Although Harvard’s record-setting capital campaign—the first to involve every school in the University—is set to end in June 2018, long-time donor Mitchell L. Dong ’75 said he has no plans to stop donating to the University.
“Raising money for Harvard doesn’t end, it can’t end,” he said. “It just means that there’s a push, we go from being a big push to a huge push and we go back to a big push.”
Harvard’s latest “huge push” has raised over $7 billion dollars in four years and surpassed its $6.5 billion goal—the highest ever set in higher education—two years ahead of schedule.
The campaign has substantively increased Harvard’s annual revenue from gifts. From 2010 to 2012, before the public launch of the campaign, the University’s average revenue from gifts was roughly $628 million. Harvard soon started to haul in far more every year, raising a record-high $1.19 billion in fiscal year 2016.
But even with the overall goal in hand, certain areas of the campaign— such as the House renewal project, a new Allston campus, and financial aid—have not met their individual fundraising goals. And with threats to federal funding and a year of poor endowment returns, fundraising may be more important than ever to some University officials.
Despite the impending end of the drive, Harvard will likely continue to fundraise at the elevated level established by “The Harvard Campaign”—and many major donors will continue to support the University.
According to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, capital campaigns in higher education tend to permanently elevate the average level of annual donations, even after the campaign is over.
“We go from one level and it bounces around and then you move up to a new level after a campaign and it bounces around at that level, but you don’t slip back to the old level,” he said.
FAS, which relies on the endowment for about half of its budget, has recently struggled to make ends meet after the endowment lost nearly $2 billion in value during fiscal year 2016. Smith said FAS is depending on fundraising more than usual, but not because of their budgetary woes. He said it is the normal outcome of a major fundraising campaign.
Still, Smith said that if fundraising revenues were to decrease, there would be “no easy way” to make up the revenue—new sources of revenue are rare and take time to come to fruition.
FAS is responsible for the more than $1 billion project to renovate Harvard’s undergraduate Houses, an area of the campaign that has received lukewarm support from donors. Smith said that he plans to continue to fundraise for the project with the same “vigor” as during the campaign.
Like Smith, University Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Hollister said Harvard is hopeful that the elevated level of fundraising during the campaign years will become the new norm, or even be exceeded in the future.
Major donor Peter L. Malkin ’55—the namesake of the Malkin Athletic Center—said that he thinks Harvard’s capital campaign has been “necessary” and “very successful” at bringing in new donors to the University’s fundraising base.
“The experience has traditionally been that following the capital campaign, the annual support is greater than it was before the campaign because new people come on into the campaign and people who have been involved but made bigger contributions during the campaign continue,” he said.
"Raising money for Harvard doesn't end, it can't end," Harvard donor Mitchell L. Dong '75 said.
But Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, cautioned that campaigns do not always raise the overall level of fundraising.
“Sometimes you see a drop off because they put lots of time and money into raising the money and people wrote big checks so there’s a drop off,” he said. “Other times it becomes a new plateau and they’re able to raise lots of money on top of it.”
Michael T. Kerr ’81, a long-time donor and a member of the FAS campaign steering committee, agreed that fundraising will not continue at the rate seen during the capital campaign.
“This is going to be the most successful campaign for higher education in American history,” he said. “In order to get to this goal, many of our alumni… gave money beyond what they would normally give because of the campaign. And you can’t expect fundraising of capital nature to continue at this level.”
Many prominent donors have been giving to Harvard for decades and expressed their confidence that the University will continue to fundraise successfully.
Anthony M. Lamport ’57, a long-time donor, detailed specific strategies the University uses such as “trying to identify specific interests that people may have” and “[introducing] you to someone in a lab who you can talk to” to encourage donors to contribute.
“Harvard is very expert at fundraising. It’s been doing it a long time,” Lamport said.
Some donors said they are concerned about potential cuts to federal funding. President Donald J. Trump has proposed significant reductions to the National Institutes of Health and suggested completely eliminating funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, prompting concern from Faculty and administrators.
“I think especially the threats to federal funding—that’s a real amazing threat. It’s critical that the investments and donations made by donors help support [the University],” Dong, who has donated to the University’s financial aid, said. “I don’t think that donations can make up for the federal government.”
Others, like Thomas C. Foley ’75, a long-standing donor and former United States Ambassador to Ireland, said he believed fundraising is “more important than ever” given the University’s low endowment returns. “The University relies more than ever on fundraising to support its current budget,” he said.
But Dong said he believes “endowment returns will improve under the new president of Harvard Management,” adding that he supports HMC CEO N.P. Narvekar’s recent decisions to outsource more of the firm’s investments to external managers.
What’s more, many longtime donors said they will continue to donate even after the campaign’s close.
“I’ve been a loyal supporter of Harvard since I graduated back in 1975… I think it’s an excellent institution with an important mission that I want to support,” Foley said. “I support the annual fund and I supported capital campaigns in the past and the current one.”
Dong said his reasons for contributing to Harvard were more personal.
“When I was a student at Harvard I had almost a full scholarship,” he said. “Somebody invested in me back then, so as a way of giving back, I’m investing in current students.”
–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr