Janet Harman, KDK-Harman Foundation

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Electrical engineer. Engineering manager. Engineering consultant.

They may not seem like occupations that prepare one for the world of small foundations. But Janet Harman, founder of the KDK-Harman Foundation in Austin, says that her years in engineering built skills and attitudes that serve her and her foundation well.

Harman “retired” from engineering to focus on family and philanthropy when her three children—Kevin, David, and Kelly—were young. And, yes, it was her children’s first initials that inspired the name of the KDKHarman Foundation, established in 2004 to support educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged families.

As an engineer, Harman says, she honed problem solving skills that “helped tremendously in formulating the foundation’s internal operations, high-engagement style, and grantmaking focus on education.” Her experience as a logic designer also helped the foundation develop a grant evaluation process, craft logic models for its grantmaking and advocacy, and assist grantees in developing their own logic models.

For Harman and her foundation, which joined Exponent Philanthropy in 2006, Exponent Philanthropy membership is very much a part of all these practices. The foundation’s trustees and staff have been the epitome of active members: attending conferences, using the website and other resources, and hosting four local programs.

What’s more, KDK-Harman’s executive director, Jennifer Esterline, is co-chairing the Host Committee for Exponent Philanthropy’s 2010 National Conference that will gather hundreds of members in Austin in October.

KDK-Harman also donates to Exponent Philanthropy. Explains Harman, “If you value learning, improvement, and collaboration, it makes sense” to give Exponent Philanthropy grants above dues. “It’s all part of the giving back that foundations are charged with.”

This “giving back” credo is also evident in KDK-Harman’s day-to-day activities. Harman talks about the foundation’s three-legged stool model of grantmaking, consulting, and advocacy, saying, “We don’t just write checks. We roll up our sleeves and work closely with our nonprofit and philanthropic partners.”

For instance, KDK-Harman is a leading partner in the Central Texas Education Stimulus Collaborative, helping school districts share best practices and apply for federal education stimulus dollars. The foundation is also involved with Central Texas Education Funders, through which area foundations learn, collaborate, and even jointly fund initiatives.

Harman’s children have been involved with the foundation since its inception, attending site visits, providing feedback on potential grantees, and, in their last 2 years of high school, serving on the junior board. Each is also allocated $10,000 in grant money for a nonprofit of their choice.

Harman sees all this activity as a perfect fit for Austin: “Austinites love their city, and it is apparent in the diversity of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations working passionately to make it even better. I can’t think of a better place to host the Exponent Philanthropy National Conference.”

We don't just write checks. We roll up our sleeves and work closely with our nonprofit and philanthropic partners.