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Nearly Half of Harvard’s Annual Revenue Derived from Donors

University Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Hollister, pictured here in 2015, said in an interview Wednesday that 45 percent of Harvard's annual revenue comes from donors.
University Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Hollister, pictured here in 2015, said in an interview Wednesday that 45 percent of Harvard's annual revenue comes from donors. By Courtesy of Harvard Public Affairs and Communications
By Cindy H. Zhang, Crimson Staff Writer

Forty-five percent of Harvard’s annual revenue comes from donors — either as endowment returns or direct gifts — University Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Finance Thomas J. Hollister said in an interview Wednesday.

Hollister said that 35 percent of the University’s revenue each year comes from returns on Harvard’s endowment, currently valued at more than $39 billion. Another nine percent of the annual budget comes from current use gifts, which are donations that may be completely spent upon their receipt.

“Harvard is a huge beneficiary of loyal and committed donors from a funding standpoint. It's really vital. In many ways, it enables Harvard's excellence,” Hollister said.

The endowment represents the largest single source of revenue for the University. Student income, the second-largest source, makes up just 21 percent of Harvard’s annual revenue, according to the University’s 2018 financial report. Fiscal year 2018 saw “record totals in current use giving” in part because of the University’s five-year capital campaign, according to the report.

Harvard’s capital campaign concluded last June after raising a record-breaking $9.6 billion. Of that, 42 percent has been designated for the endowment, according to Hollister. Endowment donations must be held and only the investment returns on the gift may be spent.

Hollister said that current use gifts — comprising 35 percent of the funds collected in the capital campaign — have either already been spent or, if they have not yet been collected, will be spent soon. Non-federal sponsored support, which includes research funding from individuals and corporations, made up 11 percent of capital campaign donations, according to Hollister.

“One interesting aspect of campaigns is that the way you count the collection, a lot of it is current,” Hollister said. “Over half of the campaign is money that's already spent or is earmarked for spending.”

Though the University may spend current use gifts immediately, 78 percent of the endowment and current use gifts collected during Harvard’s capital campaign is restricted and can only be used for specific purposes designated by the donor.

Hollister said that two percent of the donations received during the capital campaign comes from life-income funds, with the last 10 percent reserved for construction.

Though Harvard maintains the world’s largest university endowment and just concluded a record capital campaign, Hollister said that those numbers can be misleading.

“The popular press always emphasizes that Harvard is extremely wealthy, and the number they point to is the size of our endowment,” Hollister said.

In fact, he said that there are wealthier schools than Harvard when considered on a per capita basis.

One example of an area Harvard continues to develop is its undergraduate financial aid. While the amount of funding distributed to students is steadily increasing, scholarships are still not fully endowed, according to Hollister.

“Fortunately, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has one of the most generous, if not the most generous program in the country, but they have to come up with spare money every year to make sure it works,” Hollister said. “So there are still aspirations and needs, financial aid, maybe front-and-center, that will still need support in future years.”

Correction: April 19, 2019

A previous version of this article misquoted Thomas Hollister as saying donors are "probably vital" to Harvard's revenue when he in fact said donors are "really vital."

—Staff writer Cindy H. Zhang can be reached at

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