Divestment Campaign Resource Guide

Intentional Alumni Strategies

Defining the Role of Alumni in the Divestment Campaign

As you commence alumni recruitment activities, it will be critical to discuss its relation to the on-campus campaign. Once alumni join the campaign, it may become evident that their visions, approaches, and goals for the campaign differ from the visions, strategies, and ideas of the on-campus campaign. This can be a good thing, especially when student campaigns work in parallel with alumni campaigns. Think through the boundaries of your campaign early on and create procedures that correspond to those boundaries before alumni recruitment begins in earnest. Questions to consider include:

  • How autonomous should the student vs. alumni organizing be?
  • How will alumni and students coordinate?
    • How frequently should alumni and students communicate?
    • Should alumni attend student calls and vice versa?
  • How will differences in opinion on goals and messaging be resolved?
  • What projects do students and alumni want to collaborate on?
    • What should be separate?
    • Is there strategic value to working either separately or together, such as the opportunity for an ‘inside-outside’ strategy?
  • Who makes final decisions? This may differ depending on whether the alumni campaign is integrated into the existing campaign or is separate.
  • How will differences be resolved? Document this in the campaign’s strategic planning materials.  For instance, will there be a vote? Who participates in the vote?
  • What common ground exists between alum and students?
    • What common messages flow from this common ground that can be emphasized across all stakeholder efforts?


In addition to a strategic document, the alumni organizing committee could also create a ‘Memo of Understanding’ that reflects the answers to this document and defines the relationship between the alumni and the on-campus campaigns, communications methods, and procedures.

Integrating Alumni Into Your Campaign Organization

There are multiple ways in which alumni can participate in your campaign activities. The ways in which alumni are integrated into your campaign should be defined and agreed upon at collective meetings.

Full Integration and Collaboration

One option is to fully integrate student and alumni efforts, have alumni participation on all campaign meetings and calls, and invite alumni to communicate on the team’s listserv. This method maximizes student and alumni contact, but could require increased coordination.

 Autonomous Alumni Self-Organize in Parallel with On-Campus Campaign

A second option is to equip alumni with the autonomy to self-organize an alumni group that then coordinates periodically with the on-campus student group.

Student Liaison To Alumni Campaign

A third option is for one student to be responsible for alumni engagement, which may be ideal in initial recruitment phases while team leadership is developed, or if no alumni can or are willing to take on an organizing role.

Alumni Campaigns Needs Structure

Regardless of how your group chooses to integrate alumni, the structure of alumni participation should be clarified early on, and tailored as needed. There should be clear means of communication between alumni and students. It is also important to make sure that alumni feel ‘buy-in’ and that they are being included in a meaningful, genuine manner.

  • Opinions do vary on how to integrate alumni, and what works for a given campaign will be university-specific.
  • Speaking a common language is a theme several campaigns advocated. This means aligning with alum on terminology, pronouns, inclusive, and nonviolent language. Alumni may not come equipped to engage this way.

Considering Letting Alumni Organize Themselves

One option you have to integrate alumni into the campaign is to have them take leadership roles in recruiting each other. Alumni can be particularly effective in organizing other alumni because alumni will be engaging their peers, friends, and similarly aged alum, possibly from their class. It is therefore important to have diverse alumni representation in your ‘core’ alumni organizing group in order to appeal to alumni from various generations and classes.

There are many reasons a divestment campaign might consider creating an alumni-led, self-sustaining alumni organizing team. A self-organizing alumni team can help free student’s time to work on-campus, provide additional items to consider for the student campaign, and can accomplish different but complementary goals. An alumni-led team could and should collaborate and communicate with the on-campus group, coordinating on strategy and big themes.

Critically important to consider in creating an alumni-led campaign is that campaign goals must be clearly articulated and agreed on by all.  For instance, there may be a tendency for some alumni to tend towards a more iterative approach, shying away from hard asks.  If the campaigns are not aligned, this could create obstacles to achieving goals.

Deploying An Inside-Outside Strategy Using Alumni

Another benefit of letting alumni act more autonomously is that you can deploy an ‘inside-outside’ strategy. Inside-outside refers to two groups working in parallel with common goals and targets. One group runs a high-profile, possibly aggressive, or adversarial pressure campaign on a target from the ‘outside’, possibly using shame or negative media attention to motivate change. Resenting this, the target is driven to work with another group from ‘inside’ that the target finds more palatable, approachable, or ‘friendly’, but who can present the goal of both groups in a more approachable and face-saving manner. The inside-outside strategy works best when the outside group deploys large scale, disruptive actions that are difficult for the target to cope with or manage, or that present reputational risk, incentivizing work with the more ‘reasonable’ inside group. This strategy can be utilized effectively to break gridlock, like that found at universities where divestment campaigns have become adversarial and/or schools that have received a ‘no’.

