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Development Doyenne

Much remains to be decided about the scope, themes, and timing of Harvard’s next major capital campaign. But this much is already known: “The dollars will be large.” So says Donella M. Rapier, six weeks after assuming her new responsibilities as the University’s vice president for alumni affairs and development last October 6.

Two precedents provide useful context. Rapier, who became Harvard Business School’s chief financial officer in 1996 and then added external affairs to her portfolio in 2001, helped lead the launch of that school’s current campaign, which is two-thirds of the way to its $500-million goal. And the University Campaign, concluded in 1999, raised $2.6 billion. Given emerging commitments for public service, scientific research, undergraduate education, and building in Allston, it is easy to imagine an even larger fund drive beginning in the middle of this decade.

“We’re definitely in the planning stages,” says Rapier, whose job combines setting strategy, managing a large staff, and working closely with “a number of the top benefactors of the University,” who will shape what effort might be undertaken.

Donella M. Rapier
Photograph by Stu Rosner

At this early stage, she spells out several challenges. First, as might be expected with new deans in place in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the education and divinity schools, and with major efforts such as the College curriculum review just under way, the schools’ academic plans are not all evenly developed. Although Rapier expects much progress there by the end of the academic year, the planning for Allston and its “several decades’ worth of projects” will be on a slower calendar. Those processes will have to be coordinated to determine a set of University priorities.

Logistically, the nature and scope of the anticipated capital goals already imply the need for new ways of doing business. The “great opportunities” in Allston, she says, come with “enormous” financing needs. The same is true of the costs of highly skilled scientific researchers and the modern technology used in their labs—and of such as-yet unquantified initiatives as reformed College teaching and learning and wholesale efforts to build study abroad into the curriculum.

Finally, “The needs cut much more across the University than they ever have before,” Rapier says, citing not only scientific collaborations, but also support for public service in schools such as design, divinity, education, and public health, whose graduates typically lack the financial clout to fund large capital needs. Of the $562 million given to Harvard in fiscal year 2003, she notes, half flowed to FAS and the business school (with its campaign in high gear), and 70 percent to those two faculties plus law (now in a $400-million capital drive) and medicine. The remaining 30 percent supported all the other schools and University affiliates, such as the museums.

Accordingly, Rapier sees the need for "a new way of working across the University that we haven’t done before." The 1990s campaign took steps toward giving across the lines of donors’ "home" schools. The new cross-school policy for crediting class gifts is another step (see "Where Credit Is Due," January-February 2003, which reports support from business-school alumni for a superintendents’ program at the Graduate School of Education). To this end, she hopes to build on the cooperative culture among the separate schools’ financial officers, who have been less "territorial" than their development counterparts, who are responsible for building relationships with prominent benefactors. "We need to be much more collaborative," she says, while carefully respecting Harvard’s decentralized "states’ rights" tradition of "every tub on its own bottom" ("I come from a school," she notes). Rapier will also decide soon whether to invest in new tools, such as a University-wide donor database. The overall goal is to "grow the pie" by finding "high-capacity graduates" who would "really love to be engaged with the University" in new, more expansive ways.

Critical decisions loom ahead. From the intersection of academic plans and development analyses will come the list of priorities—”where we really need funding"—for a campaign. Although there is a working consensus that a "comprehensive" campaign makes more sense than separate efforts focused, say, on science or undergraduate education, that determination is still unmade. Allston raises issues about duration, given the likelihood that a five- or even 10-year effort would conclude with most of the construction there still in the distant future. And before any campaign begins, the development staff will have to "lead with a message about the needs" and more transparent answers to questions about "Where does Harvard get its money from? How do you spend it?" (Rapier pioneered such an effort across the Charles River; see "Business Brief," September-October 2003, on the business school’s annual financial report.)

For now, Rapier is fired up by the commitment of her development colleagues; by the “vision and leadership and aggressive” thinking about Harvard’s future coming from her new boss, President Lawrence H. Summers, and from Provost Steven E. Hyman and FAS dean William C. Kirby; and by the engagement of alumni and friends (whose annual support has held steady at about a half-billion dollars since the end of the University Campaign, despite the weak economy—double the level of gifts in the early 1990s). Of her own transition from school CFO to University chief development officer, she says, “It’s a tremendous opportunity to serve this institution, which I love, and to do something that will have an enormous impact.”