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Harvard Releases Inaugural Alumni Impact Study

By Marella A. Gayla, Crimson Staff Writer

The University has released the results of its inaugural Impact Study, a survey commissioned to quantify the global activity of Harvard alumni in entrepreneurship, board service, and volunteer service. The study shows that nearly four out of 10 alumni are founders of for-profit or nonprofit organizations, and that alumni serve on almost 300,000 boards.

The survey was sent to the 244,835 living alumni who continue to receive emails from the University and had a response rate of approximately 15 percent and a completion rate of 10 percent. Respondents with LinkedIn accounts could use their profiles to automatically answer some survey questions. The University commissioned Market Strategies International, a market research firm, to work with Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner to develop the survey.

Lerner said planning for the study began about a year and a half ago. Organizers spent a year developing the survey before its release, and respondents could complete it between May and July.

“[Business School Dean Nitin Nohria] asked me if I would be involved in this effort around a year and a half ago, and I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s a great idea to do this, but I am only going to be enthusiastic if we can do this as carefully and accurately as we can,’” Lerner said. “We tried to work out a variety of methodologies to address the fact that we don’t have a universe of people answering.”

The study was released in the midst of the University-wide $6.5 billion capital campaign, which launched its public phase in 2013. The University has already raised more than $6 billion in gifts and pledges.

Lerner said that he was interested in shifting the perception that all Harvard graduates go on to work at large corporations.

“In a way, because we’re not seen traditionally as a tech school—we’re not seen as an MIT or a Stanford—the entrepreneurial story of Harvard graduates has been underplayed and underappreciated,” Lerner said. “In bringing some data to compare...we can change the perceptions of the school a bit more broadly.

The study emphasized the global reach of alumni entrepreneurship in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Nearly one-third of the 146,429 active ventures founded by Harvard alumni have their headquarters outside of the United States. While respondents tended to found more for-profit organizations in Oceania and South America, they founded more nonprofit ventures in Africa and Asia. The median age for entrepreneurship among Harvard alumni is 40, with 32 percent of ventures founded before the founder was 35.

According to the study, 66 percent of graduates have served on a board. The top sectors for board service include professional, technical, and scientific services; finance and insurance; and schools, universities, and libraries. Alumni are more likely to serve on nonprofit boards than for-profit boards, according to the survey—72 percent of boards served were for nonprofit organizations.

The survey also tracked volunteerism at all ages for Harvard alumni. Graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 were least likely to participate in volunteer work, with 40 percent reporting participation. Volunteerism tends to increase with age among alumni, peaking with the graduates between 65 and 74, with 57 percent reporting participation in volunteer service.

—Staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at mgayla@college.harvard.edu.

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