Methods to increase the influence of your campaign.
Media exposure is crucial to drawing attention to and educating the student body, administration, and larger public about your campaign. When beginning a campaign it is useful to set up a media strategy to spread the word of your campaign and expand your online presence.
Leveraging Strategic Media: Once the basic media distribution channels have been set up, the strategies below can be deployed to utilize these resources to your campaign’s best advantage.
What is an open letter? An open letter is a letter from either the campaign and/or a supporter advocating for divestment to the administration, but unlike most letters, it is not private. In fact, open letters are commonly distributed to the media. Open letters are a powerful way to assert the campaign’s position, respond to the administration, and showcase support. A well-worded open letter is an excellent way to communicate the imperative for divestment from the perspective of a specific constituency such as students, faculty, prominent alumni, and public/influential figures who can pen them separately or in coalition. Open letters also serve as a great way to reach out to, engage, and educate the signing constituencies. A successful open letter campaign requires a solid plan of attack; consider your goals, capacity, outreach strategy, timing, and delivery.
Location of Letter: A common way to structure an open letter is to post it online, such as the campaign website, as Fossil Free UC has done, or on a separate website, as Divest Harvard has done. This makes it easy for individuals to sign and shows support in one location; compared to having to sign a word document, scan it, and send it back. Alternatively, a physical letter can be sent to the university with scanned copies posted to your campaign website and sent to press. It is somewhat more helpful to get physical signatures from signatories.
Timing: The most impactful time to deliver an open letter is arguably before a vote. This creates a choice for the administration where they are either voting in alignment with supporters, or against. If you have not been successful in getting the administration to commit to a vote, you can also use an open letter to demand an official process of considering divestment leading up to a vote. An open letter after a ‘no’ vote could pressure the administration to reconsider and open up space for continued dialogue. Also, make sure that you plan sufficient time to create the letter, distribute amongst the constituency, and collect signatures before a vote if you are planning to use the signatories of the open letter to sway the vote. It can take months to get enough signatories, or the right signatories, on your letter.
Delivery: Develop a media strategy to get the most impact from the letter. Distribute a press release with quotes from prominent signatories. Try to identify a signatory who is willing to speak with media about the letter in addition to student spokespeople.
Follow Up: Getting stakeholders to consider, draft, and sign on to a letter is a significant commitment of their time. Be sure to thank them profusely! Since they were willing to help with the letter, perhaps you can move them up the engagement ladder for further activities. Send e-mail updates and ways they can get more involved.
Resolutions are another powerful way to advance a fossil fuel divestment campaign and demonstrate support for divestment to the administration and board of trustees. Resolutions of support are official ways for a governing body to voice their opinion on an issue and can be passed by organizations such as the student government or academic senate.
Student Government Resolutions: Universities often have an elected student government to serve as the representatives for the student body. These groups can be contacted through their e-mails posted on a University website. From there, you can ask the appropriate student government position the required steps to propose a resolution for the student government to consider. Getting a resolution proposal on the agenda of a student government is not often difficult, but it may take time to lobby student government participants for their votes, and it can be a while before final decisions are made (1 month or longer). Be sure to account for this in your timeline if you want support before a certain date.
Student government support is not guaranteed; be prepared to present on why you want to the student group to sign onto the resolutions. You may have to introduce the student government to divestment, or even educate them on climate change. Be ready to answer follow up questions and argue for divestment if you find the student government members disagree.
Creating the resolution language is key. The resolution should mimic the formatting used at your school, which often includes ‘whereas’ statements to support the argument and concludes with the ‘resolved statement,’ i.e. the ask. For example resolution language, please refer to the resources section below.
Faculty Resolution: Most universities have a faculty senate to represent the faculty body. If your school has one, you should explore advancing a resolution in support of divestment there. Resolutions of support from academic senates are taken more seriously from administration than student resolutions. This is because faculty members are peers to administration, and they have ‘skin in the game’—their positions and research funding could be at risk should the university lose money somehow, by divestment or by carbon asset risk. Getting a resolution of support from a faculty senate is also more difficult than passing a resolution at the student government. Best practices include:
Leveraging the power of donations can be an effective tactic for increasing pressure on your administration to divest. It shows your administration that stakeholders are ready to put their ‘money where their mouth is’, and if you can garner enough people and donations, the administration will pay attention. The following are several strategies for leveraging donations and how to implement them.