Why the Harbus Foundation Matters

So what’s the deal with this Harbus Foundation Gala?

You’ve seen emails from your Service Reps, lots of tweets, and some flyers in Aldrich. But why is this one different from all the other fancy events you have the chance to attend while at HBS? As someone who has lived and breathed this gala for the past 8 months, let me start from the beginning. 

Let’s flash back to 1997, when the Backstreet Boys were all the rage and your biggest worry was keeping your Giga Pet alive. That year, the Harbus News team had an overwhelming amount of excess advertising revenue from virtually every company who wanted to recruit on campus. They pondered what to do with the extra money. “Should we build a new building? Work with a higher-quality printing service? Donate it to charity?”

But the Harbus leadership thought about it a bit differently. They realized they had a very unique
opportunity to make a real impact, and they decided to start a foundation that would support
nonprofits that promoted education, journalism and literacy – three important areas near and dear to the Harbus. They could have easily donated everything to a well-established foundation or esteemed charity in Boston; but for them, it was about more than just the money. It was about instilling in Harvard MBA students the importance of philanthropy and giving them hands-on experience with endowment management and nonprofit consulting – something money itself couldn’t buy. The team also decided that the Harbus News would contribute a defined amount each year to the Harbus Foundation endowment in the interest of ensuring the Foundation’s survival.

Now let’s flash forward a few years, to the mid-2000s, when the internet started to revolutionize
delivery of news, and traditional newspapers saw a sharp decline in advertising revenue and circulation. As you can probably guess, the Harbus was not immune to those declines either, and this meant an inability to contribute to the Harbus Foundation as it had in years past. The initial endowment from the Harbus was generous enough to keep the Foundation’s assets fairly stable, but if the past decade is any indication of the future, the Foundation will eventually need an influx of funds from another source to remain in existence.

Okay, we’re finally in present day — specifically, mid-April of last year, when I was in the Meredith Room in Spangler for the 2013 Harbus Foundation grant award ceremony. There was an ordinary display of cookies and lemonade on a side table, and about 30 of us watched as our nonprofit grantees went up to accept their $10,000 checks. Each team had a Power Point presentation about the organization they chose, and then each nonprofit received an understated folder with their check inside. I distinctly remember being disappointed at the lack of fanfare involved with what I believed to be such an extraordinary occasion. Where were the oversized, Publishers Clearing House style checks?! Why were there only 30 of us in the room? I was frustrated that no one seemed to know much about what we had just done – that we had given away $50,000 to deserving nonprofits in Boston and made a wonderful impact on the community.

In fact, since its inception, the Foundation has awarded over $1 million in grants to more than 80
nonprofits in Boston, and it has allowed hundreds of HBS students to gain a personal understanding of what it is like to give back to the local community. As a member of the journalism grant team last year, I can personally attest that calling Press Pass TV (a nonprofit that provides youth skills training in video production and editing) to let them know they had won a Harbus Foundation grant was one of the highlights of my HBS experience.

It was this hope — that the Harbus News and Harbus Foundation can jointly do more to spread
awareness of the organization, as well as continue to promote student philanthropy by raising money for the Foundation’s endowment – that inspired us to plan our first-ever gala. The ’97 Harbus “dream team” left a big legacy – and we want to ensure that many more generations of HBS students have the opportunity to leave their mark on the Boston community.
The First Annual Harbus Foundation Gala will be on March 27 at the Harvard Club of Boston. Tickets are on sale at www.harbusfoundationgala.com, and student discount tickets are available through March 13.