MAKING SURE THE Kennedy School has the resources to help our communities and train future public leaders remains a high priority during the COVID-19 crisis. We sat down with Christy Jackowitz, senior associate dean for alumni relations and resource development, to discuss fundraising at the Kennedy School during this challenging time.


Q. How has COVID-19 affected fundraising at HKS?

Portrait of  Christy Jackowitz, senior associate dean for alumni relations and resource development.When COVID-19 emerged, raising funds presented new challenges. During those initial weeks in the early spring, we made a conscious decision to pause our general fundraising as our supporters were directing more funding to frontline services. Many of them did, and we could not be prouder of their efforts to identify and support society’s greatest needs. However, we also saw the need for improved public policy and leadership during those early months, so we slowly began reaching out to our supporters towards the end of the spring semester.

Year-in and year-out, Kennedy School alumni and friends provide crucial financial support for our mission—last year, for example, gifts from alumni and friends composed 48 percent of the School’s operating revenue. The challenge was significant, especially since this pandemic had such a negative impact on personal finances globally. In addition, there was a sharp drop in executive education enrollment, an ongoing risk to degree program enrollment, and a reduction in gifts as supporters focused on frontline responders.


Q. Were you able to access endowment funding to make up for the revenue loss?

It is a common misconception that Harvard can directly access its endowment funds for an emergency. These funds are largely restricted to very specific uses and not accessible for addressing unexpected needs or new opportunities for growth. Last spring, we relied on flexible funding when we had to pivot our activities online in an incredibly short time.

Current and admitted students also feel the financial impact of COVID-19, and we worked hard to help them with financial aid from unrestricted funding. We heard from students who could no longer attend the Kennedy School because the external foundations, governments, or businesses who had offered them support had to pull back those offers, and others whose financial situations have changed quite drastically due to lost income within their family. We are committed to helping these students—and this is why unrestricted flexible support is so important. It allows us to be nimble in the face of these unexpected challenges.


Q. Are you hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel?

It has been incredible to see so many alumni and friends make the Kennedy School one of their philanthropic priorities during this time. This is a community effort. That’s why we also run smaller campaigns where we ask alumni and friends to support the School with smaller gifts. When we say that they add up, they really do. The accumulation of gifts under $10,000 last year alone equaled full financial aid packages for 17 students this coming term. These are 17 students who will now be attending the Kennedy School because of people who know that their contribution is part of something bigger. 

“It has been incredible to see so many alumni and friends make the Kennedy School one of their philanthropic priorities during this time.”


Q. Where can alumni give now to have the most impact?

The HKS Fund is our go-to resource to address unpredicted situations, and we are still in very unpredictable times. These funds are designated for the dean’s highest priorities, including financial aid. They offer flexibility and are fully available to have an immediate impact.

Of course, we realize that not everyone is in a position to give—and we’ve been so impressed that some are stepping up to offer other kinds of assistance, from meeting virtually with admitted students to hosting career chats to being partners for students working on their Policy Analysis Exercise and providing internships.


Q. Is the School raising funds specifically for COVID-19-related purposes?

Yes, insomuch as we continue to fund innovative and relevant programs to provide real-world learning opportunities to our students. For example, the faculty were quick to adapt their teaching to include finding solutions to this ongoing crisis. We also pivoted our first-year MPP students’ Spring Exercise this year to focus on the response to the pandemic. Students worked virtually with each other to develop policy recommendations related to public schools being reopened, migrant workers in New Delhi, international travel, and the spread of the virus in developing countries.

As we look to helping the world beyond our campus, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, originally designed to provide an environment where mayors and city officials could learn to best address common challenges, has become a real-time resource. Every week since the beginning of the pandemic this group of hundreds of public leaders from around the world has focused on crisis response—including lessons from former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as Bill Gates and Nancy Pelosi.


Q. It sounds like the School’s fundraising has evolved over the past few months. Do you anticipate more changes?

We have many more immediate needs that have emerged over the last few months, so we have placed a greater emphasis on current-use giving at this time. We are only able to do what we do because of the generous, unrestricted financial support from our alumni and friends. I am also deeply appreciative of all the other ways our alumni have stepped up during this global crisis. I have always said that our alumni are our greatest assets, and that is certainly proving to be true today.

Banner image by Natalie Montaner; portrait by Martha Stewart