalized medicine clinical trial for children with a cancer called neuroblastoma, run by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium. Doctors and researchers in this trial are using Dell-donated technology to analyze massive amounts of genetic data from a child’s tumor to identify the round of drugs and precise doses most likely to have a positive impact.

A Dell high-performance computing system has reduced the time needed to analyze pediatric cancer tumor cells from a week to less than a day. Dell’s cloud-computing technology will enable doctors to collaborate virtually, identify personalized treatment and begin administering it within days — a process that previously took months. And with these improvements, physicians are expanding the number of children participating in the ground-breaking trial.

When Dell closed its corporate foundation at the end of 2010, we wanted more flexibility to donate our products and services in areas where they could have the most impact. To be clear, we are still deeply dedicated to corporate philanthropy; in fact, we commit 1 percent of pre-tax profits to charitable purposes. But by moving away from the traditional corporate foundation model, we open the ability to work with our strategic giving partners in a manner similar to how we work with our customers — providing them tools, technology, and funding tailored to their needs.

Last year, Dell donated more than $10 million to support children’s cancer research, and to address the needs of families and children such as Brooke during treatment. Beyond medical treatment, we know that families such as the Hesters need housing, nutritious meals, long-distance education and moral support. Our cancer grants included eight charities around the world in areas where Dell has operations — important to note, because on top of philanthropic grants, our team members provide volunteer hours to extend our giving partners’ work. They cooked meals for families in Ronald McDonald House Charities, painted a mural to cheer young cancer patients at the Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital in Malaysia, and provided support for laptops used by children with cancer at the L’Institut Gustave Roussy in France to keep up with their studies and stay connected to loved ones.

While we strongly believe this holistic blending of time, technology and resources is better for our nonprofit partners, we’re certain it also provides value for Dell:

  1. Our team members want to be involved, and working with our charity partners helps them get more engaged in both their company and their community. Study after study shows that corporate volunteer programs encourage teamwork, increase morale and enhance retention. Last year, our team members gave more than 600,000 hours of their time.
  2. Dell’s mission as a company is to give people the power to do more: delivering technology solutions that enable people everywhere to grow and thrive. It’s why our customers turn to us for everything from computers and tablets, to hyper-scale data centers and cloud technology, to security services and software. I can think of no better proof of our purpose than a giggling Brooke Hester, who I am happy to report, is responding well to treatment.
  3. In today’s economic climate, dollars are more precious than ever. By concentrating our philanthropy in areas where we can back funding with technological expertise and man-hours, we can have far more impact than with a grant alone — and this return on investment is especially important when we’re dealing with issues as critical as treating cancer in children, or helping connect under-served school children with technology.

Ultimately, sustainable philanthropy corroborates how a business is adding value to the world. At Dell, our goal is to put our technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet, and we live this commitment through our giving programs. I invite you to learn more about Dell’s work at

Trisa Thompson is vice president of corporate responsibility at Dell, with responsibility for Dell’s global giving and sustainability. Previously at Dell, Trisa served in the legal team for 12 years and was vice president for legal for the global operations, marketing and product groups. Learn more at or follow her @TrisaDellCRO.