HBS Donations – philanthropy and/or personal marketing?!?


Your 100 dollar bill for the next Baker Library?

A 100 dollar bill for the next Baker Library?

I didn’t realize how close to the end of my HBS experience I have come before receiving an email from the “2014 HBS Class Gift Committee”. The subject of the email read “In 100 days…”, with the first part of the mail pointing out that I am only 100 days away from graduation. The rest of the email would relate closer to the name of the sender than to the subject, as it informed us on a HBS tradition that was started by the class of 2002. The Class Gift Committee gives graduating students the possibility to contribute financially to HBS. Students can even choose what they want to direct their gifts to – the options include Financial Aid, Educational Innovation, Path-breaking Research or contributing to a global HBS Fund.

The Harvard Crimson article on the latest alum gift to Harvard College

The Harvard Crimson article on the latest alum gift to Harvard College

As a European, I am less familiar with the concept of “educational philanthropy”. Donating to schools is definitely being done, but the scale and the dollar values spent are vastly different. A recent article in The Harvard Crimson of February 20th 2014 confirmed some of the crazy amounts of money flowing back to schools. This daily university newspaper reported on a $150m gift to Harvard College by hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin (class of ’89) – of which $10m would flow to the Business School. Overall, this amount is not even that excessive. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), there were 52 single gift donations of $1m or more to business schools in 2013 alone, with 15 of them higher than $10m. Cornell, Chicago Booth and Stanford GSB top the overall list with respective donations of $350m, $300 and $150m (find the list HERE). And according to The Harvard Crimson, the largest donation to a College was a $600m gift to the California Institute of Technology.

Besides these huge gifts, which often end up having someone’s name linked to a building or a fellowship, there are also the ones coming from the accumulation of small donations across HBS’ large alumni base. In 2013, HBS collected about $22m this way.  When receiving the Class Gift email, I was surprised to find that I would become part of this donating group even before graduating…

Class gift 2014 HBS Website

Class gift 2014 HBS Website

When clicking on the link provided in the email, I am being redirected to a website that allows me to perform my donation. The site adds a competitive aspect to giving money (“Let’s beat the class gift record of the class of 2010!“), social pressure (“No need to mark your section, we know who you are and your section will get full credit!”) and the final ingredient of giving donors impact on the goal of your contribution (“You get to pick what your gift supports!“). All types of motivators that we looked into during our marketing classes last year. At the end of the day, this is a BUSINESS school, right?

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