I know of few places as insatiable for money as Harvard University. Its $32-billion endowment and budget the size of many countries seem only to spur its fundraisers to get more. (“How much is enough?” an old roommate once asked. “It’s just a little more than you have.”) I think sometimes that non-profits have become the creatures of their development departments (or whatever they’re called now to disguise the fact they’re development departments): their primary function is to raise money and their ancillary role is to be a university or a hospital or a museum. In fairness, the life of a non-profit is not easy. In the fierce competition for money from individuals and organizations that often have their own agendas, it is all too tempting to blur your mission simply to survive – to bend it a little because that’s where the money is. And it takes an enlightened donor to fund programmatic excellence over personal politics and to consider the institution’s legacy ahead of his own.
I google Harvard’s mission: “The advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences; the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences; and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the … youth of this country….” It turns out it hasn’t changed in 364 years. As I consider the university’s staggering physical plant and corporate mentality, its huge government contracts and investment strategies, I hope it has remained equal to its mission.