Divestment Campaign Resource Guide

Once You’ve Recruited Alumni

Engaging Alumni in Campaigns

Once you have identified the architecture of the alumni frame and begun recruiting, some alumni may want to lead, or may be interested in being ‘core’ team organizers, but may or may not have had any experience with organizing a campaign. Rather than seeing this as a roadblock, you can take it as an opportunity to train alumni if they are interested, and an opportunity to make sure everybody is ‘on the same page,’ just as you would students new to organizing. Be careful in requiring ‘training;’ alumni could interpret required training as condescending, or if they are very busy, too much for their schedule. Rather, frame it as the first step to syncing with the campaign, and call it something fun.

Conversely, alumni may have a depth of past organizing experience which you could beneficially have them share with the team. Some alumni may be expert planners or experienced campaigners who could assist your team in thinking through campaigns and developing goals.

Moving From Outreach to Participation

Once you are in contact with alumni, move them up the ‘engagement ladder,’ in which you encourage alumni to gradually do more with your campaign as they become emotionally invested in it.5 Activities that could be on your engagement ladder are below.

Sign a supportive petition

The first step for any new recruit should be to sign your petition. This is an easy, low-effort activity that provides concrete value to the campaign.

  • Your petition is your best tool for building out your database of supporters. This should be the very least that all alumni do to participate.
  • You may consider having a second petition specifically for alumni. Create it online and include a field where alumni can type their year in, so that they can see who else has signed up that they may know.

    Once the alumni recruit has signed your petition, offer them another activity. For example, a follow up email to a new petition signer may read:

    Dear __Mr./Ms. Lastname,

    Thank you very much for signing our petition asking University XYZ’s board to manage its climate risk by divesting risky fossil fuel investments. Would you be willing to write a letter to the president of the university on this topic? It’s key that your voice be heard. We’ve included a convenient draft template for your letter, attached. A DivestABC member will be in touch with you to see if they can answer any questions or further assist you.

    Thank you so much, again!


    Alumni Coordinator, DivestABC

Write a letter to the president/and or trustees

Your school’s president, or at least its office, reads letters. Consider a ‘letter-a-day’ writing campaign that inundates your school’s president with letters from constituencies, especially alumni. To make it easy, provide alumni with a letter template, housed on your website, allow them to e-sign, or offer to sign on their behalf with their permission.

Write an op-ed or letter to the editor

Op-eds can be powerful means of communicating with the public. Whether an op-ed is published is up to the editor. To increase the likelihood of working successfully with alum to submit and publish op-eds:

  • See if an alum has an ‘in’ with any well-known publications.
  • Supply alumni with a draft op-ed to start with.
  • Alumni with op-ed writing skills could share these with the campaign.
Reach out and build numbers for events

Alumni can provide presence and authority to events, actions, and press conferences.

  • Ask alumni to help build support by reaching out to other alumni to attend key campaign divestment events such as a public hearing, a key meeting, an action, or other events.
  • Ask the alumni to participate in the event themselves.
Table at a location, event, or sports gathering where large numbers of other alumni will be gathered

One way of recruiting multiple alumni at once is to table at sporting events or other events where alumni return to the University as a matter of ritual. This was a successful means of recruiting alum at Duke University.

As an alumnus demonstrates a willingness to engage more deeply in the campaign, more can be reasonably asked of them, ideas for which are below. Be sure to use some sort of tracking method be it Excel, Salesforce, or other, to track leads with individual alumni you have reached out to, and follow up to see if they had a chance to do what they said they were going to. (A tracker will also prevent duplicative requests of alumni.) If no interest is shown in more time-intensive activities, offer them an alternative activity that is easier to complete. This method will also help you sort out those who only have the capacity for signing a petition, versus people who are willing and able to get more involved.

Ways To Involve Alumni In The Inside Game

Alumni have a lot to offer in terms of representing the campaign in to the administration, who –wrongly – may take messaging from professional peers more seriously than students. Peer pressure can be helpful for moving may be too young as a group for the administration to consider them peers. Alumni can also give insight into inside game strategies and ways to move the administration.

Alumni Can Influence the Board Directly

Work with alumni to powermap the board and their own connections. Powermapping graphically lays out a key administrator or Board member’s personal or professional connections, and allows you to map out access points to those relationships.  Ideally, your campaign has already mapped or outlined the decision making process and structure, so that the campaign knows when key decisions will be made and by whom. Next, share these strategy documents with trusted alum for input, additional info, or ideas.

Alumni Can Powerfully Represent the Campaign to Administrators

Get alumni to make public statements at every opportunity. This requires training alumni on messaging, however it is well worth the effort. Due to the university’s financial motivations, outlined at the beginning, it is especially effective to have alumni communicate to the administration through as many forums as possible, such as:

  • Op-eds
  • Radio spots
  • Community forums, including those planned by your campaign
  • Alumni events, including those planned by your campaign
  • Meetings with administrators, including those you request specifically for the purpose of giving alumni time to communicate with administrators

One-on-Ones with Administrators

Alumni with connections to people in influential roles might be able to get private meetings and access to administrators that the campaign as a whole would not be able to. These meetings can relieve some pressure administrators might feel in a public meeting, and allow them to speak more frankly with the alumni representative.

