First Fundraising Campaign

  • Education
  • 1643

Harvard University conducted what is considered to be America’s first recorded fund drive when it launched an appeal in 1643 for donations to build up its new college. A gift from Ann Radcliffe allowed the establishment of its first scholarship fund. All told, the effort raised £500 and was deemed a “great success.” The next year, four of the New England colonies recommended that each resident family contribute a peck of wheat or a shilling in cash to support the nascent college in their midst. For over a decade, these voluntary donations, known as the “college corne,” supported Harvard’s entire teaching staff, plus a dozen students.

This was a new development in higher education. Instead of relying on the crown or the church or the state, financial responsibility for training up the next generation of leaders and producers would be spread across a community, relying on private individuals willing to share their abundance. By 2014, 42 American colleges were in the midst of fundraising campaigns that had a goal of raising at least a billion in private donations—reflecting the extraordinary role of philanthropy in building and maintaining the excellence of college education and research in the U.S.

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