Cornell launches $5B campaign ‘to do the greatest good’

A newly launched, major fundraising campaign aims to shape Cornell as the model university for the 21st century and beyond, building on its foundation of world-class academics, research and engagement.

The five-year, $5 billion campaign, “To Do the Greatest Good,” is named for a note from founder Ezra Cornell about his reasons for founding the university. The campaign will focus on three pillars: educating students to be leaders who carry the Cornell ethos forward; tackling the world’s most challenging problems, from sustainability to health to social and economic equity; and connecting Cornell with the world through public engagement, international programs and global reach.

“I see Cornell as standing at a pivotal point in its history, poised to be the model of a great research university for the next 150 years – doing ‘the greatest good’ in our changing world,” said President Martha E. Pollack.

“Today’s complex global challenges may not be the ones that Ezra Cornell had in mind in 1856 – but the university he built stands ready to take them on,” Pollack said. “One could almost say that today’s challenges demand a particular kind of ethos, and a particular kind of education – one, that while contemporary, is still for any person, and any study.”

Affordability for lower- and middle-income students will be a key element of the campaign, which will include a goal of raising $500 million for undergraduate financial aid.

More than $2.6 billion has already been raised for the campaign, which will fundraise $3 billion for the Ithaca campus, $1.5 billion for Weill Cornell Medicine, and $500 million for Cornell Tech, all supporting critical needs from financial aid to academic programs, endowed professorships, research and clinical care.

The campaign – launched with a video aired for the first time on Oct. 21 – will support Cornell students and faculty as they tackle the great issues of our time, and engage with communities in New York state, New York City and around the world to create knowledge with impact.

Cornellians play an important role in educating future leaders and helping to solve the world’s most pressing challenges, Bob Harrison ’76, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees, said in the video, hosted by undergraduate student-elected trustee Selam Woldai ’23.

The handwritten phrase “to do the greatest good” is taken directly from notes Ezra Cornell prepared to address the New York State Legislature about the founding of Cornell University in 1865.

“The needs are urgent and complex – and Cornell has long made tremendous contributions to meet them and to anticipate the next ones,” Harrison said. “Today, we are calling on all of you in this effort. I hope you will be inspired to join a long line of Cornellians, beginning with our founder in 1865, to enable this great university to do the greatest good.”

The campaign’s strong start is thanks to 140,000 individual alumni who have engaged with Cornell during the campaign thus far, through volunteering, attending events or making gifts, Harrison said. The university is on pace to meet the goal of engaging 200,000 alumni by the close of the campaign in 2026.

Even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened Cornellians’ engagement, he noted. More than 25,000 alumni who hadn’t previously engaged with Cornell made the decision to do so in the past year and a half.

“Increasing the connections among Cornellians benefits our alumni and students professionally and socially – and it multiplies Cornell’s capacity to have a meaningful impact in communities around the globe,” Harrison said.

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Abby Butler