Leveraging And Withholding Alumni Donations

Alumni can also be used to help divert donations from other alumni into a special fund the university only get to access if they divest. As noted at the beginning of this guide, many alumni are either donors or potential donors upon which colleges and universities rely heavily for financial stability. You can leverage the power of alumni donations to motivate your university to divest if you are able to divert a significant amount of alumni money into a fund that is withheld until divestment occurs, especially where you can show those donations would have otherwise gone to the school. This tactic shows your administration that alumni are ready to put their money ‘on the line’ for divestment. This tactic is particularly useful if it is capturing a large segment of new alumni, i.e., newly graduated alumni that have not yet donated to the school. Universities know they are much more likely to make recent grads into long term donors if they can convince alums to begin donating as young graduates; the university hopes to capitalize on fresh memories and connections with the school. Capturing even a small first donation from a graduating alumni helps assure the university a lifetime stream of giving from that alumni.  The university is likely to understand the threat posed by the campaign’s interruption of this crucial first donation from new alumni.

Diverting donations is accomplished by an ‘alternative donation fund’ (known in the finance world as a ’donor advised fund’). This is an account donors can donate to, instead of or in addition to the university.  The funds are held and transferred to the university only upon divestment, or whatever trigger event is selected by the fund managers. (For example, Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s Fund for a Responsible Swarthmore has additional conditions around reinvestment in climate solutions, community banks, and credit unions.) Monies that are collected in such funds will generally be invested responsibly while waiting for the university to divest. This assures alumni that their money will not be wasted or sit idly for years. If your campaign is interested in better understanding this type of fund, setting up a fund, or in joining the multi-university divestment fund, contact the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which is able to assist in setting up funds starting with small amounts of money.

You can increase the effectiveness of this action by having potential donors to the fund, or alumni in general, sign a document promising not to donate to the school in any other manner until it divests. Withholding the promise of graduating seniors, can be added to petitions for on-campus petitioning. Having potential donors promise not to donate is a problem for the university, which recognizes that the longer a donor goes without donating, the greater the risk that they will never donate. Similarly, if you can divert donations from a key or regular donor, that is an even greater threat (and message) to the university about the seriousness of divesting.

Another way of using donations to incentivize the university to divest is for alumni to offer a donation, with divestment acting as the trigger for the donation. This type of donation diversion can be accomplished in many ways, from the ‘alternative donation fund’ described above, to a personal letter to the University, or through one of the many crowdsourcing platforms, which is the method by which the University of California divestment campaign is incentivizing their university to divest. These committed donations serve as a ‘carrot’ to encourage the university with a reward if they divest. The downside of this strategy is that potential donors do not get the tax write off of the donation until they do donate, so immediate tax benefits are not realized, unless they are using the alternative donation funds method.

Raising Money With Alumni

Alumni are also a possible source of funding for your campaign. They may have the wealth to be donors themselves, or may provide a conduit to other sources of funding and funders. Donations come as a result of passion for the cause, an understanding of the need for support, and a desire and ability to help. Thus, if your campaign focuses on bringing alumni into the fold and igniting their interest in the cause, donations may result somewhat naturally. If you are at a stage in which you are seeking funds, consider some of these options:

Personal Asks from Alumni

The key to asking for money is to ease into it. If you hope to raise money from a person, the first task is to build a relationship with them, many forms of which have been outlined already: networking, outreach, alumni education, alumni integration with the campaign. As you successfully establish relationships with alumni, it will become clearer whether they have the capacity to assist with financial resources. Not all alumni can, and some may be more willing or able to offer donations of time or in-kind services or goods.

If you need funds, and you have relationships with alumni who you think may be able and willing to assist, prepare to make ‘the ask.’ Asking for money or help may feel awkward at first, but not only do you become desensitized to the awkwardness the more you do it, but you’ll become more skilled and increase your likelihood for success. Have specific projects or figures in mind that you are seeking funding for; keep it narrow, keep it urgent.

  • Start small: Begin with asks under $100, perhaps under $50. Once someone donates the first time, for future fundraising, you can return to them saying “I know you donated last time to the XYZ Action. Would you like to hear about a new opportunity we have coming up?” Determine in advance how many donors you need to work toward at a given ask level. For example, 10 donors donating $10 to raise $100, and seek that amount and number of donors. Using specific targets for fundraising makes it a more approachable task for your campaign’s fundraising volunteers.
  • Don’t talk to donors only about fundraising: If you ask an alumnus for funds and they donate, make sure the next several touches do not involve money. It is important to not make your donors feel used only for their money.
  • Write a thank you note, every time: Get as many campaign members to sign it as possible. Celebrate donors in person – ask for a round of applause when they walk in the room (if they are amenable to not being anonymous), take time out to thank them in front of everyone. Give them a free t-shirt or other swag. Make your donors feel good! The good feeling of altruism is a key motivator for people to be altruistic.
  • Always give potential donors and alumni a way to decline without shame or guilt. When asking for donations, frame it generally. “ABC donor, as you know we’re seeking support for XYZ project. Would you like to hear more about the project?” (after explanation) “Are you in a place where you would be interested to know how to support us on this? If so, one of the key things we are seeking is funding. Is that something you might be ready to assist with?” If the answer is no, provide specific opportunities the alumni can contribute non-financially, and be sure to thank them as heartily as financial donors.
  • Tap your supporter list: As you petition, keep a listserv of supporters who would like to receive updates on your campaign. This listserv can be a location for fundraising appeals. As above, keep asks narrow and have interested parties get in touch for more information on how to help.

Fundraising Events

Fundraising events are another way to raise money from alumni and other participants. Most adults understand fundraising events, attend them for various causes, and come willing or planning to donate. Fundraising events can take many forms — car washes, happy hours, talks with a recruited speaker, formal galas, raffles, spaghetti feeds, or some combination thereof. Fundraising events can require a high level of organization and can be energy intensive, but can also be lucrative and serve as a platform to further educate stakeholders about the group and deepen engagement. High-end fundraising events should be considered an advanced funding mechanism undertaken only if members of your campaign have experience planning such events. Fundraising events such as those above are also an opportunity to seek matching funds from a foundation or institutional funder.

Next Section: Intentional Alumni Strategies