“Quite naturally, we think that any University campaign will be most successful with a president in place, so any decisions about that will likely wait until [then],” the vice president for alumni affairs and development, Donella M. Rapier, said in an interview last week.
A major fund-raising drive can be defining for a university leader, giving a president the opportunity to lay his or her vision before donors—and hope that they take out their checkbooks.
And Harvard’s ambitious University-wide campaign could be the largest in higher education. The University’s next president will almost certainly want to make his or her mark on the planning and direction of the fund drive.
It is not immediately clear what the decision to wait will mean for the timetable of the campaign’s public launch. The projected start of the campaign—no official launch date was ever set since 2004—has already slipped from Harvard officials’ initial expectations.
But in the wake of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ decision to step down at the end of June, the move now effectively attaches the schedule of the campaign to the pace of the presidential search.
The search officially kicked off in March, but the committee has not said when it expects to name the University’s new chief.
Harvard administrators initially projected that the capital campaign would launch in 2006 or 2007. But in an interview last fall, Rapier said a launch in 2007 was “not likely” and would more likely come in 2008 or later.
Administrators have yet to announce the total dollar figure they seek to raise, though they expect it will exceed the last campaign, which ended in 1999 and yielded $2.6 billion. A similar seven-year campaign launched today would reap at least $4.2 billion, based on a higher-education inflation rate of 3.5 percent.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Capital campaign or not, the Harvard fundraising machine is plowing ahead, and the results for fiscal year 2006 look strong, according to the development office.
Gifts from donors are up year after year, and alumni participation in the Harvard College Fund—which dipped to a 16-year low last year—is also on the rise, according to Harvard spokeswoman Sarah Friedell.
Friedell emphasized that the development office cannot be certain of its final results for 2006, which concludes at the end of June, given the importance of that month for gifts from class reunions.
But next year, fund-raisers will face the challenge of raising money without a president at the University’s helm.
Some donors prefer to contribute sizable gifts when they can form a relationship with an institution’s permanent chief.
"Certainly, at all not-for-profits the very largest gifts are typically made when there’s a senior leader in place," Rapier said last week. "During periods of transition donors typically don’t think it’s the right moment to announce a very large commitment."
Next year, the development office must ensure that Harvard’s relationships with alumni and donors "bridge across the transition," Rapier said.
That might warrant some different fund-raising techniques. Lacking a permanent president to hobnob with donors, Harvard may rely on other individuals to tout its merits, such as Provost Steven E. Hyman and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71.
"There are a number of people that may spend more time helping us with fund-raising during this transition," Rapier said last week.
BACK TO BOK
It remains to be seen how much fund-raising will be performed by incoming Interim President Derek C. Bok, who will take the reins from Summers at the start of July.
Bok has committed to helping as much as he can, and he maintains close ties with alumni from his previous stint as Harvard’s president, Rapier said.
But Bok will also have plenty of other priorities vying for his attention.
Despite the transition, Rapier remains optimistic that Harvard’s fund-raising engine and donors’ broad support for University priorities will remain strong.
"On the whole our alumni are very, very loyal and care a lot about this institution," Rapier said. "Many of them have been through presidential transitions before, and we have a sense from them that they are still very devoted to Harvard."
—Staff writer Nicholas M. Ciarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org