27 Oct 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Jennifer Little


by Shona Simkin

Jennifer Little, assistant director of events for Alumni Relations, not only plans events for alumni and donors, but also helped plan Diversity Week, which just wrapped up today. We talked with Jennifer about the details behind the work she does, why she loves it, and what she likes to do in her spare time.

Tell us about what you do in your role.
I look at it as a portfolio of events that could include a donor lunch for six, a reunion class party for 400, or a virtual webinar for 3,500 people. This past year I’ve managed events with the Dean in Chicago and Palm Beach as well as worked an event in Singapore so that he could talk about the initiatives and priorities of the School and have face to face conversations with alumni. Since he became Dean during the pandemic when there was no travel, this was a way for him to get to know alumni in regions around the world.

Next week I have an asset management conference, which is part of our all-alumni conference series, where we engage alumni on topics that are important to alumni and highlight our faculty thought leadership. Right after, in late November, I have a donor dinner. We have so many wonderful donors who help support the School through things like fellowships, so we find ways to continue to thank and engage them.

One of my larger events is the MBA Fellowship Celebration, when alumni and friends of the School who donated to provide fellowships for MBA students come to campus and meet the fellowship recipients. The donors can connect one on one with student recipients and hear the firsthand impact of their donations. I love that managing events allows me to meet remarkable and diverse people, and I love putting together events that allow people to connect. If I can get people to connect and spark a new or existing relationship during my events, then I know I am tapping into my purpose.

What does it take to plan these major events?
When I'm assigned as the team lead for an event, the planning process begins with a kickoff meeting. During this meeting, we review the event's objectives and introduce the teams within External Relations that will collaborate on planning the event. For instance, the conference I am currently involved in includes the Alumni Marketing & Communications team, responsible for creating and designing electronic and printed event materials. The Alumni Programs team collaborates with faculty co-chairs and speakers to curate the event's content. Development manages the invitation lists and seizes opportunities to engage with and cultivate relationships with key donors during the event. Operations is responsible for building our invitation platform and overseeing the guest registration process, among other tasks.

As a member of the events team, I take charge of organizing the logistics, including staffing and staff training, as well as reserving hotel room blocks. Additionally, I hold separate meetings with our campus partners, such as Media Services, Operations, Security, and Restaurant Associates.

The planning timeline for events varies depending on the event's scale. Large events like the MBA Fellowship typically require eight to 12 months. Receptions and programming, such as the Dean's regional events or all-alumni virtual programs, typically need three to six months. In contrast, intimate donor dinners are planned within a shorter timeframe of two to four weeks.

When I plan an event, every single detail—from stage and background lighting to where signage is placed around campus—has to be accounted for so that we can provide the best experience to alumni and close friends of the School. I have a timeline of when things need to get done and then I also have checklists within each timeline task. If you look at my checklist today, I have over 100 tasks that are for events from next week until March 2024.

How did you get interested in this work–what was your career path here?
I actually started in healthcare, working at Boston Children's Hospital. I grew up thinking I’d be a doctor and studied neuroscience in college. At Children’s, I volunteered to organize the staff events and genuinely enjoyed it. It inspired my creative side, and I have a logistical mindset, so I was using both skills. Then I started at HBS in Executive Education, where I was a program coordinator and worked on receptions and dinners, sporting activities, and international programs. I applied for this role in Alumni Relations because it was more event focused and have been here for four years.

I love working through problems and finding solutions. There’s always something that comes up, whether you’re onsite or in the planning phase, and I love that creative strategy side of what I do.

You also work with staff affinity groups—what does that entail?
I'm co-lead of the Black Staff Affinity Group, which started in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. We were the first race-based group on the HBS campus. I’ve never led or been part of a staff affinity group and I feel like we’re a bit of a startup. We were learning how to find and establish resources, manage a budget, and market ourselves. But there's also the people side; understanding what our members need from us and what they can provide each other—how can we provide connection when everyone is busy with their own work and lives? How do we create safe spaces so everyone can thrive in their day-to-day jobs? So we provide connection, professional development, and community within Harvard and Boston. That's what's important to us.

Now there is the LatinX Affinity Group, the Asian Coalition for Employees, and the LGBTQ+ Affinity Group, which used to be called Family and was HBS’s first affinity group. I started having monthly meetings with leaders and to talk about how we could learn from each other and find ways for staff to know we all existed. That’s how Staff Diversity Week started in 2021 and it was so successful that it’s now an annual event.

Tell us more about you—where are you from and what do you like to do in your spare time?
I was born and raised in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I have a lot of family in North Carolina, so I grew up going to my grandparents in the summer—and whenever I go back, my accent comes back too! But I grew up here and went to Smith College. Smith was probably the most foundational and vital part of who I am today because it allowed me to find other women who are passionate and career driven. I talk daily with my friends from Smith—I call them my sisters.

Whenever I'm not working, I’m organizing some kind of gathering for my friends—a game night, a Zoom gathering, or a girls’ trip. Anyone who knows me knows that I love interior decorating—my office is decorated, and when I’m at home I might be doing some DIY project or something that sparks creativity like painting. But over the past couple of years, I’ve really decided that I wanted to make more memories with the people I love. So even if it’s just a virtual game night or I am hosting brunch, I try to plan for moments to make memories.

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