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For These Business Leaders, Philanthropy Is Personal

There’s a lot of talk about high-profile philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg. But for every Bill Gates, there are a dozen other business leaders who are quietly doing the right thing and donating their time and money to organizations they find meaningful.

Let’s meet a few high-level business leaders who aren’t in the spotlight but are making an impact through their own philanthropy.

Alex Crisses, a managing director at private equity firm General Atlantic, comes to his philanthropy through a personal journey. When his wife was pregnant with their daughter, the couple discovered that she had a unilateral clubfoot and would require corrective surgery. They turned to the doctors at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS).

Because HSS was so helpful to them in their journey to treat their daughter’s condition, there was no question that they wanted to be involved with the organization. “We decided we wanted to do whatever we could to repay, not only in that moment, but candidly, for the rest of our lives,” Crisses said in a video about their experience. Crisses serves on the board of HSS’s pediatric counsel and is co-chairman of the hospital’s annual pediatric fundraiser.

Venture capitalist David Bohnett sold his company Geocities (remember that?) to Yahoo! in 1998 and made a cool $300 million in the process. Instead of hoarding the cash, he started his own foundation to give his money to causes that mattered to him. The David Bohnett Foundation focuses on LGBT issues, gun violence prevention, and enriching society through technology and innovation, among other things.

“The future of philanthropy is asking those we’re closest to and that we come in contact [with] the most to join you in getting involved in the passions you both share in common,” Bohnett said in his remarks after receiving the CSQ Visionary Award in Philanthropy, Art, and Culture. “One person can indeed change the world, and for many of those people, they simply need to be asked and given a place to start.”

Laure Sudreau, attorney and investment management professional, has given a total of $11 million to her alma matter, Pepperdine University School of Law. Her latest contribution of $8 million will be used to help advance the impact of the school’s Global Justice Program. Her donation will support and enhance the program’s current offerings and launching new and innovative initiatives that will help people experiencing injustices in the world’s most vulnerable places.

“The world law students are entering is no longer about people being the center of things,” Sudreau said. “It is a world that is about community. I am so proud to be associated with this effort and all of the important work the Sudreau Global Justice Program does on behalf of people in the developing world. The world is in great need of this kind of outreach.”

Ultimately, all three of these philanthropic business leaders are following the advice of theologian John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you ever can.”

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Harvard Business School Grads Give Back to Their Alma Mater

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.