The Briefcase is Back!

Winning a fifth consecutive Challenge for Charity is testament to the collective pride, perspective and purpose of the Foster MBA community

MBA students at the UW Foster School of Business have achieved the rarest of competitive feats: the quintuple.

Last week, they won a fifth-consecutive MBA Challenge for Charity (C4C), bringing home the competition’s iconic prize—the Golden Briefcase—to reside in Foster’s trophy case for yet another year.

The annual C4C, in its 40th year, pits top West Coast business schools against each other in friendly competition to volunteer the most hours and raise the most money in support of local nonprofit service organizations.

This year’s contest was never in doubt, with Foster MBAs finishing #1 in fundraising, #1 in volunteering and #2 in the sports weekend (which represents a small fraction of the overall score), to earn 88 out of a possible 90 points.

“Our MBA students at Foster continue to inspire and amaze me with their dedication to not only their own development, but their contributions to the broader community,” says Wendy Guild, assistant dean of MBA programs. “Their achievements through the C4C competition are a testament to the power of purpose-driven leadership on the part of all involved—organizing countless events, details and the work of their peers to support these local charities. We are incredibly grateful to our students for their outstanding contributions and success in bringing home the golden briefcase for the 5th time in a row!”

Many hands, light work

Over the past year, Foster MBAs raised $142,000 in support of their core nonprofit partners: Special Olympics Washington, Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and the University District Food Bank.

Beyond smaller-scale tallies from events like the annual C4C 5K fun run and a winter TG fundraiser, more than $125,000 of those dollars arrived via the gala auction, which made its triumphant in-person return after years of pandemic pushed fundraising online.

Foster MBAs and alumni raised $125,000 at the “C4C Night Live” gala auction.

C4C Night Live” rolled out the purple carpet at the Seattle Design Center in February, drawing a deep roster of generous community and corporate partners—and inspiring a veritable festival of giving, largely from a dedicated community of Foster MBA alumni.

In the volunteering category, Foster full-time MBAs also set the pace by logging 1,487 hours of voluntary service to it core charities and an eclectic list of additional nonprofits, including Forterra and Missing Maps, and supported the community efforts the Seattle Kraken’s One Roof Foundation and Seattle Seahawks Spirit of 12 Program.

At the C4C fall day of service, 50 students grabbed shovels, shears and wheelbarrows in support of Farmer Frog, a Seattle-based organization that provides hands-on learning, food security and community building by supplying school gardens across the state.

C4C Day of Service

Dominic Racelis, vice-president of volunteering in Foster C4C, says the outreach experiences in this year’s campaign rekindled a childhood passion that had become lost in the hustle of school and work.

“Luckily, I re-discovered the joy of volunteering with C4C at Foster,” he says. “Besides doing impactful work with local groups, it’s led to greater confidence, satisfaction and gratitude in all other areas of my life, too. This practice I’ll bring with me well beyond the MBA. And I hope my peers and colleagues will be inspired to join me!”

The power of community

The massive volunteering and fundraising numbers were achieved through widespread participation among the Foster MBA community. More than half of the Full-time MBA classes of 2023 and 2024 participated in the C4C campaign, and many the current Evening MBA classes, too.

Such significant commitment to volunteering and fundraising has become baked into the culture of Foster. Its continuity is supported by a strong network that begins with the MBA Program staff, gets extended by the leadership and legacy of an active C4C alumni advisory board and gets supercharged by the passion of long-time faculty advisor Elizabeth Stearns.

The C4C Golden Briefcase returns to Foster for the fifth straight time.

But then it comes down to the MBA students, who come to Foster, year after year, with far more than money on their minds.

“I am so proud of the contributions every single student in the Foster community made to uphold this tradition and keep the Golden Briefcase here at Foster!” says Cindy Cocca (MBA 2023), president of Foster C4C. “One of the reasons I came to Foster was to join a program that cared about more than just the typical academic MBA curriculum, and this group once again proved what empathetic, passionate, change makers come to Foster. The dedication our cohort makes to a program like C4C—especially at a time when many other programs have lost some of their enthusiasm—continues to show how much the students care about making an impact outside of the MBA bubble.

“I can’t wait to see how everyone continues to help the local community going forward and to see what impactful leaders we all become.”

Meaning in an MBA

Competition can bring about great things. And it always feels good to win. But for Foster students, the MBA Challenge for Charity really transcends competition—and even the bragging rights that come with being the best.

In a challenge that is all about giving, they have received something invaluable in return. As much as pride, a sense of perspective. And purpose.

These kinds of indelible extra experiences, stretched across the Foster MBA journey, are what turn an educated person into an enlightened one, and a promising career into a life of great impact.

Austin Grajek, vice-president of sports in Foster C4C, was certainly changed by his participation in this year’s campaign. In fact, Grajek counts the weekend he spent in Yakima running a basketball tournament during the Special Olympics Winter Games as the highlight of his MBA experience.

“Watching, working and connecting with the athletes gave me a new perspective on sports and competition in general,” he says. “They showcased that joy could be found even in the bleakest scenarios.

“This was never more obvious than the excitement and pure bliss found on the face of one of the athletes after he cut the lead to 20 with a layup. The score truly did not matter. The love for the game, the time with his friends, and the opportunity to compete is what mattered to him. It’s an important reminder to truly be mindful and enjoy the aspects of life for what they are and not what you want them to be.”

Foster C4C kicks off its push for a sixth consecutive title this summer. And while its current victory is one for the record books, it is not actually a record. UW Foster won seven-straight C4C titles between 2000 and 2006, but UCLA Anderson holds the all-time standard, winning 11 times in a row beginning in 1987. Only five more to match…

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array of people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.