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As Harvard conducts the quiet phase of a major capital campaign, preceding a public launch this autumn (see “The Coming Campaign,” January-February, page 50), further hints of its scale continue to bubble up.

In naming Harvard Business School (HBS) dean Nitin Nohria “business dean of the year” in his Poets & Quants blog, veteran business reporter John A. Byrne reported that the school’s new fundraising goal would be $850 million to $1 billion. Only HBS (which raised nearly $600 million; see “Bolstering Business,” May-June 2006, page 68) and Harvard Law School (which raised more than $475 million; see “$400 Million for Law,” September-October 2003, page 72) mounted capital drives during the past decade. The University Campaign, in which the other schools participated, concluded at the end of 1999; since then, financial aid, facilities, and the faculties have all expanded—even as the 2008-2009 financial crisis eroded the value of the endowment sharply.

For a more direct comparison, consider that HBS’s annual report for fiscal year 2012 indicates that it had 232 full-time equivalent faculty positions, revenues of $546 million, a healthy operating surplus, and an endowment valued at nearly $2.7 billion (about 10 percent below the peak value before the financial crisis). The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, on the other hand, has a ladder faculty more than three times larger—many of whom require expensive scientific laboratories; spent the past four years struggling to balance its $1.2-billion budget; and its long-term investments (essentially, endowment funds) are worth nearly 20 percent ($3.1 billion) less than at the peak.

Whatever campaign priorities are ultimately chosen, two sets of metrics provide guidance for Harvard’s likely goals. First, as the University’s annual financial reports disclose, Harvard has received gifts (for endowment and current use, and nongovernment research grants) of approximately $600 million to $650 million during each of the past four fiscal years (roughly on pace with the prosperous years just before, when the HBS and law-school campaigns were concluding; see table). A campaign, by projecting initiatives and needs that engage donors, aims to lift giving significantly for seven or eight years, suggesting a multibillion-dollar aggregate target.

Second, there are competitive precedents. The University of Southern California set a $6-billion goal for the campaign it announced in 2011. Stanford gained $6.2 billion from a drive concluded that same year. (The Council for Aid to Education reported in late February that Stanford, the leading university fundraiser for the past eight years, brought in $1.03 billion during 2012—the first institution to cross the billion-dollar threshold.) Rather than slack off, Stanford has already launched a new $1-billion campaign for its hospital and medical research.

Separately, the importance of philanthropy has recently been underscored. In a very somber overview published for subscribers in mid January, Moody’s Investors Service delivered “a downward shift in how analysts view even market leaders, the elite institutions with high demand and brand recognition,” as Inside Higher Education reported. According to that report, Moody’s outlined “how every traditional revenue stream for colleges and universities is facing some sort of pressure”: tuition; federal spending on research and financial aid; investment returns on and distributions from endowments; philanthropy; state appropriations (for public institutions); and healthcare revenues (for academic hospitals).

A Crimson example of those constraints appears in the Harvard Medical School dean’s annual report for the fiscal year that ended last June 30. The school’s operating revenues decreased $21.1 million (3 percent), as federal stimulus funding for research provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act diminished, but expenses increased $5.7 million (1 percent), yielding an operating deficit of $28.8 million. Research grants and contracts accounted for 47 percent of school revenues in that fiscal year—and the reported results preceded the beginning of the federal-budget “sequester” on March 1, 2013. That action imposes a $1.6-billion reduction in National Institutes of Health funding for the balance of the federal budget year, putting further pressure on the school’s (and indeed the University’s) principal source of sponsored-research support.

The bleak Moody’s forecast—and its suggestion that costs must come down so institutions can invest in technology and new programs—aligns closely with the letter by Harvard vice president for finance Daniel S. Shore and University treasurer James F. Rothenberg in the University’s fiscal year 2012 financial report (see “Sober Finances,” January-February, page 47). They ended by underscoring the importance of “a fundraising campaign.” Of late, external developments have only reinforced that message.