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For Fundraising, Kennedy School Turns to Non-Alumni

As it seeks to raise $500 million, the Kennedy School sells its mission to non-alumni

Felipe Calderon (right), the 56th President of Mexico (2006-2012) and the Inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, speaks at the JFK Forum with David T. Ellwood (left), the Dean of Harvard Kennedy School. Calderon discussed a variety of issues, including Mexican economic interests, the level of violence in Mexico, and Mexico's role in Latin America.
Felipe Calderon (right), the 56th President of Mexico (2006-2012) and the Inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, speaks at the JFK Forum with David T. Ellwood (left), the Dean of Harvard Kennedy School. Calderon discussed a variety of issues, including Mexican economic interests, the level of violence in Mexico, and Mexico's role in Latin America.
By Luca F. Schroeder, Crimson Staff Writer

Public service, even for Harvard graduates, is no lucrative field.

About 65 percent of employed 2013 graduates of the Master in Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government are working in the public or nonprofit sector, according to the Kennedy School Office of Career Advancement. Alumni working in local government have the highest median salary out of these graduates, at $67,500, 35 percent more than the median salary of $50,000 for those working in intergovernmental organizations.

Yet even $67,500 pales in comparison to the $160,000 median salary of 2013 Harvard Law School graduates, nearly 60 percent of whom worked at law firms. It’s also a far cry from the $120,000 median salary and $25,000 median signing bonus of Harvard Business School graduates from the same year, 95 percent of whom work outside of the government and non-profit world.

In addition to this discrepancy in alumni earnings between the Kennedy School and some of the University’s flagship graduate schools, the Kennedy School has a relatively smaller and younger alumni base because its classes are smaller and its core degree programs were developed later.

As it strives to raise $500 million in its portion of Harvard’s record-seeking $6.5 billion capital campaign, then, the Kennedy School cannot turn to its alumni base in the same way as the Business or Law Schools. Its fundraising strategy is based on a different model, relying heavily on gifts from donors who are not school alumni.

BY THE NUMBERS

As of February, the Kennedy School had raised $383 million in its segment of Harvard’s record-seeking fundraising drive. According to Kennedy School spokesperson Doug Gavel, though the school’s alumni constitute the majority—75 percent—of donors who contributed to that sum, their contributions in dollars make up only about 20 percent of the whole.

The Kennedy School of Government's donation pool comes disproportionately from non-alumni sources.
The Kennedy School of Government's donation pool comes disproportionately from non-alumni sources. By Helen Bae

The remaining 80 percent of funds raised or pledged came from donors who did not graduate from the Kennedy School. Those gifts come from individual non-alumni donors, foundations, and corporate sources. The trend of non-alumni giving at the Kennedy School is consistent both for major gifts in particular and across the board, according to Christy Jackowitz, the school’s assistant dean for alumni relations and resource development.

Compared to Harvard overall, a greater proportion of Kennedy School fundraising comes from non-alumni.

On average, non-alumni contributed 66 percent of giving Harvard-wide in 2014, according to Ann E. Kaplan, the director of the Voluntary Support of Education Survey at the Council for Aid to Education. At private research institutions generally, on average, non-alumni contribute to 72 percent of giving.

According to Gavel, 20 percent of all Kennedy School alumni have donated to the school during the campaign so far. This participation rate is more than twice the average 8.3 percent alumni giving rate for all colleges and universities reported in the 2014 VSE survey. It is just more than half of Harvard College’s 2006 alumni giving rate, which at 39 percent was a 17-year low at the time.

“One thing to recognize about the Kennedy School is that the vast majority of our money...comes from people who aren’t even Harvard graduates,” Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 said in February. “That means they are investing in an institution where they believe deeply in our capacity to do something [to] either educate a group of leaders or provide answers to problems they care about.”

David T. Ellwood '75, left, will step down as dean of the Kennedy School of Government at the end of the academic year.
David T. Ellwood '75, left, will step down as dean of the Kennedy School of Government at the end of the academic year. By Christopher J Magnani

Pitching the Kennedy School’s purpose as a government school may be key to landing donations from non-alumni. Paul G. Schervish, the director of Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, said resonance with the school’s mission is a key motivating force for non-alumni donors.

