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2024

Awesome Without Borders

That’s a wrap! After eleven years, tens of thousands of applications, and nearly 600 grants to advance the cause of Awesomeness in the world, we are proud to draw Awesome Without Borders to a close. We celebrate our grantees’ joyful creativity and their important social enterprises. (Visit the Awesome Foundation to browse active chapters.)

2024
2022

Modern Loss

There’s no one way to cope with loss, which is why we purchased over a thousand copies of Rebecca Soffer’s The Modern Loss Handbook: An Interactive Guide to Moving Through Grief and Building Your Resilience. The books were distributed at The Dinner Party events, where people in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s gather to share a meal with people who are willing to have the tough conversations. (We also support End Well to help us all become more intentional about the inevitability of our own passing.)

2022
2021

Athena Center for Leadership

We are proud supporters of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership, which hosts pre-college programs for Barnard students, the SPARK event series, and the Athena Film Festival.

2021
2020

RespectAbility

RespectAbility works with employers, entertainment leaders, politicians, policy makers, educators, the media, and more to advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Because intersectionality includes normalizing the world for people with different needs, we gave a multi-year grant to encourage this dynamic group’s timely work with the entertainment industry.

2020
2019

The 19th*

A new kind of news organization, devoted to speaking hard truths and reporting with a gender lens? Sign us up. Since its debut, The 19th* has committed itself to operating as an independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on gender, politics, and policy. We’ve been with them since the beginning, first investing in their launch and then supporting Breaking the News, a documentary about their work in 2021. (As for the asterisk in the name? It’s a visual reminder that while the 19th Amendment—its namesake—moved to enfranchise women in America, it didn’t grant the vote to all women, and its work remains unfinished.   

2019
Higher Heights Leadership Fund
2017

Higher Heights

Higher Heights is a powerful network designed to expand Black women’s political power through convenings, webinars, training, and online events. Higher Heights Leadership Fund enlists tens of thousands of Black women (and their allies) to maximize the possibilities for Black women to lead on the local, state, and national levels. In addition to foundation grants for its nonprofit, Ruth Ann supports the Higher Heights 501(c)(4) political action group with personal funds.

2017
2016

Ms. Foundation

We helped underwrite the strategic study that led the Ms. Foundation to concentrate on uplifting women of color. Happily, that reflects our own decision to invest in intersectional equality, equity and opportunity to earn money, with access to health care and child care. 

We also support the Ms. Foundation’s annual comedy showcase featuring women and non-binary performers.

2016
A group of girls laughing
2016

Funny Girls

Funny Girls is our pioneering program that uses improv exercises to give girls in grades 3-8 a fun way to find their personal leadership skills. Developed in creative collaboration with the Magnet Theater and Pilobolus Dance Theater, Funny Girls’ curriculum focuses on the skills of self-awareness, learning agility, collaboration, empathy, and resiliency. We train instructors chosen from the communities they serve. After a successful pilot in 2017, Funny Girls now operates in New York, Florida, and Nevada. Meet the Funny Girls team and learn more about Funny Girls here.

2016
2014

The Inclusionists

You can’t fix the problem until you admit there’s a problem. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative The Inclusionists study the state of diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. These pioneering researchers put hard numbers to the problems, thus creating measurable social change through the use of their research to spur advocacy and action.We helped underwrite several studies which were used effectively to create avenues for change.

2014
2014

The Sundance Institute

Who tells the story? Whose story is told? What will audiences take away? We invest in media by and about women and other underrepresented voices, because we see storytelling as a powerful way to shift cultural norms. 

The Sundance Institute is the longtime home and champion of independent filmmaking where new voices are celebrated. A long-time patron, Ruth Ann has supported a wide portfolio of projects under the Sundance umbrella, all designed to discover, educate, empower, and support gender equity in front of and behind the camera.

2014
2013

Awesome Without Borders

We heard about the Awesome Foundation, a group of people who give no-strings-attached $1,000 grants to grassroots projects and their creators. It reminded us of our finances when we got started, when $1,000 would have been a generous grant. We always appreciated how much bang could be in a thousand bucks. For over a decade, Awesome Without Borders rewarded and celebrated an astonishing range of ideas, projects, causes, people.

2013
2011

TED

The annual TED Conferences offered opportunities to invest in people and programs designed for world-changing impact. We were among the first supporters of the TED Fellows program. Along with professional coach Renee Freedman, Ruth Ann offered to help create a team of coaching support for the Fellows. With TED’s blessing and thanks, Renee and Ruth Ann developed SupporTED, a pro bono coaching initiative enlisting world-class professional coaches. TheHF underwrote and managed the program until TED itself took over.

