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The Harbus Foundation: Giving Has its Rewards

Marni Weil is a member of one of this year’s Harbus Foundation Venture Philanthropy Teams. Come learn more about HBS’ Harbus Foundation and meet student-selected grant awardees at a celebration on Wednesday, April 20th from 5:15 pm to 6:15pm in the Spangler Meredith Room.

Before I came to HBS, the word “philanthropist” conjured up names like Rockefeller and Carnegie, and in today’s world, Gates. I never imagined that there would be a student organization where I could have experiences similar to those of these civic icons (albeit temporarily and at a somewhat smaller scale!); but low and behold, at this fall’s HBS Club Fair I was introduced to the Harbus Foundation.

The Harbus Foundation is the only entirely student-run foundation in the country. The Harbus Foundation was originally founded in 1997 by The Harbus News Corporation after a windfall in advertising dollars left the organization wondering how to employ a lot of excess cash on hand. Today, approximately 35 students team up into seven teams and each team awards a grant for $10,000 to a local non-profit focused on education, literacy or journalism. What most attracted me most to the foundation was its dual mission: to give back to the community surrounding HBS as well as to get HBS students actively involved in philanthropy.

I joined one of the teams focused on venture philanthropy, a discipline which encompasses both financial and managerial assistance through consulting services. (The Harbus Foundation teams fall into two buckets, five teams focus exclusively on the grant making process giving a grant of $10,000 and two additional teams also offer the winning organization pro bono consulting services for one semester.) The following experience is one that I could only characterize as one of the most rewarding I’ve had here at HBS.

Our team was composed of a group of people new to Boston and unfamiliar with the network of non-profit organizations. With only three weeks to identify the non-profit sector where we’d like to donate, find good candidates in that sector, and complete due diligence on multiple candidates we needed to move fast. Our process led us to identify a truly compelling candidate, Women Express, as the winner. We chose Women Express because of their unique structure as both a learning center where college-age mentors help teen girls develop essential life skills, such as writing, editing and critical thinking, and an international print and online teen issues publication that provides positive messages and real life stories (written by the girls in the center) to offer an alternative to glossies like Cosmo Girl.

Our work has exposed the team to non-profit management both from the funders’ perspective and the view of non-profit leadership. We’ve had to balance tradeoffs of having a limited amount of capital to give and an ample supply of truly deserving social enterprises. We sat with a new management team and listened to their personal stories including: how they made tough decisions like “right sizing” and how they grew and satisfied a complex network of stakeholders at the same time.

Ultimately, management assistance provided marketing support by focusing on the Women Express tiered membership strategy. Our team sought to build various levels of support with a place for everyone attracted to their mission to further social and economic justice by empowering young adult women and to build an innovative and compelling set of offerings in return for member support.

The exposure to a fabulous management team has also been a great experience. Ki Perry Cooney, Director of Development and MBA candidate at Boston University’s Non-Profit Management program feels, “It has been a wonderful give and take with the Harvard Business School team where we’re able to provide complicated, real-world scenarios while they’re able to synthesize our quantitative and qualitative data into cohesive business development strategies.” Jenny Amory, Executive Director, adds, “Often consultants provide expertise but not necessarily ideas that can be implemented given a non-profit’s limited resources. The Harbus team has really taken the time to understand our organization and has given us both.” After a mutually beneficial experience, we now look forward to our grantee celebration on April 20th where we’ll get to come together with the Women Express team and celebrate an amazing team effort.

My experience was wonderful, but more importantly seven teams had experiences similar to my own this year and have found other fantastic organizations to support like the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center and Minds Matter who along with Women Express and four others will be at the center of this year’s grantee celebration. If you’re interested in getting involved and joining a Harbus Foundation team next year, contact the two trustees: Brendan Kennealey (bkennealey@mba2006.hbs.edu) or Charlotte Jones (cjones@mba2005.hbs.edu). And for more information about the Harbus Foundation, visit the website at: www.harbusfoundation.org.

April 19, 2005
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