When Paul J. Finnegan ’75, a Harvard Corporation member, stood before a packed Sanders Theatre in September 2013 to announce that Harvard would seek to raise $6.5 billion in its next capital campaign, he drew a standing ovation.
A record-setting effort, the capital campaign set out to fund a number of priorities across the University’s 12 schools, including student financial aid and House renewal. The campaign, entitled “One Harvard,” would be Harvard’s moment to “seize an impatient future,” as University President Drew G. Faust said in her address announcing the drive.
It did not have to wait long.
Now, after blowing through its goal two years before the fundraising drive’s scheduled 2018 end, Harvard will focus on raising money for individual priorities and programs—including financial aid, House renewal, and the new campus in Allston—that still need the money. The campaign has reached its overall monetary goal well ahead of schedule, and top Harvard administrators, including Faust and Tamara E. Rogers ’74, vice president development and alumni affairs, have previously said the University will not raise its $6.5 billion goal.
Its goal reached and some of its largest gifts collected, the “One Harvard” campaign will now finish the more humble task of polishing off priorities and engaging rank and file donors.
STRONG OUT OF THE GATE
By the time Harvard publicly launched its campaign, the University had already amassed nearly half its goal in gifts and pledges. This so-called “quiet phase” is typical in higher education fundraising, according to Donald M. Fellows, president of the fundraising consulting firm Marts & Lundy.
The purpose of preliminary fundraising, Fellows said, “is to try to bring in some big gifts from those people who are closest to the institution and build this nucleus fund, so that you get to a point where you can make the public announcement. That's typically between 40 and 60 percent of the ultimate public goal.”
“Institutions do that because they want to make sure they're going to be successful and they want to be able to announce that big goal with momentum going into it,” he said.
Harvard also chooses its fundraising goals confident that it can reach them, Paul J. Zofnass ’69, a major Harvard benefactor, said.
“This happens every time they have a campaign. It’s kind of standard operating procedure: They make sure they do their homework ahead of time and they don’t overestimate,” Zofnass said.
To that effect, Harvard waited to launch its campaign until the impact of the 2008 financial crisis had somewhat dissipated, Faust said in interview earlier this month. That way, the University could more effectively solicit donations from its alumni.
Despite Harvard’s rapid fundraising success, several University administrators have remained reticent to share data about the campaign’s progress. Harvard’s last public update about the campaign came in October, when Rogers said Harvard had raised $6.1 billion towards its goal. Earlier this month, Faust said the University would publish precise data about its campaign progress over the summer.
This reluctance to share updates about the campaign’s progress may stem from a desire to avoid the “politically problematic” optics of enormous institutional wealth, according to Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Over the summer, when hedge fund magnate John A. Paulson donated a historic $400 million to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—a gift that renamed the school in his honor—a host of vocal commentators derided the gift as gluttonous for the world’s wealthiest university.
“If you’re the people running the capital campaign and you want to minimize the chance that there’s a lot of stories about how Harvard’s raking in tons of cash while there are homeless people in Boston,” then Harvard would not brag about campaign progress, Hess said.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Still, with about two years of the campaign’s public phase remaining, Harvard has likely already received many of the fundraising effort’s largest gifts.
“As the campaign advances most of the big money has come in, and this is now getting reunion class and other special interest groups to try and join the bandwagon and be giving,” said Gerald R. Jordan ’61, who has donated tens of millions of dollars to the University.
Three gifts alone—$350 million from Gerald L. Chan, $400 million from John A. Paulson, and $150 million from Kenneth C. Griffin ’89—have funded $900 million of the campaign, or roughly a seventh of Harvard’s goal. Zofnass said the University has likely already targeted many of its largest potential benefactors.
“I would think that they’re probably gone after all of the big hitters and the potential big ones already,” Zofnass said. “Generally the way they’ve done it in the past is they first get the big givers to come up… and then once they get the big gifts they solicit the smaller amounts.”
“I think the likelihood of many more significant additional gifts in terms of dollar value will be relatively slim,” Zofnass said.
Zofnass also emphasized that the size and growth of Harvard’s endowment—which grew to $37.6 billion in the 2015 fiscal year—remains a more useful barometer of Harvard’s financial strength than fundraising totals. John T. Hazel ’51, who has been involved in previous Harvard fundraising drives, agreed, saying that maintaining the strength of the endowment is as important—if not more so—than successful fundraising.
“I think the main thing is that Harvard continue to increase the endowment, invest it wisely and profitably, and have the financial base that we’ve become used to,” Hazel said.
MUST BE THE MONEY
In an interview earlier this month, Faust emphasized that the campaign—while moving rapidly—is not yet over.
“We’re only, in terms of time, slightly more than halfway through the campaign. We have more than two years to go,” Faust said. “So the fact that in some areas we have 50 percent of the money to raise is not surprising. But we do want to make sure we achieve these substantive goals as well as any number that might be an abstraction of what those substantive goals are meant to represent.”
House renewal is one lingering fundraising priority. With the renovations of Winthrop House and Lowell House scheduled for 2016 and 2017, respectively, Faust will continue to fundraise for the project, which could cost as much as $1.3 billion and is allotted $400 million campaign dollars.
Financial aid, another campaign priority, is also shy of its $600 million goal, despite Griffin’s nine-figure gift. Jordan, who sponsors a number of financial aid scholarships, said that it can be more difficult to excite alumni about priorities like financial aid and House renewal.
“Financial aid and House renewal are not terribly exciting for the donor. Are we going to change the name of Winthrop House? I suspect it could probably become the Winthrop-Jordan house or something, but I suspect it won’t happen,” Jordan said.
Several of Harvard’s 12 schools are still short of their targets, including the Graduate School of Education and the Divinity School, according to Faust. At the Graduate School of Education, she said, the appointment of a new dean in the middle of the campaign complicated fundraising.
“He hadn’t gotten to know any donors, he hadn’t had a chance to acclimate himself to the goals of the campaign, and so he’s been rapidly up to speed and doing fabulously well,” Faust said. “But there’s a ways to go for Education.”
RAISING THE BAR?
Last semester, as Harvard neared the $6.5 billion goal, Faust and Rogers each said the University had no plans to raise its overall goal. Instead, they each said, Harvard will bolster in the remaining projects of the campaign.
But raising a capital campaign target would not be without precedent in the Ivy League. Columbia University increased its goal from $4 billion to $5 billion in its campaign, eventually pulling in $6.1 billion by 2013—an Ivy League record at the time. In New Haven, Yale bumped its target up $500 million after making strong progress in the first two years of its campaign.
But rather than elevating an already lofty, if tangible, goal, several experts said, Harvard will try to build on its current progress and direct donors towards areas of need.
“Saying we’re going to continue on [the same goal] gives them the halfway point of still continuing to raise money but not necessarily raising the goal,” Winkler said. “That might be a happy medium where they can continue building on the momentum they have so far.”
While the $6.5 billion marks an unprecedented height in higher education fundraising, beating the $6.2 billion record set by Stanford in 2011, several experts cautioned against turning capital campaigns into a horse race.
“For the most part, they’re not out trying to beat one another. This is really about big institutions that have great financial needs and priorities that they need to raise,” Fellows said. “There’s some talk from time to time about an arms race in campaigns, and I don’t think that’s really true. Those top institutions, they're trying to meet these very big strategic goals that require a lot of money to do so.”
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.