Harbus Foundation Expands For Greater Impact

The Harbus Foundation, a student-run foundation funded by the Harbus News Corp., has expanded its operations beyond traditional grantmaking, to include venture philanthropy and greater campus outreach.

“The organization is ready to grow,” said Rebecca Walden (OJ), a member of the Foundation’s management team. “The Foundation has done a great job of funding local nonprofits over the last five years. We’re taking it to the next level in the hope of making an even bigger impact.”

One of the Foundation’s new initiatives includes a combination grant-plus-field-study program, in which EC students participate in a field study with a local nonprofit. In addition to valuable strategic advice and business savvy from the students, the nonprofit will receive up to $20,000 from the Foundation to help achieve its goals. In this way, we hope to build stronger organizations while giving students real-life experience with social enterprise.

The Foundation will also be working actively with the Social Enterprise Club, the VCPE Club, the VCO and other organizations to bring more nonprofit-oriented speakers to campus. Because part of the Foundation’s mandate is to raise awareness on campus about grantmaking and philanthropy, we hope to attract speakers with innovative ideas about venture philanthropy, social enterprise, and nonprofit evaluation strategies.

In addition to these exciting new initiatives, the Foundation will continue its rigorous process of grantmaking. Last year, over 60 students participated in evaluating proposals from local organizations focused primarily in education and literacy. For some of these students, this was an extension of a previous interest or career. For others, it was an opportunity to think through issues of performance-based philanthropy for the first time. Although getting consensus from a large group was not easy, these 60+ students came together to champion 10 high-impact, high-potential organizations.

Those exceptional organizations included: Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation; The BELL Foundation; Bridge Over Troubled Waters; Generations Incorporated; The Literacy Connection; Neighborhood House Charter School; Roxbury Preparatory Charter School; South Boston Harbor Academy Charter School; Teen Voices; and Tutoring Plus of Cambridge.

Since its founding, the Harbus Foundation has funded more than 30 such organizations in the greater Boston area. We have allocated approximately $500,000 to those organizations, typically in grants of $10,000 or less. While this is not a huge amount of money for most large nonprofit organizations, it makes a big difference to the smaller, community-based organizations that we target. Oftentimes, organizations are able to leverage our grants to get additional money from other sources, using HBS’s endorsement as a “seal of approval.”

Aside from the impact they have made in the community, the most remarkable thing about the Harbus Foundation is its history. The Foundation was created by a group of enterprising students at the Harbus News Corp, which is a nonprofit organization. In 1997, the News Corp. found itself in an interesting situation: there was more than $700,000 in cash piling up on its books that it did not need for its regular operations.

The students considered many options for using the money, including giving it away in one fell swoop, giving it to a local foundation to allocate over time, and opening up a Harbus office in Bermuda! In the end, they decided to create the Harbus Foundation to funnel Harbus resources to local nonprofits, with a focus on education, literacy and journalism. They mandated that the Foundation must use the endowment both to make a difference for the organizations and to educate students about grantmaking and philanthropy. These enterprising students and the process they went through are now the subject of a case study taught in HBS social enterprise classes.

Every year, the Foundation reinvents itself, with one eye on our mandate and one eye on our future. This year’s management team is working hard to expand the Foundation’s impact on the local nonprofit community-and on HBS.