Chart of the day: Harvard donations

By Felix Salmon
September 11, 2009
Whence comes this chart:

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Well done to Jane Mendillo for increasing the transparency of the Harvard endowment, moving from a relatively terse “John Harvard letter” to a more discursive “Endowment Report”. Whence comes this chart:


At the height of the worst recession in living memory, it seems, donations to Harvard went up.

I actually called this, back in May, saying that Harvard’s alumni might be more likely to donate to a university when their donations weren’t dwarfed by endowment returns. But then the Times said that donations were correlated with endowment returns, and I thought that donations might fall. I guess there was nothing to worry about.

(Incidentally, the annual donations to Harvard, at over $1.6 billion, are now pretty much the same as the size of the entire endowment at Wellesley College, whence Mendillo came.)

Update: Wow, I really got this one wrong. As my commenters rightly point out, the chart shows donations from the endowment to the university, not donations to the university. Those did indeed fall.


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You are misreading the chart. This refers not to contributions TO the endowment but, rather, contributions BY the endowment to Harvard’s operations. A quick look at the University’s annual financial report reflects that. Here is a link al/

Posted by ISalceda | Report as abusive


The first poster is correct. The data you are looking for is in this article: ef=528889

Donations to the university did, in fact, decline in 2008 by 8% to a total of $601M. Donations peaked at $651M back in 2001 at the end of the last capital campaign.

Posted by right | Report as abusive

You used ‘whence’ twice. I’m impressed. Can’t even remember the last time I heard (or read) someone use ‘whence’ once. ‘Whence Mendillo came’ has an archaic, mock-epic feel to it…you know…’Whence Mendillo came, the thund’rous lay espied’ or something

Posted by nickhayw | Report as abusive

You won’t see Rolfe Winkler misreading a bar graph!

Posted by dvictr | Report as abusive

I agree that Felix’s interpretation is wrong. (And am surprised he hasn’t fixed it.)

But the story is almost more interesting when corrected. Even though Harvard is acting like they are in the poorhouse now, cancelling projects, laying off workers, freezing salaries, in fact they withdrew slightly more from the endowment this year than last.

Posted by ctr | Report as abusive

Shame on you for not fixing this.