MBAs and Philanthropy – Making the Lives of Others Better


Typically, MBA students and alumni are introduced to philanthropy in either of three ways. One is when an alumnus makes a significant gift to the university and the act is highly publicized. Another is when the graduating class raises money that is then gifted to the MBA program in the class’s name. Finally, almost all graduates receive that annual letter or phone call asking them to support the annual fund-raising campaign by making a donation. While these activities serve a very useful purpose, they unfortunately target individuals who are paying large amounts of money toward tuition and fees or are trying to pay off student loans incurred while attending the program. Introductions of this nature do little to foster a spirit of helping to make the lives of others better which is what philanthropy is all about. Nor do they help establish a habit of giving. I believe an alternative approach is needed—one that engages MBA students and alumni in a way that adds very little financial pressure to their already stressed financial situations and allows them to see how their efforts can help make the lives of others better. Let me share with you a recent experience of mine to describe what I believe could be a viable alternative.

Imagine if you will an audience of hundreds attending a banquet honoring the academic achievements of 96 students from grades 4-12 and from eight different Southern states. These students were made to feel like celebrities or Olympic athletes as they walked across the stage to receive a scholarship certificate and have a gold medal hung around their necks, in front of family members and friends, some of who had traveled hundreds of miles to attend. The event to which I am referring is the Chattanooga/Atlanta Carson Scholars Awards Banquet, one of seven such events organized by the Carson Scholars Fund. While the Fund’s stated goal is to recognize and reward the best and brightest students from across the country, I believe the program is also helping to develop a pipeline of potential leaders and quality citizens—many of whom will likely earn an MBA. Participating in programs like this provides an opportunity to see that philanthropy is about helping others rather than just making donations.

Getting involved in charitable activities is often about finding the right opportunity, one where involvement can be integrated into an already busy professional life and is not just about making a donation. Using the Carson Scholars Fund as a model, let me describe some of the possible roles for MBAs to provide support:

  • Filling the Pipeline – A viable pipeline for the Carson Scholars Fund needs two things: donors and students. A one-time donation of $1,500 funds one Carson student scholarship. Donors can be individuals, groups or organizations. Moreover, donors can designate that their funds go to a specific K-12 school, meaning that only students from that school will be awarded the scholarship by way of a competitive process with selection based on academic achievement and humanitarian activities. Accordingly, a single MBA, an MBA class or any employer company can commit to filling the pipeline with a donation and the selection of a local school for awarding the scholarship.
  • Celebrating the Achievements – The awards banquet described above is an annual event. Donors, family members and friends of the scholarship recipient are invited. A single donor or a group of donors can attend. However, the celebration does not have to stop with this one event. Innovative donors could issue press releases to local news outlets or host a local recognition event of their own by holding it at a company location, college campus, MBA program facilities, etc. Celebrations of this nature emphasize the importance of education and involvement in humanitarian activities. Furthermore, local supporters not attending the regional event get to see how proud the recipients are and what their involvement means to these young people.
  • Extending the Education Boundaries – Even though the scholarship recipients are involved in formal education programs, there are opportunities for the individual donors or groups of donors to extend the education boundaries for these young people. Perhaps they could make available a visit and tour of company facilities, providing a summer job that provides hands-on experience, visiting an MBA class, etc. The scholarship recipients have already distinguished themselves; providing them additional learning opportunities can help them enhance their experiences even more. Additionally, these activities provide opportunities for building relationships that could result in the recipients wanting to return to the local community to work.
  • Mentoring – The scholarship recipients come from a wide range of backgrounds, with some having the potential of being the first members of their families to attend college. Many are not aware of all of the educational and career options that are available to them. While high school guidance counselors are a resource, a donor or group of donors can provide additional help as these young scholars try to plan careers and select colleges or universities to attend.

Philanthropic roles for MBAs are unlimited. While donating and serving on the board of a not-for-profit organization are the most common, there are other opportunities, many of which provide an opportunity to see the benefits of involvement directly. Getting involved in the Carson Scholars Fund or finding a similar program is one way. More importantly, such involvement is an alternative to the donor-based introductions to philanthropy that most MBAs experience.

I am sure there are many other ways to introduce MBAs to philanthropy. Please share with the MyeEMBA readers other suggestions you may have by making a comment below.

Additional References:

  • Charity Navigator evaluates tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents to rate a charity’s performance in terms of financial health and its accountability and transparency. The ratings provided help charitable givers/social investors make educated giving decisions.
  • Charity Watch is an independent charity watchdog that reports on how efficiently an organization uses donations to fund the programs they support. They also expose nonprofit abuses and act as advocates for donor interests.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

3 comments for “MBAs and Philanthropy – Making the Lives of Others Better

  1. Margie Davis
    September 1, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Excellent article, Rodney. Your suggestions certainly have merit. I hope the “powers that be” take notice and encourage some of these alternatives.”

    • September 4, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Thank you for reading the article and your comments.

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