Judicial Restraint: Harvard Law School’s Tempered Campaign

As Harvard Law School prepares to launch its part of the University’s fundraising drive, it adjusts its strategy

When Harvard publicly launched its capital campaign in 2013, it set out for the record books. The first fundraising drive to take place at every school across the University simultaneously, it aimed to raise $6.5 billion, more money than any previous effort not only at Harvard, but in the history of higher education.

To match the big figures were big goals. Some money will fund major capital projects, such as a new campus for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and an overhaul of Harvard’s undergraduate House system.

And with more than $6 billion raised barely two years into the campaign’s public phase, Harvard is showing no signs of slowing its fundraising ambitions.

Except at Harvard Law School. Fundraisers there are preparing to launch the public phase of its segment of the University’s larger fundraising drive on Oct. 23, making it the last of Harvard’s schools to do so.

For Steven Oliveira, the Law School’s dean for development and alumni relations tasked with coordinating the effort, this fundraising drive is “awkward.” The school just finished a $476 million capital campaign in 2008, funding major construction, and administrators there are wary of over-soliciting their donors.

But with the University’s larger campaign in full swing, Oliveira and his colleagues feel compelled to launch their own earlier than they had planned, but not without adjusting their fundraising strategies. Instead of trying to break a record, they have set a smaller goal and will focus on funding existing priorities, rather than creating new ones, in less time.

“We would not be in a campaign right now if it wasn’t for the University’s desire to have the ‘One Harvard’ campaign, which of course we want to be a part of, but again creates an awkwardness,” Oliveira said.

‘AWKWARD’ TIMING

For Harvard Law School, 2015 is an odd year to start a capital campaign. Beyond its close proximity to the end of its last fundraising drive, it follows the financial crisis and is only two years ahead of the school’s bicentennial in 2017, a major opportunity to solicit donations from involved alumni.

While Law School Dean Martha L. Minow described her and her colleagues as “excited” to participate in their first University-wide campaign, administrators acknowledge that doing so required some adjustments. University President Drew G. Faust emphasized the importance of total participation.

“We really thought it was important to have a University-wide campaign and to all be a part of the messaging of what Harvard is and how this supports all of Harvard, so there never was a moment when the Law School said, ‘We’re not going to be part of it,’” Faust said. “But there was always the sense that we had to be sensitive to the fact they had completed a campaign so recently.”

Given that timing, according to Oliveira, Law School officials decided to postpone the public launch of its upcoming campaign—two years after the centralized kickoff—for fear of otherwise overburdening benefactors. The campaign that concluded in 2008 exceeded its goal of $400 million, addressed many of the school’s needs—such as the construction of a new student and academic center—and drew from many of its most eligible donors.

To start another fundraising drive so soon, Oliveira said, risks double-dipping and asking too much of some alumni. In many cases, according to Oliveira, donors pledge gifts that they then pay off over several years. By the time Harvard began to prepare for its University-wide launch, many Law School donors were still making gifts toward the school’s last campaign.

Law School officials had also wanted to time their next campaign around the upcoming celebration of the Law School’s 200th year, Oliveira said. They are still calling the effort “The Harvard Law School Campaign for the Third Century.”

“It was an unusual bit of timing, because the Law School had just finished its campaign and therefore understandably did not want to go back to donors and say, ‘Gee, we just finished a campaign, thank you very much for your generosity, and we’re ringing your doorbell again,’” added Morgan Chu, a former president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers and a Law School campaign co-chair.

As other individual school campaigns launched throughout 2013 and 2014, then, the Law School waited. It also set a smaller goal than it raised before. According to Oliveira, Faust, and several donors, the Law School has set a campaign goal of less than $400 million—the sum the school sought to raise in its last fundraising drive.

“What we couldn’t do is essentially mortgage our future by trying to have an overly aggressive campaign when we weren’t in line to achieve that in this moment in time,” Oliveira said.

‘A REVERSE STRATEGY’

Most capital campaigns begin with a “quiet phase,” when fundraisers solicit donations at a slower pace a couple years before the official launch. According to Oliveira, schools usually use this time to engage some of their highest-profile donors in the hopes of soliciting large gifts, and later cast a wider net from the broader alumni base.

The Law School’s 2015 campaign is operating on a different schedule. Oliveira said he and his colleagues started with the broader base a couple years ago, when their quiet phase began, and will reach out to larger donors in the campaign’s latter stages.

