Immediate Impact

From financial aid to breakthrough research to community programs, flexible gifts allow Harvard to respond to evolving needs

Illustration of icons related to different Harvard schools

Across the University in fiscal year 2020, 33,590 donor households contributed more than $130 million to flexible funds that can be allocated for any purpose, providing vital resources for the areas of greatest need across Harvard, even as those needs change. This funding gives University and School leaders the discretion to meet unexpected challenges—such as supporting students, faculty, and staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—as well as to embrace opportunities to enhance research, teaching, and learning. These gifts are critical to sustaining Harvard’s mission-driven work that spans academic disciplines and builds a foundation for the future.

Here are just a few examples of how flexible funding is making an impact across the University:

  • Led by Claudine Gay PhD ’97, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government and of African and African American Studies, the FAS Inequality in America Initiative seeks to elevate teaching and research on social and economic inequality across disciplines. Scholars in the FAS aim to gain knowledge that can be shared widely to help inform the public debate around—and the public response to—challenging issues such as social justice, migration, health disparities, and access to opportunity. Expanded support for this initiative is also a key part of Dean Gay’s anti-racism action plan, which aims to recruit two additional postdoctoral fellows whose work focuses on issues of racial and ethnic inequality.

  • At Harvard Business School (HBS), gifts to the HBS Fund provide resources that can be put to use immediately toward core priorities, such as faculty research. Similar to venture capital, the HBS Fund also enables the School to move quickly to harness promising new ideas, initiate programmatic innovations, and adapt to unexpected challenges. For instance, the HBS Fund enabled faculty members to extend and reframe their research in response to COVID-19 and focus on topics that could help leaders of companies, organizations, and governments navigate issues related to the pandemic, such as economics and finance, health care management and policy, crisis leadership, leveraging technology, and the future of work.

  • With nearly 4,400 PhD students in 58 different degree programs across the University, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences relies on flexible, current-use funding to award fellowships that support research, language study, dissertation writing, and other designations.
  • Contributions to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine Annual Fund provide flexible, current-use funds that can be used immediately to support faculty, financial aid, upgraded learning spaces and technology, dynamic programming, and evolving teaching and learning formats—from the delivery of materials to students’ homes for virtual hands-on exercises to new equipment and protocols that enable students to deliver patient care safely.

  • Diversity, inclusion, and belonging programming at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) aims to foster healing and community with a multidisciplinary and multireligious approach. Discretionary funds were integral to establishing the role of associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Melissa Wood Bartholomew MDiv ’15 is the first person in this role, after serving as the first HDS racial justice fellow—also made possible by discretionary funds.

  • The Office of Education Outreach & Community Programs at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—supported by flexible funds—seeks to inspire people of all ages to engage with cutting-edge research through community educational activities presented by faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff.

  • At the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Dean’s Fund for Scientific Advancement provides flexible resources for faculty research at each stage of exploration, from pilot projects to scalable public health breakthroughs, protecting vulnerable science when the need is most critical. Since it began three years ago, the fund has provided $1.2 million to bolster over 30 multidisciplinary research projects—including efforts to develop a low-cost Ebola virus diagnostic, measure optimism through social media, and monitor infectious disease outbreaks in real time using cell phone data.