Q & A with Neil L. Rudenstine

Former University president discusses Harvard's last capital campaign

Page 2 of 2

THC: Speaking to your role going and traveling and doing these various things on the road, but also talking with alumni and donors, I’m curious as to what you saw as your role as University President as doing on the road? Of course, I’m sure there are others with you and the development office also played a role.  What did you think that you could communicate to people that you met, either abroad, or in other cities, about the University’s priorities or these different issues? What did you bring to the campaign personally by being there?

NLR: Well, I think the most important thing you can do [in] a campaign is to be clear about what the University's most important needs are and their priorities…. In effect, the agenda, the case, [is] truly the driving force, there’s no point in having a campaign unless you have exceptional things that you feel are very important to be able to advance the mission of the University in educational terms. And so, in effect, knowing from the bottom up, so to speak, what it was the institution needed, and why.… And I found on the whole, that my asking people was very, very limited, and I much preferred to talk to people about what the needs were, and what the upside in terms of what one could achieve educationally was. And that was far more important, as well as more enjoyable. And that if people were persuaded, then they were likely to give. That was the premise.

THC: What are your thoughts on having that One Harvard messaging in the way that [President Faust] talks to donors, and I have heard speak to at events. Do you think that that kind of messaging and emphasizing that kind of vision is helpful in trying to really truly have a University-wide campaign with initiatives across schools?

NLR: It’s also the case that from the point of view of motivating people, for whatever reason, they do respond to the idea—they think of themselves as “Harvard.” They don’t think of themselves as just School of Public Health graduates, or art department graduates, or whatever the case may be. They think of themselves that way, too. But the name Harvard is the vision of a single place that they are somehow connected to. And we found that people were motivated much more strongly, much more generously in their giving when they rose to the idea that it was really [the] University as a whole that made sense.…

And so it’s not a phrase as it were, or as you said a message. It’s really a reality that has to be brought into being. If you are working on environmental problems, there is no point working on them if you can't involve people from the Medical school or the School of Public Health, especially, people from law who know about law having to do with the environment, people from the Business School who know something about how businesses are going to to be affected by changes in regulation and so on and so forth. People in arts and sciences, and the certainly biological sciences, as well as other places.... It’s not just a message or an abstract vision, it’s an educational and research reality.

THC: Do you have any more thoughts either on the One Harvard idea, or on anything else you would like to add about your experiences traveling or being on the road on the campaign?

NLR: Well, I think that, I don't question that the experience of traveling on the road was tremendously important. It may seem to some people to take the president or other people away from the University, which in one sense it obviously does for a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, there is simply no way to...learn about what people think is important in the University, educational process of the president and other people. And there’s no way to communicate what the University means, and what it’s doing, and what it can achieve without actually having group sessions, without meeting with individuals, without having large, alumni gatherings where you can give talks and so on.

It is as much an educational process as it is a financial process. And because people are not going to give back [simply] because it’s Harvard. They are going to give because they believe that something that is excellent can be made more excellent. And in order for them to do that, they have to understand what it is, what's the educational mission here, what’s the research here, what are we giving to and why.

So, its very important to stress that part of it. [There are] people who feel that campaigns are just “fundraising” and that fundraising is some kind of a mechanical process where you go and ask people for money and they give it. It’s totally different from that. It’s a human process and an educational process, which obviously involves a financial dimension that is extremely important. But the financial dimension, which simply shrinks in terms of its significance without the other part….

I guess I would add one thing. I've been up to Harvard a few times and I’ve heard a fair amount [about] what is being planned in the campaign and so on. And I think that President Faust and her colleagues are just doing an extraordinarily excellent job. And so I can’t praise them enough. And so I hope the whole University, including the students, will get behind it.