Like most investors, you probably aim for the best possible return when picking potential investments. But as consumers increasingly clamor for companies to embrace social responsibility, good corporate citizenship is fast becoming a vital part of any business or stock's success.

Corporate Responsibility magazine recently released its "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list, in which it rated members of the Russell 1000 large-cap index on more than 300 different elements related to responsible behavior. In the coming weeks, I'll delve into each of the seven categories that contribute to a company's overall score.

Today, we'll look at philanthropy, which gets a 9% weighting. Here are some of the top-10 rated companies in this category:

  • Spectra Energy (NYSE: SE)
  • Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)
  • McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP)
  • Lubrizol (NYSE: LZ)
  • Johnson Controls
  • Accenture
  • Hewlett-Packard

To earn their high scores, the companies above engaged in a variety of good deeds, including donating in-kind gifts and loaned talent (along with cash, of course), paying employees who volunteer, having retiree volunteers, and offering employee volunteer services. Here are just some of the things that the companies above do:

  • Spectra Energy encourages employee volunteerism, with workers logging more than 28,000 hours on volunteer projects in a recent year. The company also matches donations dollar for dollar, up to $7,500 annually.
  • Procter & Gamble has embedded some of its giving in consumer programs, offering to donate to various charities when people buy certain products. When disaster strikes around the world, P&G often sends goods to help, including the 6 million PUR packets it dispatched to Haiti to provide clean water for earthquake survivors.
  • McGraw-Hill has a Financial Literacy Now campaign, through which it hopes to reach 100,000 students and adults. It also supports organizations such as microcredit provider Grameen (which the Fool has also supported).
  • Lubrizol was unknown to most until Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway recently announced plans to buy it. Its Lubrizol Foundation administers a donation matching program and recognizes employee volunteers. The company donated $2.4 million in its last reported year.
  • Johnson Controls was rated No. 1 overall, and sixth in philanthropy. Between 2008 and 2010, its employees logged nearly 380,000 hours volunteering, while the company donated almost $35 million.

Companies that take benevolent actions can not only lift your spirits, but also boost your portfolio. In its first nine years, companies on the "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list outperformed the Russell 1000 over the ensuing three-year period by more than 25%. That's a great motivation for even the most coolly rational investors to take social responsibility to heart.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Procter & Gamble. Accenture and Berkshire Hathaway are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Procter & Gamble and Spectra Energy are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.