HBS Alumni Are Here To Help.

Pro bono Consulting

HBS Community Partners mobilizes consulting teams staffed by Harvard Business School alumni to help local nonprofits address business and management challenges.  We leverage each team’s unique intellectual capital and business talent, customizing every project to meet client needs.  The result is a mutually rewarding experience — for alumni who want to impact the social good, and for Community Partners’ non-profit clients.  

Our alumni consulting teams have helped non-profit organizations with a broad range of business issues, including strategy, performance metrics, marketing, organization capacity, board development, and market analysis.

If you are a 501(c)3 organization interested in obtaining assistance from Community Partners, please contact Executive Director, Elaine MacDonald at or call 650-799-9365.  

NEW Project Application Deadlines:

August 25, 2014 — Project Applications received by August 25th will be reviewed by the HBS Steering Committee by September.  Approved projects will have start dates in October and will conclude around April.

January 10, 2015 — Project Applications received by January 10th will be reviewed by the HBS Steering Committee by the end of January.  Approved projects will have start dates in February and will conclude around June.

Nonprofits interested in submitting a project application are encouraged to download it here and email it to Executive Director, Elaine MacDonald at, well in advance of the application deadline to review the project scope.   

Client Eligibility Criteria

To best leverage the Community Partners’ volunteer efforts, a nonprofit organization needs to reach an appropriate stage of development and size. Below are some initial criteria for an HBS Community Partner’s project.  

The organization should:

  • be A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission which benefits the community generally,
  • be in operations for over a year with a full-time Executive Director and at least 2 other paid staff members.
  • have an annual operating budget of at least $500,000.

In addition, projects are most successful when there is sustained staff involvement to enable a team to carry the project through to completion and support for the project from the Board of Directors.

Project Criteria

Community Partners leverages the business skills and experience of the HBS Alumni community to service the business needs of our client organizations.  We do our best to match our volunteers’ skills for each project.  To ensure success of our volunteer consulting teams, we look for projects with the following criteria:

  • Deal with business-related issues within the organization such as administration, strategic planning, organizational development, finance, and marketing.
  • Be scaled and focused so as to be completed by a volunteer group within 4-6 months,
  • Can be managed by a team of about 2-4 volunteer consultants.
  • Excludes direct fundraising activities. (Volunteers may assist clients with activities that support their fundraising needs but do not participate in direct fundraising.)

Project Process

1–Inquiry and Application — Clients who are interested in applying for an HBS Community Partners project are encouraged to contact the Executive Director, Elaine MacDonald ( before completing an project application.  This is an opportunity to ensure that the organization fits within the criteria for Community Partners projects and that the scope of the project is appropriate for consideration.  After the initial conversation, all nonprofit organizations who are interested in seeking assistance from HBS Community Partners must complete and submit a Project Application (click here to download)

2–Application Approval — After a complete Project Application is submitted, the HBS Community Partners’ Steering Committee will review the application.  Some of the criteria that is assessed during this process is:

  • the appropriateness of the project scope in terms of our volunteer’s experiences and the timeframe for the project,
  • readiness of the organization to implement any recommendations that will result from the project,
  • the involvement of the leadership that will greatly affect the team’s ability to gather information and accurately assess the needs and challenges of the organization,
  • the organization’s impact to the community.
  • Download project application here.

3–Team Recruitment — After a project has been approved, we will begin to recruit a team of HBS Alumni that best fits with the needs and experiences of the project.  Most projects recruit 2-4 volunteers for the team from varying ages, interests, backgrounds, and skills.  The teams are primarily put together on the basis of the volunteers’ preferences and interests (they have chosen your project).  All volunteers can be expected to have sound business skills and knowledge, but we may not always have, for example, a marketing expert for your marketing plan.  Some volunteers may have experience with nonprofits through board or other volunteer work, but for some this will be their first experience with the operational or strategic issues facing nonprofits.  Volunteer consultants are expected to contribute 2-4 hours a week for 4-6 months, resulting in total consulting time to the client of about 10 hours a week or on average 200 hours total contributed to the project.    