Inside-outside strategy can be deployed at any point throughout the campaign, including from the beginning. The inside-outside strategy works best when there is little or no public association between the groups, but the strategy works because the groups are coordinating behind the scenes, staying aligned on underlying goals and messaging.

Where a campaign has received a ‘no’, an alumni group can renew the push for divestment from a different direction than the on-campus campaign. If you are able to recruit adult, older, financially savvy, and VIP alumni, administrators may feel less able to dismiss and condescend the concerns of their peers and contemporaries as they might students. Thus, if the inside and outside campaigns agree on the outcome the divestment campaign is seeking, on-campus campaigns should consider having alumni strategically negotiate with the university rather, or in addition to, the on-campus group doing so. Alumni in positions of power may also be able to successfully solicit personal meetings with higher-level administrators; personal lobbying of administrators advocating divestment is an ask to consider for VIP alum.

Appendix: Intergenerational Collaboration Principles

The Wiser Together initiative is an exploration of how different generations can work together to learn and benefit from each other. The organization defines eight principles of intergeneration collaboration, which brings some context to approaching alumni organizing.

Guiding Principles

  • Invite and Honor Unique Contributions
  • Foster Real Partnerships
  • Design Innovative Experiments
  • Create Safe and Inclusive Spaces
  • Use Creative Ways of Learning and Working Together
  • Cultivate Meaningful Friendships
  • Learn Together, Harvest Insights, and Share Discoveries
  • Share the Stories of our Past; Develop the Stories of our Future

Principles in Practice

Foster Real Partnerships

How can we shift traditional mindsets and assumptions in ways that deal compassionately with hierarchies and stereotypes, which can keep us stuck in unproductive relationships between generations?

  • Bring multigenerational teams that model collaborative leadership to host key gatherings.
  • Identify issues of common concern that are larger than individual interest.
  • Use proven dialogue methods that uncover hidden assumptions and mindsets in collaborative ways.
Design Innovative Experiments

How can we embody the Wiser Together approach to the work we are already doing in order to test and share the evolving Wiser Together guiding principles, approaches, and core questions, as well as our ongoing learnings?

  • Practice leading edge learning methods such as participatory action research.
  • Engage online communication and collaboration tools to design and share the results of action learning experiments across networks.
  • Create venues that foster multi-generational story-telling around key projects.
Create Safe and Inclusive Spaces

How can we design environments and collaborative processes which assure that every voice and perspective has the equal opportunity to contribute their gifts?

  • Use a variety of large group hosting practices and collaborative online tools.
  • Engage dialogue-based collaboration processes to build strong and lasting partnerships.
  • Create hospitable spaces which include sharing nourishment for the whole being: body, mind, and spirit.
Use Creative Ways of Learning and Working Together

How can we introduce authentic dialogue, the arts, ritual, and celebration as well as other modes of creative expression to access collective intelligence and cultivate wise action?

  • Invite the use of music, movement, art, poetry, silence, and other forms of creative expression—both individual and collective.
  • Engage the natural world as an ally.
Cultivate Meaningful Friendships

How can we create opportunities to build strong personal relationships of mutual trust and respect with others across the life cycle in all Wiser Together projects?

  • Share meals and other informal times together.
  • Use personal storytelling/storysharing as a core process.
  • Inquire into each other’s dilemmas and concerns.
Learn Together, Harvest Insights, and Share Discoveries

How can we individually and collectively incorporate time for reflection and mutual learning as well as the documentation and sharing of stories, tools, and frameworks across our networks?

  • Use graphic facilitation/documentation in both face to face and virtual gatherings.
  • Develop and continually evolve a Wiser Together Playbook incorporating key designs.
  • Create multi-generational ‘ambassadors’ to other networks and conferences.
Share the Stories of our Past/Develop the Stories of our Future

How can intergenerational partnerships create opportunities to learn the truth about history and to allow meaningful relationships to be at the root of designing the future we imagine?

  • Share the stories and forces that have shaped who we are – personally, culturally, etc.
  • Critically analyze what happens when we come together.
  • Use methods of reconciliation and allow the stories from the past to influence shared positive futures.