Recognize a familiar face in this week’s Washington Post Magazine? The Catalogue’s founder, Barbara Harman, was recently interviewed for Joe Heim’s weekly Q&A column, “Just Asking.” In 2003, Barbara — with the support of the Harman Family Foundation — created the Catalogue for Philanthropy to shine a light on our region’s best community-based nonprofits. As we begin producing our 14th Catalogue, we’re grateful to Barbara for her vision and leadership, which has helped raised more than $32 million for local charities. You can learn more about the Catalogue’s history here, and sign up to receive your complimentary copy here!
Below is the interview in full, which can also be viewed on the Washington Post’s website.
By Joe Heim Writer and editor June 2 at 7:00 AM
Barbara Harman, 69, is the founder and president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington and is executive director of the Harman Family Foundation. She splits her time between Washington and Boston.
The Catalogue for Philanthropy is really essential in helping people find lesser-known, worthy local organizations that need money. But it’s not the most exciting name.
Yeah, I’ve kind of heard that from people. Have you got a better idea?
How about Fork It Over?
I love it. I think the name is a little stuffy. But when something catches on, as the Catalogue seems to have caught on here, it’s hard to let go of the name. But I have to say it’s something we’re thinking about.
I can ask readers to submit suggestions.
That would be awesome.
Is there one gift you’ve been able to make that stands out to you?
It’s a hard question. I can think of so many extraordinary charities doing amazing work here on education, on youth arts, on homelessness. I guess the thing that has struck me the most with all of the organizations that I give to is what a radical difference there is between the lives that most of us lead and the lives of some of the other people who live in this city, whose neighborhoods and whose circumstances really are unimaginable to most of us. I’ve been in communities where the average annual income is $9,100 a year. And then you see the work that these small nonprofits are doing to make these kids’ lives better, and it’s really a pretty extraordinary experience.
Your father was Sidney Harman, and he was a huge contributor to the Shakespeare Theatre Company and many other causes. Did your parents create a family culture that emphasized giving?
Absolutely. It was very much a part of my growing up. It was very clear to all of us that it was his sense, and should be our sense, that a family in a position to give should be a giving family.
What percentage of my income should I be donating in order to feel like a good human being?
I think it’s a really personal choice. I’m sure you’ve heard about the giving pledge. This is a pledge that Warren Buffett and others have signed where they are giving away the vast majority of their income.
Warren and I are in slightly different tax brackets.
Yeah, same here. Some people think tithing is the right way to approach this: 10 percent of your income. I don’t think that a lot of people give 10 percent of their income, and I guess I don’t really think there is a number. I think what’s important is to find the things that really resonate for you. Then I think the giving grows over time, and it becomes a different kind of engagement than just writing a check.
The Catalogue also received coverage in Washington Life Magazine’s June issue! The article focused on individuals in the community working for the greater good – and our very own Barbara Harman was one of the profiles in the issue (profile text shown in full below). To see the issue, view the Washington Life digital edition.
Profiles in Philanthropy:
Barbara Harman Founder & President Catalogue for Philanthropy &
Executive Director Harman Family Foundation
by Catherine Trifiletti
“I really wanted to give money away, but I didn’t know where to give it,” is a statement Barbara Harman has heard from wealthy individuals more times that she can count. In her first year acting as executive director for the Harman Family Foundation, founded by her father Sidney Harman, she was disappointed to find a dearth of resources for philanthropists in the Washington area. In an effort to change the course of giving around town, Harman created a catalogue providing information about small nonprofits and grassroots organizations covering a wide range of missions. She calls her creation a “piece of philanthropic infrastructure” that has shined a light on small local charities lacking the funds to get their causes out on the frontlines.
Before moving to Washington in 2000 to run a family foundation, Harman was a professor for Wellesley College in Massachusetts for 25 years. Considering her background, the writing aspect of the catalogue was an essential element. As “writer and chief” Harman made sure to write from the heart in a really down-to-earth language that ordinary donors would understand.
The Catalogue for Philanthropy, or as Harman refers to it, her “labor of love,” has since grown into its own independent charity with a multitude of resources that extend beyond the print catalogue itself. Before being published and distributed to 30,000 high net-worth individuals in the area, each charity included in the catalogue undergoes a highly thorough screening process (including a 120-person review board, site visit and financial assessment) to ensure its contributions to the community are legitimate. Harman says although it might be “crazy,” the catalogue follows a “purity principle” and does not charge for any of the services offered to charities — free application, free membership that includes a four-year partnership and no fee attached to online donations.
The portfolio Harman manages at the family foundation includes recognizable organizations like the Shakespeare Theatre, Aspen Institute, and the Washington Ballet, to name a few. Smaller grants focused on education and arts for at-risk youth are sources from the best resource in town — the Catalogue for Philanthropy itself.
Day to day, Harman often confronts enormous wealth disparity in the Washington region and hopes her work at the Catalogue and family foundation will help tighten the gap. “All of us want a city in which there is equal access to opportunity and for me, that’s what philanthropy ought to be about.”