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