Boston Business Journal:
Partners of the Year: Homelessness issue
hits home for MFS

Partners of the Year: Homelessness issue hits home for MFS

Headquarters: Boston
Partners with: Horizons for Homeless Children
Contributions: About $2.5 million since 2008, in addition to volunteer work, employee deductions, and toy and coat drives each year

For the past decade, one of Boston’s largest investment firms has invested millions of  dollars and countless hours to help the city’s homeless children.

MFS Investment Management began its partnership with Horizons for Homeless Children in 2008, after several years of employee engagement with the nonprofit, which provides homeless children with early education and comprehensive family services. “The work that Horizons is and was doing for at-risk children, the work that they do with the families as well, was, we thought, incredible — and making an enormous impact in the community,” said MFS chief executive Michael Roberge, who has been a member of Horizon’s board of directors since 2008.

Financial support and hands-on volunteer work provided by MFS and its employees has proven invaluable to Horizons as well, said Kate Barrand, president and chief executive of the Roxbury-based nonprofit. In recognition of their work with each other, the Boston Business Journal has named MFS Investment Management and Horizons for Homeless Children one of its 2018 Partners of the Year honorees. The award recognizes companies and nonprofits that demonstrate innovation in how they partner, including engagement up and down the organization, from volunteer work and cash donations, to in-kind  donations and board participation.

Horizons was founded in 1988 and serves more than 2,000 children each year through its three early education centers in Boston and its play spaces in 90 shelters statewide. It also provides additional support to the children’s families, helping them plan a course that can lead to stable housing and self-sufficiency. The annual grants, frequent MFS employee-matching gifts, and employee coat drives and toy drives help Horizons fund and fulfill its program needs, Barrand said. But people at the firm regularly go the extra mile of playing with toddlers in the play spaces, and chaperoning kids on field trips.

“When we look at talent, time and resources, we say MFS lines up against all three of those in a way that’s really quite extraordinary for a philanthropic institution,” Barrand said of MFS. “We have what I think of as the full force of the institution behind us.”

And when it comes to supporting Horizon’s work, MFS is in it for the long haul, Roberge said. It was employees who originally came up with Horizons as an organization the firm should partner with, and unlike the kind of philanthropic efforts in which a company supports a revolving list of nonprofits, workers there are invested in Horizons’ success.

But MFS also enjoys some strategic benefits in the partnership as well, Roberge said. Working with a longterm partner like Horizons may help MFS build the best possible employee base. “From a business perspective, it allows us to attract and retain some of the best people who believe in this as being important,” Roberge said. “Millennials want to be involved in their community … and I think programs like this are going to help us into the future, as employee retention becomes increasingly difficult.”

There will be plenty of opportunity for MFS to lend a hand to Horizons in the near future. The nonprofit plans to officially break ground on a new early education center on Sept. 21, Barrand said. The new building will be located next to its current one on Columbus Avenue, and should be complete by the summer of 2020.

To Barrand, it’s the shared vision between Horizons and MFS that has led to a partnership that has proven both fruitful and durable. “I think when philanthropy really gets done right is when it aligns the institutional priorities with the priorities of the rank and file employees,” Barrand said. “Everybody, if you will, marches together, and it has
a much more significant impact.”

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