“I often say [that] the major mobilizing factor of philanthropy is identification—so identification with its mission, and what leads to identification is association [with HKS affiliates],” Schervish said.

For long-time University and Kennedy School donor Peter L. Malkin ’55, for instance, it was the Kennedy School’s “unique training ground for leaders” that first attracted him to the school, which he did not attend.

“For many people who are outside of academia, while there’s a great appreciation for the very important research that’s done at Harvard...the everyday exciting things are really taking place at the Kennedy School,” Malkin said, pointing to the Institute of Politics’s biennial program for newly-elected members of Congress as a practical manifestation of the school’s mission.

As for the school’s popularity with non-alumni abroad, philanthropy expert Richard A. Marker highlighted the brand power of Harvard—and by extension, its international arm, the Kennedy School—as key.

“If you’re an international player and you want to identify yourself with a safe and prestigious cause, whether or not Harvard is always going to be the right place, or does the most creative things...or even the things most relevant to that country…if you want there to be media recognition...you’re going to choose Harvard,” Marker said. “To be identified with a quality, high-prestige institution even for a head of state is something that has appeal.”

Schervish added that the Kennedy School’s national prominence, curriculum, and various fellowship programs likely facilitated “connections to an elite financial group” and “rosters of major actors” in politics that established a strong network with wealthy non-alumni philanthropists.

STRINGS ATTACHED?

While the Kennedy School’s broad appeal as a government school may land it a wide base of donors, it has another consequence: for better or worse, what comes with its relatively large proportion of non-alumni donations focused on the school’s mission is what Ellwood terms “prescriptive gifts.”

“They don’t give you large sums of money to do whatever what the dean wants—that just doesn’t happen, whereas [elsewhere] that can happen,” Ellwood said. “Anytime someone is a donor, they’re going to have something they care about.”

Kennedy School Executive Dean John A. Haigh characterized Kennedy School donors as largely “giving through” rather than “giving to” the school, entrusting the school with their money to effectively work on a particular policy area in which their interests lie.

Ellwood emphasized, however, that the Kennedy School carefully evaluates each gift and philanthropist in relation to the school’s mission and “turn[s] down gifts all the time.”

“One always has to be thoughtful about whether the support that’s coming in advances your agenda as opposed to diverts you,” Ellwood said, adding that the issue is a “generic one” that is especially true for large gifts.

If, for example, a donor approached the school to fund a fellowship for Indonesian students, Jackowitz said, the school would first evaluate if they would receive enough qualified applicants from Indonesia to warrant the fellowship and would likely ask the donor to “broaden” his or her gift to an entire region to ensure greater success.

Ellwood said any “sizable donation is a discussion” and that donors recognize that a gift towards an endeavor the school does not intend to pursue will not benefit either party.

“You’re not going to get the kind of attention and energy you want [and] you’re just going to be fighting with each other forever,” Ellwood said. “Whereas by contrast, if you give it to something the school really believes in and is excited about, then you’re going to find that the money is going to leverage, because other people are going to get excited.”

With this significant non-alumni financial presence and much of the Kennedy School’s advisory Dean’s Council made up of non-graduates, a possible concern, according to Marker, is that the school could change in academic values and priorities in response to “prescriptive” donations.

“I don’t mean to be coarse, but there’s no question that if you have a private college…it’s harder for the academic integrity to stand up to a big gift,” Marker said. “[But] Harvard is not going to sell its academic integrity to the highest bidder.”

According to Marker, what could happen, however, is a shift in the Kennedy School’s existing academic priorities. Items that might have been number five on the school’s priorities list, said Marker, might move to the top of the list based on where “money has arrived.”

Still, Schervish said, “Harvard is not a beggar.” He said while there is perhaps some non-material satisfaction granted to donors—such as honors and naming buildings—there is almost certainly no quid pro quo resulting from donations that could result in unethical behavior.

“It’s what the University has that attracts the donations…rather than changing a policy of the University—you might want to approve or add a dimension, but it’s not going to be able to affect the [thought],” Schervish said.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at luca.schroeder@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.

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