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Harvard Capital Campaign Nearing $6.5-Billion Goal

3.1.16

Tamara Elliott Rogers, vice president for alumni affairs and development, directs Harvard's record-setting capital campaign.
Photograph by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Public Affairs and Communications


Tamara Elliott Rogers, vice president for alumni affairs and development, directs Harvard's record-setting capital campaign.
Photograph by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Public Affairs and Communications

Although the University has not issued a year-end 2015 update, it appears that The Harvard Campaign has become the largest-grossing higher-education fundraising effort on record. Indeed, individual schools’ results (see “The Schools’ Status,” below) suggest that the campaign overall is close to its nominal goal of $6.5 billion.

At the public launch, in September 2013, the fundraising effort had already secured $2.8 billion of prior gifts and pledges. Campaign leaders, full of animal spirits, vowed they would be able to exceed the unified total. They obviously knew whereof they spoke; in short order, the fundraisers logged these milestones:

Based on partial results from schools, more than $200 million has been committed since then, and fundraising activities continue at full speed. In fact, the next “Your Harvard” gala is scheduled for this evening on the Harvard Business School campus, before the Greater Boston home crowd. Even beyond such headline benefactions as a $150-million gift earmarked mostly for undergraduate financial aid, and the $350-million and $400-million endowment pledges for public health and engineering and applied sciences, respectively (the stuff of fundraisers’ dreams, if not anything they can confidently count on in advance), the momentum is impressive.

The new, unofficial tally puts Harvard’s campaign atop the $6.2-billion Stanford Challenge (not adjusted for inflation), concluded at the end of 2011, as the largest higher-education fund drive of all time. (Stanford, of course, is not resting on its laurels; it has subsequently had mini-campaigns for undergraduate education and its university hospital, and on February 23 announced gifts of $400 million, $100 million, and $50 million for a new campus-based graduate- and professional-student leadership program, a sort of Rhodes-Marshall-Gates-Schwarzman scholars program in Palo Alto, to be led by its retiring president, John Hennessy; more than $700 million of the planned $750-million endowment is in hand.)

In an environment of some public, and congressional, questioning of private institutions’ endowments, Harvard is maintaining a low profile about how much the campaign has raised. Nor does there appear to be any appetite for raising the marquee number, when the subject is broached, perhaps because of recent publicity about the share of higher-education philanthropy flowing to a relatively select cohort of institutions. Instead, the mantra is to focus on the academic priorities established during planning for the capital campaign—and on seeing to it that they are in fact fully funded, if at all possible.

Goals with Three Years To Go

With the campaign still scheduled to proceed through the end of 2018, University and school development officers and their armies of volunteers have almost three years to go to try to ensure that every school meets its individual goal, plus the overarching Harvard objectives. Among the latter, these in particular loom large: endowments for financial aid; construction of the engineering and sciences complex in Allston; undergraduate House renewal; and support for basic science.

Financial aid. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) earmarked about one-quarter of its initial $2.5-billion goal, or roughly $600 million, to endow undergraduate aid, a priority that was the beneficiary of that $150-million gift and other substantial commitments. Nonetheless, fundraising for financial aid continues for the College, graduate-student fellowships, and no doubt in many of the professional schools. The University campaign goal for financial aid and “the student experience” (which may include projected investments in athletic facilities such as renovation of Harvard Stadium and a new basketball venue) was 25 percent of the initial $6.5-billion target, or some $1.6 billion. And even though supporters have traditionally rallied to financial aid, it is easier in some schools than others to secure substantial scholarship and fellowship funds, given their graduates’ differing capacities to make gifts proportional to the identified need.

Capital projects. Fundraising for the College’s House-renewal program continues apace. The project has always depended on raising huge sums, and building renovation is a notoriously difficult goal. But as supporters and prospective donors have been able to see the physical effects of completely redoing a House (like Dunster, reopened for this academic year) and take in student reaction to their reenvisioned quarters, progress is apparently being made.

Similarly, now that the Allston engineering and applied sciences facility has been designed—with renderings available and an academic program taking shape—the vision becomes a tangible plan with which to seek philanthropic support.

Basic science. Unlike the building priorities, which were identified early in the campaign but have evolved as bricks were pointed up and architects drafted their plans, fundraising for science has emerged with a new focus in the last couple of years. Until last year, the research budget of the National Institutes of Health (the major source of federal sponsored support) had been held essentially level for several years, steadily eroding in purchasing power. For all the advances in applied science (and Harvard Campaign objectives of hundreds of millions of dollars for new engineering and applied sciences faculty positions and research funds, plus the Allston complex), that meant an increasingly difficult search for basic-science support in FAS, the Medical School, and elsewhere. Hence recent fundraising emphasis on securing support for basic research, cutting-edge inquiries that have not yet matured sufficiently to win more conventional competitive grants, and the substantial costs of setting up young investigators’ laboratories.

Other aims. Efforts are also under way to raise funds for the library system (which has wishes amounting to $150 million); for teaching innovations (like the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching and online activities under HarvardX); and, for the first time in a University-wide capital campaign, for the arts.

The Schools’ Status

Data provided by the schools for their winter campaign totals (on dates ranging from December 31 and January 31 into February) indicate that they appear to have secured gifts and pledges of more than $200 million since the figures compiled for the report on the $6-billion milestone, published last fall. (Given varying reporting dates and the schools not reported here, the sum raised is certainly larger.) The following schools reported these recent fundraising tallies:

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