Albert H. Gordon '23 may be getting on in years, but he's still young enough to carry on a 50-year-plus-old love affair. As a concrete expression of his devotion to the object of his affections, he has showered her with untold millions of dollars over the last half-century and has never waned in faithfulness. Albert Gordon is in love with Harvard. And now that his mistress has come calling again, Albert Gordon is waiting with open arms.
Or, more accurately, an open checkbook. One of the most beneficent Harvard contributors of his time, Gordon (along with other well-to-do alumni) is again gearing up to catalyze the University's most ambitious fund drive to date, an effort slated to rake in $250 million by mid-1984. Although Gordon's check will probably surpass many others, it pales in comparison to his other contribution: his influence on other wealthy Harvard alumni, corporations, and foundations. Now that inflation has become the scapegoat for almost every ill, the University is calling on men like Gordon to persuade the nation that Harvard University, the educational institution with the largest endowment in the country, needs another cool quarter-billion. Now, more than ever, Harvard needs a friend in the business.
Not that fund drive officials are worried about reaching the zenith. So far, says Arthur D. Trottenberg '48, associate dean of the Faculty for development, the University has received more than $81 million in advance pledges and donations; and, despite an unstable economy, Melissa Gerrity, acting associate dean of the Faculty for finance and administration, says she "hasn't heard terrible gloom and doom yet." One reason for the early success of the drive may be that Harvard Campaign officials have aimed the late 1979-early 1980 Cupid's arrows at wealthy foundations and companies, many of which can always afford a plaque on a building at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. But now that it's getting time to elicit the $1000, $500, $100 and even $50 pledges, Harvard will have to sharpen its we-really-do-need-it arguments.
Alumni like Gordon play the role of the ten-pin in this game of financial persuasion. Their work began during last fall's Campaign kickoff, when fund drive officials commissioned a dozen Harvard grads, all New York City businessmen, to meet and brain-storm about possible sources of Big Bucks. William S. Olney '46, director of corporations and foundations in the development office, says this conclave of presidents, board chairmen, and directors tries to woo potential munificent givers by convincing them that by helping Harvard (to distort the old saying), they'll be helping themselves: "Say they approach a major chemical company and ask them to contribute to some new chem labs; they would try to demonstrate that if the Chem Department suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth, the world would be a very poor place."
So far, that argument convinced Exxon, for example, to pledge $1 million, which it has specified for use in developing the public policy program at the Kennedy School of Government. The line may also have won over some of the committee members themselves. Amory Houghton Jr. '50--who has a controlling interest in Corning Glassware, Dow Corning, Owen-Corning Fiberglas and Pittsburgh-Corning Corp.--arranged for those four companies to donate $750,000 which, along with the Houghton family's own check, will endow a $1-million Amory Houghton Sr. Professor of Chemistry. And Time, Inc. will donate half-a-million in memory of former publisher Roy E. Larsen '21--a donation egged on by Andrew Heiskell, chairman of the board at Time and a member of the Harvard Corporation.
Six- and seven-figure donations from corporations may sound impressive, but Olney estimates that, at best, they'll amount to $20-$25 million. right now, he notes, corporate pledges total only about $3 million. Similarly, foundation solicitations are not likely to produce more than 10 per cent of the goal. Beverly Bennett, director of foundations and development services, says that luring foundations to contribute can prove challenging, since many organizations "are much more interested in giving to programs with a social impact than they are in giving to an unrestricted fund--professorships are not terribly interesting." The foundation-coaxing process thus involves, first, uncovering foundations that do find causes such as academic endowment exciting. After the initial contact Bennett's office makes with the institution, the University sends development officials, Dean Rosovsky, or even Faculty members to meet with foundation members. Meanwhile, researchers continue to search for new prospects: "It's a constant culling process, a constant effort to update our information, to trace giving patterns and changing interests," Bennett says.
Using this system, one of Bennetts' eight researchers appealed to the Kresge Foundation, headquartered in Troy, Michigan, and won. Barbara J. Getz, program officer at Kresge, says the foundation decided to grant the University $1,250,000 to help fund the second building of the K-School because "Harvard obviously is old and venerable; it will survive the dilemmas of the '80s." The University was one of 208 receipients from a pool of 1359 that met the Kresge Foundation's standards, particularly its insistence on the donee's fiscal stability. In fact, Harvard passed with flying colors; "It will be around a long time," Getz says simply.
In 1981, campaign officers will begin attempting to convince Harvard alumni--all 57,000 of them--that Harvard needs at least $200 million from them to meet Getz's expectation. To that end, a creeping network of alumni groups (the list reads like a list of hamburger variations: major gifts committee, class campaign committees, steering committees, area special gifts workers, area class agents, area steering committees) will conduct scores of dinners, movie-showing sessions and telephone campaigns to personalize the appeal as fully as possible. Richard B. Boardman, director of special gifts, says that area agents will take care to solicit each alumnus for about the amount he seems capable of giving. "Contributors will be asked to respond based on the distribution of wealth," he explains, adding, "Your basic economics would tell us that there's not a bell-shaped curve of distribution of wealth, so people should respond based on capability."
About 3000 alumni will participate in estimating giving capacities and preparing their peers for the final solicitation letter. In spring 1981, Maine will be among the first of the target areas. Three hundred volunteer alumni will form class committees and train themselves in the fine art of fundraising. After several meetings, the volunteers will sponsor a dinner, in an attempt to clinch other area alumni gifts. Each alumnus in the Bangor area will receive a formal case statement on the drive--and then a donation envelope. The whole process should take about six months, Boardman says, adding that virtually the same agenda will be followed lin 76 other areas of the country during the course of the next two years.
Behind the gala scene, fund drive officials will use more subtle tactics to encourage liberal giving. One of Harvard's oldest fundraising strategies has been to keep totals of each class's gifts, prompting a one-upsmanship that keeps more dollars rolling in each year. While usually only reunion classes feel pressured to beat the previous year's total, the five-year fund drive gives all classes a chance to forge ahead in the money race. The "challenge of giving"--not to mention the "pleasures of tax cuts"--is a theme echoed by many officials. Olney points out that after President Bok visited several strategic sections of the country to prepare them for the upcoming push in spring 1979, he sent out a questionnaire, asking if the alumni he had visited believed the $250 million figure was too high. They did not.
Gordon, who is one of the national co-chairmen of the Campaign, was one of those polled. "I think there's a tendency for people to want to nourish their roots," he explains. "One has followed the institution to which one went and therefore is more inclined to give to it than to, say, Columbia, which--even though I might think it's a great institution--I have no connections with." Viewing the University as a "full-service institution--in business terms," Gordon believes that almost any alumnus can find a cause he'd like to fund. An avid supporter of athletics, Gordon has allocated his past gifts to fund Harvard sports; from his point of view, academics is "sufficiently taken care of."
But what of John D. Harvardgraduate, the middle-income suburbanite who can't afford to donate an indoor tennis court? Gordon believes the Campaign must reach those alumni as well. The $35 gifts add up, he says, noting, "Who knows? Someone giving $100, S50, etc. may be in the big time in 40 years." And he is confident that Harvard can win over the hearts--and wallets--of its alumni. As for those who don't share his lifelong adoration of Veritas, well, he believes that the appeal will reach them, too, largely because the solicitation techniques radiate sophistication and reflect the best rule-of-thumb in any seduction process: "One doesn't get it because one asks for it, one has to persuade the potential donor that he'll feel better if he makes the gift."