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In Private, Garber Acknowledges Harvard Has a Fundraising Problem

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 has privately acknowledged that donations to Harvard have fallen in the last few months.
Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 has privately acknowledged that donations to Harvard have fallen in the last few months. By Natalie Y. Zhang
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 has publicly pushed back against suggestions that the University is facing a fundraising crisis.

But in private, Garber has struck a different tone with alumni and donors, acknowledging during a spring break trip to London and Miami that donations have fallen substantially in the months since Oct. 7.

While Harvard will not release its total donations until October, six people with knowledge of its fundraising efforts said donations are expected to considerably drop this year. The decline comes as some of the University’s top donors have cut ties over its response to the Israel-Hamas war and allegations of antisemitism on campus.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that “this has been a challenging time and a period of transition for the Harvard community.”

Garber and other administrators have addressed campus tensions and University initiatives with alumni in regularly scheduled events and meetings over the last three months, according to Newton.

Eduardo J. Dominguez ’01, who met with Garber in Miami, said that while he is optimistic for a “strong rebound” in fundraising, longer-term enthusiasm for donating is likely an area of concern.

Dominguez, a Harvard club director in Florida and Harvard Alumni Association board member, said Garber discussed the fundraising concerns but also maintained that disillusioned donors had not forever turned their back on Harvard.

“He kind of shared the same sentiment that he was getting as far as input from major donors basically turning their back on Harvard,” Dominguez said. “There is just a general sense of maybe a lower commitment level on a long term basis.”

“It makes engagement a little bit more challenging,” he added.

But one donor who serves on the Harvard College Fund said reunion gifts are also expected to be impacted by recent controversy.

Class committees started planning for reunion gifts in September and began to approach potential donors in January and February, all while Harvard’s leadership crisis dominated national headlines and remained the focus of public scrutiny.

Another donor said she halted donations to the University over its response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and told her representative in Harvard’s development office to not contact her until she feels ready to resume donations.

“He tried to reach me once and I told him: ‘Do not,’” the donor said.

Interim Harvard President Alan Garber met with donors and alumni during a spring break trip to London and Miami last month.
Interim Harvard President Alan Garber met with donors and alumni during a spring break trip to London and Miami last month. By Marina Qu

But even as many of Harvard’s longtime supporters are hesitant to resume donations, several people with knowledge of the University’s fundraising efforts said it will take years to see the full impact of last fall’s donor revolt.

The prevalence of multi-year pledges will likely soften immediate sharp dives in donations, as donors fulfill past commitments, according to one donor.

Newton, the Harvard spokesperson, wrote in a statement that the University has been “encouraged by the response” to its efforts to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias on campus.

According to Newton, “alumni are listening, sharing feedback, connecting with campus leaders and one another, as well as showing up for events and registering for programs in high numbers.”

“Many are asking questions to better understand what’s happening, and many are asking if there are ways they can help,” he added. “We are grateful for the ongoing conversation and engagement.”

James F. Hayden ’77, who has previously fundraised for the University, said he has appreciated the University’s communication with alumni about their response to campus tensions and leadership changes.

Hayden said that from those communications and from news reports, he thinks Garber has been successful at “getting his message across.”

Hayden said he has not noticed an increase in the number of donation solicitations from the University, and said the pitch to donors has remained consistent over decades.

Other donors noted that the campus climate and media spotlight on Harvard’s leadership is just one factor that influences donations.

Harvard donor Mitchell L. Dong ’75 said the strength of the stock market impacts how much money Harvard is able to raise, suggesting that the current stock market could serve as a potential counter to ongoing donor dissatisfaction.

“When the stock market is an all-time high, then usually fundraising is an all-time high because people give securities that have gone up and they don’t want to sell it because then they have to pay taxes,” Dong said.

“So given the stock market is an all time high, I think that’s going to offset any negative views on the crisis at the University,” he added.

George H. Yeadon ’75, who received the HAA award for outstanding service in 2013, said that while there is widespread concern around how alumni and donors will react, many alumni he has spoken with do not plan to change the level or frequency of their donations.

Even as Harvard’s billionaire donors publicly announced they have paused donations, Yeadon said that “the rank and file hasn’t indicated to me in any of my conversations that they’re going to change their philanthropy towards the school.”

Engagement, too, has increased over the past few months as alumni attempt to understand how Garber and other University leaders plan to move forward.

Informational webinars for alumni have been substantially better attended in recent months, and almost 9,500 alumni and guests registered for Harvard’s various March 13 Global Networking Night events. It was the second highest number in the program’s more than 10-year history, according to Newton.

As the University looks to attract new donors and mend relationships with those on the fence, the upcoming class reunions in late May will center in their approach. As in past years, the most active period for fundraising takes place in between April and June.

Edmund S. Tijerina ’87, the HAA director of Harvard’s Texas clubs, said that most of the alumni he speaks to have not changed their opinion on their alma mater because of the controversy. He said that, at least among smaller donors, willingness to contribute has not changed substantially.

“Harvard is Harvard. It will come through this just fine,” he said.

“But it probably is going to take some time,” Tijerina added.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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