Harvard kicks off massive $6.5 billion fundraising campaign

Cambridge, Mass. – On Sept. 21, Harvard University announced a $6.5 billion fundraising drive, which will support teaching and research, financial aid, capital projects and projects in several other areas.

The Harvard Crimson reported that the campaign will wrap up in five years, ending in 2018.

University President Drew G. Faust announced the campaign last weekend, in an event that was closed to the public, but streamed live for those who were interested. The kickoff event featured well-known and respected Harvard professors, alumni and Bill Gates, who attended Harvard for three years before he left school to co-found Microsoft.

During the 2-year internal planning phase that led to the Sept. 21 announcement, the campaign has already raised $2.8 billion in donations and pledges from donors. The fundraising drive, if successful, will break records set for endowment fundraising efforts, eclipsing the fundraising drive that concluded in 2012 at Stanford University, which raised $6.2 billion.

Although Harvard officials held off on the official announcement of this fundraising effort, evidence of the quiet phase was found in the annual financial report, which showed pledges of $909 million in the 2012 fiscal year, according to an article published in Harvard Magazine in January 2013.

In her address on Sept. 21, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust spoke of momentum needed to develop campus properties and improve student housing, as well as changes in society – like what she called the “explosion of scientific inquiry.” She recognized that the university was launching this campaign during a time of intense scrutiny of higher education institutions, linking their effectiveness and worth to figures, products and dollars, not necessarily to advancements in research or knowledge.

The Harvard Campaign may become the largest fundraising campaign ever in higher education.

“To see universities through so restricted a lens is to fail to recognize their most distinctive strength; it puts at risk their most vital and enduring contributions to society—their singular power in the search for meaning, values, and creativity, in the constant and ever-changing pursuit of truth,” she said.

Knowledge, she said, will be the most important currency, and efforts to impart knowledge will get a boost through this campaign, which could be especially important as federal funding for activities like research, is dwindling. The campaign will support academic inquiry, with almost half – 45 percent – of the funding from this drive slated to go toward teaching and research efforts.

Financial aid and related programs will receive a quarter of the funds. Twenty percent will go to building improvement and capital improvement projects, like an expansion that was shelved four years ago when the endowment dropped more than 25 percent. The campus expansion includes a $1 billion science complex in the Allston neighborhood. The university’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will expand and student dormitories will get what some call much-needed renovations, funded through this drive.

Another 10 percent will be used to create new initiatives and encourage faculty collaboration, according to published news reports.

It has been more than a decade since Harvard University sought funding in this way, but this is a record figure – the institution’s last capital campaign began in 1992 and ended in 1999. It raised $2.6 billion for the university.

The kick-off event featured a faculty panel and a question and answer session with Gates prior to President Faust’s speech.