Harvard Fundraising Efforts Aims for Record $6.5 Billion by 2018

Harvard University set a goal to raise a record $6.5 billion by 2018 to boost education and research and carry out construction projects across the campus.

Harvard has already received $2.8 billion in donations and pledges toward its goal in the past two years, during what’s referred to as a “quiet phase,” Tamara Rogers, vice president for alumni affairs and development, said in an interview.

The campaign, the biggest set by a U.S. university, will let Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard expand research and teaching in engineering, the arts and humanities, along with the fields of energy, neuroscience and stem cell research, Harvard Provost Alan Garber said. The university is also renovating dormitories and resuming construction that stalled after the financial crisis that began in 2008.

“All around us we see examples of how Harvard helps build our society and better our world,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in remarks released at the campaign’s unveiling yesterday. “It is up to us to make sure that we continue to build, to lead, to advance in a world almost unimaginably different from the one our founders inhabited nearly four centuries ago.”

About 45 percent of the money raised will go to research, faculty and teaching, Harvard said. About 25 percent will be earmarked for student financial aid; 20 percent for construction and renovation; and 10 percent to support new initiatives.


Harvard’s goal eclipses the $6 billion objective set in 2011 by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Fundraisers’ sights may be buoyed by Stanford University, which got $6.23 billion in donations, beyond its goal of $4.3 billion in a campaign that ended in 2011, and Texas A&M University, which collected a record $740 million in donations and pledges in the year ended Aug. 31.

Those results show that big donors who shied from giving after the financial crisis that began in 2008 are back, said Donald Fellows, president and chief executive officer of Marts & Lundy in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Gifts of $25 million or more are becoming more common, he said.

So-called capital campaigns take place over years and schools can’t control or predict economic conditions during them, Harvard’s Rogers said.

“The timing now feels as good as it could be,” she said. “One takes advantage of opportunities, enthusiasm and good planning and that’s what we’ve done.”

Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Co-Founder Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard after three years to start the company, and Carlyle Group Co-CEO David M. Rubenstein spoke at the event about Gates’s record in business and philanthropy. Both are members of the Giving Pledge, a group that Gates and investor Warren Buffett founded to encourage philanthropy.

14-Year Wait

Harvard’s fundraising effort is its first since 1999, when the school raised $2.65 billion over seven years. While Harvard is the richest U.S. school with an endowment of $30.7 billion as of June 2012, the 14-year wait between campaigns is longer than many schools prefer, said John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington.

Fundraising plans were first delayed when former president Lawrence Summers resigned in 2006, and again by the financial crisis, which affected many schools, Lippincott said. While about five universities typically start major fundraising campaigns in an average year, only one school did so in 2009, he said.

As the demands for operating a top-level university increase, institutions are scheduling capital campaigns with greater frequency, said Tim Seiler, director of The Fund Raising School at Indiana University in Bloomington. The lag between campaigns is shorter than 10 years at many schools, he said.

Allston Expansion

The recession also affected Harvard’s ambitious plans for expansion in Allston, across the river from the main campus in Cambridge, that began under Summers. The centerpiece of the plans, a science center expected to cost more than $1 billion to build, has been delayed as Harvard’s finances have suffered. Some Allston residents have complained that the development hiatus has kept their neighborhood in a state of neglect.

Faust has scheduled a resumption of the work on the science center for next year. In all, Harvard plans to build or renovate 11 buildings in Allston, including a new basketball arena for its Ivy League championship team.

The university also needs to continue attracting talent, Faust said. Harvard has already doubled its investment in financial aid since 2007, and about 60 percent of undergraduates pay an average of $12,000 to attend, she said.

“This commitment makes Harvard not just more open and accessible, but a more vibrant educational environment for all our students,” she said.

Big Gifts

Faust and other officials have spent the last few years crisscrossing the globe to meet with large donors and secure gifts that show commitment to the institution.

Recent gifts that will be counted toward Harvard’s 2018 goal include $125 million for the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering from billionaire Hansjoerg Wyss and $50 million from the Blavatnik Family Foundation to develop treatments from scientific discoveries.

Preparations like these are essential to a capital campaign, Lippincott said. Running a $6-billion campaign means raising $2 million to $3 million a day, he said.

“It kind of takes your breath away,” he said. “You get there because you have some very large gifts made to the campaign that will ensure its success.”

Fundraising Success

The campaign will also help Harvard recruit top teachers and researchers. About half of the university’s $4 billion operating budget for fiscal 2012 went to employee pay and benefits, according to the annual report. About 5.5 percent of Harvard’s endowment, or $1.4 billion, was spent on Harvard’s operations in 2012.

Recent results show Harvard’s fundraising success. Donor pledges in the 2012 fiscal year totaled $909 million, up from about $758 million in the year earlier period.

Faust laid out priorities for the campaign in a May letter to staff, students and alumni. While the overarching theme is “generation of new knowledge,” a series of recent reports from Harvard indicated that the arts and humanities need shoring up, and Faust has put emphasis on gifts for the area. Glenn Hutchins, founder of the Silver Lake investment firm, recently requested that more than half of his 2012 gift of $30 million go to establish the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.

“The reason I think people give to Harvard is because of the things Harvard can do uniquely well,” Garber, the provost, said. “When you give support to Harvard, you can be confident that you’ll be supporting the work of faculty who are addressing the biggest challenges facing the world today.”

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