2011
2008

Women Moving Millions

Pioneering feminist philanthropist Helen LaKelly Hunt and her sister Swanee Hunt set out to raise a historic sum for women’s foundations—from women, giving million dollar gifts to benefit women and girls. Ruth Ann became a pivotal part of the campaign, called Women Moving Millions. When the goal was reached, the million dollar donors wanted to stay connected. They formalized their organization and continued programs and campaigns to benefit girls and women.

2008
2008

Center for Sustainable Journalism

Kennesaw State University professor Len Witt posted a bold idea: As old media was dying, why not let consumers hire reporters? A group of like-minded individuals could chip in and support a journalist to cover a specific beat. TheHF gave founding funding to the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, where Len’s concept of “Representative Journalism” got a tryout. The center’s comprehensive reporting on juvenile justice— shared through the online Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and the printed publication YouthToday—became the go-to places for serious journalism on that beat.

Today, Len’s original RepJ idea has life on Substack, Patreon, and other platforms where journalists are supported by their readers.

2008
2008

Institute of Coaching

When the field of professional coaching was emerging, Ruth Ann recognized a need to invest in academic research so the profession could gain credibility. In addition to underwriting and organizing worldwide convenings, the HF’s $2 million dollar gift created the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate. Its mission is to build the scientific foundation and best practices of coaching for leadership, wellness, and personal development.

2008
2008

Baruch College

Ruth Ann’s husband, Bill, graduated from Baruch College when tuition and even books were free. Bill and Ruth Ann collaborated to give major support to Baruch, one of the most diverse educational institutions in the country. Harnisch gifts included a new media lab and annual scholarships for journalism and business students. Over 200 Harnisch Family Scholars have graduated from Baruch so far.

2008
2001

Thistle Farms

TheHF began supporting Magdalene when it was a tiny, radical residential program for women who’d survived prostitution, trafficking, and addiction but had lost custody of their children. When the women had a safe place to live, counseling, and job opportunities, they thrived. Rebranding as Thistle Farms, the success of this Nashville experiment became an international movement to give survivors pride, skills, and the chance for independence.

2001
2000

Women Donors Network

A revolutionary community of progressive women who multiply their energy, strategic savvy, and philanthropic dollars to build a more just and fair world, Women Donors Network (WDN) is a valued partner in philanthropy. Ruth Ann joined back when the organization’s newsletter was still typed, printed, and snail-mailed. WDN today marshals and distributes bold, multi-million dollar support of leaders and organizations catalyzing and driving social change.

2000
2000

More Than Money

More than Money (MtM) was a bold, unusual, national, nonprofit peer-education network for people who wanted their lives to be about “more than money.” We awarded MtM $1 million—the largest grant in the organization’s history—to help wealth holders make intentional, values-driven choices about how they earn, give, invest, spend, and bequeath their money. The MtM founders also created the 50% League—now Bolder Giving—that inspired the famous Giving Pledge. (Ruth Ann’s story is still in there, although it hasn’t been updated in two decades.)

2000
1999

PFLAG

When the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) needed an unabashed sponsor willing to shock conservative Nashville with a prominent billboard proclaiming “Someone You Know And Love Is Gay,” they knew who to call.

1999
1998

Pro Mujer

Among the first nonprofits to jump into microlending, theHF partnered with Pro Mujer to provide microloans to South American women, helping them to start their own enterprises, while creating community, commitment, and accountability.

1998
1998

Tennessee Justice Center

After years spent learning about and reporting on community issues, Ruth Ann knew the biggest bang for the philanthropic buck came from investing in girls, women, and others at an economic or social disadvantage. When The Harnisch Foundation was created in 1998, the first grants went to nonprofits addressing those issues in Tennessee. One was awarded to the Tennessee Justice Center founded by former Legal Aid lawyer Gordan Bonnyman, which held government accountable for failing to provide state benefits to people legally entitled to them.

1998
1990s

Power of the Purse

Still writing newspaper columns, Ruth Ann was part of the 1991 effort to create The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and helped establish CFMT’s The Women’s Fund in 1994 to invest in women and girls. She helped to create and continues to support the Women’s Fund premiere fundraising event,  The Power of the Purse® luncheon.

1990s
1970s and 80s

In the 1970s, our founder Ruth Ann Harnisch became the first woman in Nashville to be part of the team on the evening news set. (She was followed a few months later by newcomer Oprah Winfrey.)

Ruth Ann’s media work includes television news reporting, anchoring, talk shows, radio talk shows, newspaper columns, public television programming and fundraising, and spoken word recordings.

1970s and 80s