4–Project Kickoff and Engagement Letter —  The project starts with a kick-off meeting with the Community Partners project team and the client at their office.  This is the client’s opportunity to give an introduction of their organization to the team, and to review the challenges facing the organization.  The project team has an opportunity to ask questions and gather information to better understand the organization and the project.  After the kickoff meeting, the project team will better define the scope of the project and develop a project plan, which will result in an Engagement Letter (click here for a copy of an Engagement Letter).  A member of the Community Partners Steering Committee will step in as the Client Partner to oversee the project and to serve as a liaison between the client, the project team, and the HBS Community Partners Steering Committee.

5– Active Engagement — Most projects are 4-6 months in length.  The team’s project leader is expected to communicate with the client regularly as the project progresses. The client will need to designate a lead person as the primary contact with the project team who can facilitate information gathering and answer any questions that arise during the process.  Depending on the project scope, the team may ask to review financial data, interview board members and customers, and access customer information.  All team members will be bound to confidentiality through HBS Community Partners.  

6–Final Presentation — The project team will present the results of the consulting project to the client contact and, usually, to a wider audience within the nonprofit organization and its Board of Directors.

Types of projects

Nonprofit organizations seek assistance from HBS Community Partners for business assistance.  We work with each organization to develop a project scope that our team will be capable of delivering within a timeframe that works for the team and the client.  The types of projects that HBS Community Partners has performed in the past include: 

  • Strategic Planning Process
  • Market Assessment
  • Operational Review
  • Business Plan
  • Board Governance
  • Financial Sustainability & Development
  • Marketing/Communications/Branding Strategy
  • Growth Plan
  • Organizational Review
  • Revenue/Earned Income Plan

What some of our Client say about HBS Community Partners

“From your thorough interviews reaching out to such a broad array of stakeholders, to the fresh, innovative and inspiring concepts you presented, the work was – as we knew it would be – professionally and wonderfully done! The feedback we received from our colleagues on the PIER, our staff, and our Board on the work of the team was universally quite positive.  You all know well the value of a project like this for a non-profit organization. But, it’s important that you know the high value we place on it, as well. We’re thrilled to have had the support of Harvard Community Partners to help us arrive at this point.” – Dr. Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of The Marine Mammal Center

“It was an opportunity we never would have had without their assistance.  We were in a very critical time in our agency — looking to go through a name change and think about were we in line with our mission.  The Community Partners consultants helped us strategically look at what the community needs were, where we have been and where we wanted to go.   We successfully changed our name, started some new programs and closed out some programs.  We built some relationships based on the recommendations.  We’re in a better place because of that.  Many of our board members still refer back to that process and things that came out of that.  It wasn’t a project that just came in and died on the table.  It’s something that has taken its course and is still being felt several years later.”  –Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto, Executive Director of West Valley Community Services 

“Having folks outside of the agency to have that lens and that perspective was very important.  We don’t have a marketing communications department here.  With Community Partners, we had four different people tackling this issue.  Whereas, if we tried to do this in-house we would be really leaning on people who don’t have the depth of experience or core competencies to do this.  It was great to have a full team with expertise in marketing and communication and investment strategy around the table. We did one business plan with a consultant once and it ran us close to $100K.  We were able to defray some of those costs and do some of the work with the HBS team.  The resources you offer are first class.  You attract the right mix of people and everyone comes highly committed and dedicated to seeing it through.” — Mark Spencer, CEO of Juma Ventures

“I was very impressed by the depth and quality of the study and finding provided by the CP team. I think they “nailed” our organizations strengths, weaknesses, and provided us with inspiring encouragement and ideas for future planning and action.  We loved the way that the HBS CP team embraced our organization, our garden, and our overall goals. They saw the tremendous potential in the Ruth Bancroft Garden and gave us new insights into how we could refine our mission, sharpen our market focus, execute better, and have an even larger impact in our community.” – Ruth Bancroft Garden

For a full list of HBS Community Partner Clients, click here.

For more information or to seek assistance for a project, please contact Elaine MacDonald, Executive Director of HBS Community Partners,, 650-799-9365.


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