Dollars for Service

President Neil L. Rudenstine has made fundraising for Harvard the single greatest accomplishment of his term. Yet in the final days of his tenure, now that Harvard’s capital campaign is complete, he has turned his formidable skill and clout in fundraising to a new end: the Centennial Campaign of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).

In this latest effort to connect the community service group’s student officers to significant potential donors, Rudenstine is marking a new direction in the sometimes tense relationship between PBHA and the University. It was only six years ago that the group staged one of the biggest rallies in recent campus history: over 700 protestors flooded the Yard in response to increased College control over the previously student-run group. Now, however, the administration and PBHA should both be applauded for their common commitment to community service.

PBHA’s Centennial Campaign, which seeks to generate an endowment in the range of $7.2 million, will allow it to sustain its financial stability for years to come. If it achieves its goal, the effort will have been helped in no small part by Rudenstine’s efforts to connect the group with alumni who are particularly interested in public service and have vast resources on which to draw.

Harvard has also lent PBHA assistance more significant for the student body than simple networking: a policy exception that makes it easier for donors to earmark funds for the benefit of a student group. Donors are frequently under great pressure from their classmates to contribute toward pre-established class donation goals. Until recently, however, it was the Harvard College Foundation’s policy that donations to student groups did not count towards these totals, causing donors to shift their giving away from student groups and towards Harvard’s $19 billion general endowment. However, in PBHA’s case —as it has done for other capital campaigns—Harvard allowed alumni donations to the campaign to count towards their class totals.

The collaboration between the University and PBHA shows the potential for student group fundraising if facilitated by Harvard. The University should expand its policy exception beyond PBHA and allow all donations to recognized student groups to count towards class totals. The needs of PBHA may be far greater than those of most student groups, but the principle is the same. The policy change would let donors make unconstrained choices in their giving, targeting small donations to the groups that have the most immediate need. It would also allow campus organizations to become more independent financially, to cultivate their own alumni lists and to bear more fruit from their solicitations.

The University benefits greatly from a vibrant extracurricular life, and encouraging alumni contributions to student groups would serve Harvard’s interests, reducing both the need for University expenditures and the strain on the budgets of grant-giving organizations like the Undergraduate Council. Rather than cannibalize student group donations and compete with undergraduates in fund-raising prowess, Harvard should level the playing field. Donations to Harvard student groups are still donations to the University, and they should be counted as such.

Rudenstine’s decision to help PBHA sends an important message, not only about his ability to move beyond past skirmishes, but also about his attention to undergraduate groups and issues. As president, Rudenstine has placed a central importance on fundraising for the University; extending these fundraising advantages to undergraduate student groups would be an excellent legacy.