Creating a Lasting Connection with HBS: Discussing the Class Gift with Executive Director of External Relations Ralph James
Ralph James, Executive Director of External Relations, broke his 30-year media silence to discuss a topic with The Harbus which he cares deeply about — the HBS Class Gift, and what it means to create a lasting relationship with alumni.
James discussed, “It is in our best interest to get people interested and educated about the value of giving to the institution early on. All sorts of research suggests that if you can get people to give three times, they are likely to give eight, and if you get people to give eight times, they are likely to give forever.”
Concentrating on young alumni has been one of James’s initiatives during his tenure. He highlights the importance of the Class Gift as one of a number of steps to involve students in the HBS community, and to continue developing this potentially fulfilling and valuable relationship long after graduation.
Facilitating this development, according to James, is “a new Dean with a new vision and some messaging that really captures the hearts and minds of the alumni…. When you have a message around innovating the MBA program, around reinforcing the core values of the case method and whole learning process, and complementing that with something new that is going to be equally as important as the case method 50 years from now — people get that [this is] reinforcing and protecting the [HBS] franchise.”
As an HBS lifer, James speaks from experience. James’s father graduated from the Class of 1948, his sister is Class 1976, he is Class of 1982, his son is Class of 2009 and met his fiance here, and James both started working and met his future wife at HBS on the day after his last HBS exam.
As of a few weeks ago, the HBS Class Gift was off to the best start in history, not just because of a strong Class Gift Committee, but also because of the messaging around the Class Gift to allow students to invest in projects which they feel passionate about.
This year, students have the choice of allocating funds to four different buckets–Student Financial Aid, Educational Innovation, Global Understanding, and Pathbreaking Research. “[Students] want to give to something that they are interested in and passionate about. Giving for giving’s sake doesn’t usually work. People have to be invested in the mission of the institution before they want to invest…. A lot of [the Class Gift] goes toward Fellowship,” James described, “You can look around your section and see that [the Class Gift] has an impact on somebody in that room.”
Historically, the HBS Class Gift raises between $17,000 and $25,000, and over 60% of graduating students participate.