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Harvard College Suspends ‘Senior Gift’ Campaign Amid Falling Buy-in from Students

The six Harvard College Fund marshals on the 2024 Class Committee will not solicit contributions to the Senior Gift fund from the graduating seniors starting this year.
The six Harvard College Fund marshals on the 2024 Class Committee will not solicit contributions to the Senior Gift fund from the graduating seniors starting this year. By Marina Qu
By J. Sellers Hill, Crimson Staff Writer

Beginning this year, graduating seniors will not be asked to contribute to the Senior Gift fund, marking the end of a decades-long philanthropic campus tradition amid low student participation.

Instead of soliciting contributions to the Senior Gift fund, the six Harvard College Fund marshals who sit on the 2024 Class Committee will work to educate classmates on the impact of the Harvard College Fund, according to official role descriptions released by the University.

The Harvard College Fund and the Senior Gift do not enter Harvard’s endowment and are spent more immediately on areas of student need including financial aid, house life, libraries, and athletics.

In previous years, the Harvard College Fund marshals were referred to as “Gift Marshals” and were responsible for convincing and reminding their peers to make contributions to the Senior Gift fund, among their other roles on the Class Committee, a body responsible for organizing class-wide events leading up to Commencement and post-graduation reunions.

According to a document obtained by The Crimson, as of May 22, 2023, three days before Commencement, only 167 seniors had contributed a Senior Gift — just 8.7 percent of the class of 2023.

This number includes donations from the 32 members of the 2023 Class Committee, who until this year were required to “make a Gift to the Harvard College Fund as part of Senior Gift,” in role descriptions. The role descriptions for the Class of 2024 make no mention of a donation.

The single-digit result caps off several decades of ups and downs for the Senior Gift, which garnered both praise and criticism from students. Though the University does not currently publish the Senior Gift participation rate each year, the rate of donation spiked as high as 79 percent in the 1980s.

Over the years, however, concerns about students’ ability to give and the true impact of the campaign have plagued the program. In 2000, two students established an “Alternative Senior Gift,” which invited graduating students to give to charitable organizations.

In 2015, amid the backdrop of a multi-billion dollar capital campaign, seniors at the College publicly lampooned a Senior Gift solicitation email with over 150 replies containing GIFs, one-liners, and rants questioning the value of donating to the world’s wealthiest institution of higher education.

Similar sentiments appear to have persisted in student interviews conducted by the Gift Marshals of the Class of 2023, according to a list of responses obtained by The Crimson.

“I’m pretty hostile to the idea of giving Harvard more money – I feel like we’ve spent a lot for not very much AND we’ve suffered from COVID and the university is yet to apologize,” one response reads.

“It feels like [you’re] the lapdog of Harvard and you’re doing their dirty work of asking people for more money,” another entry reads.

College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the policy change and student feedback.

Programs like the Senior Gift are not typically intended to raise significant capital. In years where data has been public, the Senior Gift campaign has rarely, if ever, exceeded $100,000. Meanwhile, alumni contributions to the HCF have totaled millions.

Instead, the program has previously been touted as a way to build the habit of giving in the College’s youngest alumni or to boost the school’s alumni giving rate, a measure used by some to evaluate alumni satisfaction. Last year, U.S. News & World Report announced that it would no longer consider alumni giving in its ranking methodology.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on X @SellersHill.

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