The year was 2013, and it was time for the Harvard Business School Class of 2008’s five-year reunion. As usual, two alumni stepped up to chair the committee that planned the reunion, and as usual, there was a lot of discussion on how to make the event both a fun experience and a meaningful way to fundraise for their alma mater.
Reunion committee co-chair Alex Crisses decided to take on the fundraising element. He had some ideas about what would appeal to his classmates, but he wanted help from a mentor who had a lot of experience in raising funds for Harvard Business School. He found that mentor in Alan “AJ” Jones, who had been involved in HBS fundraising since he received his MBA in 1987.
Together, they formulated a plan that led to a great deal of support for Harvard Business School’s HBS Fund for Leadership and Innovation.
“AJ did a phenomenal job of helping us see the connection between support of the HBS Fund and the priorities of the school,” said Crisses, now a managing director at global private equity firm General Atlantic. “He spoke at our class event in New York about why HBS is important to him. It resonated deeply with our class members.”
As well it should. The HBS Fund for Leadership and Innovation supports four major areas: fellowships, educational innovation, global understanding, and research.
Fellowships are need-based financial aid awards that enable Harvard Business School to attract the most talented students regardless of their financial circumstances. Through its educational innovation initiatives, the fund allows HBS to continue to develop its curricula, most recently adding more hands-on learning and online content. Gifts supporting the development of global cases and courses allow students and faculty to get firsthand experience in markets around the world. Support of research allows faculty to pursue their own ideas without the constraints of sponsored research.
“AJ gave us the blueprint for talking about what the HBS Fund supports,” said Crisses. “Together, we developed a fundraising mantra—educate people about what’s going on HBS and tell them how we are raising money for change and transformation.”
The HBS Fund allows the school to quickly and thoughtfully pursue innovative ideas because, unlike other funds, it is not restricted.
“In business, venture capital or R&D budgets seed the most promising new ideas,” said HBS Dean Nitin Nohira. “In academia, where endowments are generally restricted to donor-defined purposes, there simply aren’t funds earmarked for advancing the next big idea. The school relies heavily on annual gifts to the HBS Fund for early-stage support of breakthrough projects, courses, programs, and other initiatives.”
Given the importance of the HBS Fund for Leadership and Innovation to their alma mater, it’s no small wonder that Crisses, Jones, and many other Harvard Business School alumni enthusiastically support it. It’s a powerful way to directly and immediately support the school in delivering on its mission to build leaders and foster ideas that can help solve the complex challenges facing business and society.