“It’s just completely reversing the way you would do a traditional campaign so that we could be part of the University campaign,” Oliveira said.

Chu, an intellectual property lawyer who graduated from the Law School in 1976, said the school’s best option is to avoid returning to high-value donors too quickly given the circumstances. “The timing on how to approach various donors certainly makes a lot of sense to me,” he said.

Oliveira attributed the difference between the Law School’s fundraising strategy and the broader University’s approach to the timing of their respective campaigns. Harvard’s last central capital campaign wrapped up in 1999, a gap that Oliveira ascribed in part to the unexpected departure of former University President Lawrence H. Summers.

“In a lot of ways, they all had pent up demand, and we had expended demand, so for us, we’ve had to do this campaign differently,” Oliveira said.

‘CORE PRIORITIES’

Within this adjusted framework, Harvard Law School fundraisers are focusing their efforts on furthering pre-existing and tangible goals—what Oliveria called “core priorities”—instead of a major reinvention of the school. At the top of that list of priorities, according to Oliveira, is more funding for financial aid, an initiative many Law School alumni said they are eager to support.

For alumnus Jerome E. Hyman, who is also a member of the dean’s advisory board, it is important for the Law School to have a student body that is “not just composed of rich people.” Other donors share the sentiment.

“As the law school’s buildings have so substantially been recently upgraded, I think the emphasis should be on aid to support students, especially those going into public interest careers, and programs at the school that encourage that focus,” Mike Klein, chairman of the Sunlight Foundation and a Law School alumnus and member of the dean’s advisory board, wrote in an email.

In addition to financial aid for current students, Oliveira and donors such as alumnus Peter L. Malkin ’55 advocated fundraising for the Law School’s Low Income Protection Plan, which offers loan relief to students who take jobs in lower-paying public sector and public interest work.

In addition to the top priority of financial aid, Oliveira said endowing professorships—particularly clinical professorships—is another major fundraising goal. At Harvard and around the country, hands-on clinical practice has started to replace and supplement the more traditional Socratic style of legal instruction.

While Oliveira was enthusiastic about the value of that kind of more personalized, practice-based education, he emphasized that it is also quite expensive, given small student-faculty ratios. Fundraising for clinical education presents more of a challenge than pitching something like financial aid, he said, because many alumni donors have no experience with clinical education and simply do not know much about it.

Minow, who was not available for an interview, pointed to “interdisciplinary teaching and learning,” research, and “student entrepreneurship and innovation” as other fundraising priorities in an email.

Some alumni are also hopeful that the campaign will provide an opportunity to fundraise for other projects. Charles Hieken, a 1957 alumnus who specializes in patent law and endowed a professorship at Harvard in the area, said he would like the study to receive still more support with this campaign.

A NEW GUARD

As much as this capital campaign, if awkwardly timed, provides an opportunity for Harvard Law School to fund some of its priorities as a school, it’s also a time for Oliveria and his team to continue another project for the school’s future: cultivating its next generation of donors.

Over the Law School’s last couple fundraising drives, Oliviera said, the school has drawn from the same generation of donors. With that group now aging and having served the school already, Oliveira and his team are looking for the next crop to step up. This process, which can take some time, is just another reason Oliveira said the campaign has a later start date.

“We need time to replenish our pipeline and convey the message that those generous benefactors did a great deal for the school, but now it was time for others to step forward,” Oliveira said.

“Planting those seeds, continuing to do that cultivation, watering and fertilizing those seeds as they grow 15 to 20 years from now, will yield rich dividends,” added Chu, one of the campaign’s co-chairs.

An important part of that courting process, according to Oliveira, is bringing alumni back to the Law School and showing them how it has changed and how it could improve further.

In some ways, then, this campaign is a sort of interlude to larger, more developed fundraising initiatives in the future.

“In some ways we are like a sports team that had its championship run and had a lot of veteran players retire, and then we basically had to build the farm team and get them playing at the major league level,” Oliveira said. “And so for us our next campaign is going to be the one that is much more comprehensive. And again we’ll create the opportunity of getting a deeper group of people supporting the school and then having them mature as donors and then being able to maximize what they can do for the school.”

For now, though, Oliveira is confident in the success of this current campaign within its defined scope. He said the inverted strategy has so far been successful and that he expects to surpass the goal, though he said the school would not raise it.

“Maybe we can do significantly better than we would have anticipated when the campaign was first planned,” he said.

—Staff writers Theodore R. Delwiche and Mariel A. Klein contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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