Methods to increase the influence of your campaign.

Media Strategy

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.

Digital Media Basics

  • Website: If you have the resources to create a website, it can be a useful center for your campaign. The website also serves as a public face for your group, creates a way for stakeholders to engage with the campaign, and provides a place to locate campaign documents. Having a professional website can also publicly demonstrate the campaign is well organized, business-like, and determined to affect change. Websites can include a variety of content including a history of your campaign, recent updates, documents that you have submitted to administration, open letters, online petitions, recent events, a resource center, etc.
  • Social Media: Your divestment campaign should choose social media venues to engage on and commit to. A Facebook and Twitter account, for example, can help your campaign come up in search results and provide a venue for communication with stakeholders.
    • Facebook: Create a Facebook page for your campaign that is open to the public. ‘Like’ other divestment pages, relevant nonprofits, and invite your friends and colleagues at your university to join the page. Keep a steady stream of posts (at least once a week) to keep the audience engaged. Suggestions for posts include updates from your divestment campaign, news within the divestment & reinvestment movement, fossil free & social justice relevant events, etc. It is also helpful to provide a means of contacting the campaign on the Facebook page, such as an email address. Examples:
    • Twitter:
    • Photo based apps
      • Instagram: Instagram can be helpful for sharing pictures of divestment actions and visually powerful images between groups. Be sure to ‘hashtag’ (#) your pictures with a popular keyword, cute phrase, or intentional message to attract the attention of people that search that hashtag.
      • Pinterest: A second popular photo application is Pinterest. Pinterest is more widely used by adult women, but can still be an important and helpful vehicle for building support amongst this demographic.
    • LinkedIn:  LinkedIn is underutilized by the Divestment movement. However, like Twitter, it can provide important contact with the professionals you meet throughout your campaign, including reporters, professors, VIP, and alumni. It serves as a tracking mechanism for these contacts, and provides them with access to your campaign’s blog postings and tweets, which can be reproduced there. 
    • Blog: A blog provides the campaign with a voice. Blog posts can cover any topic, including commenting on other schools’ campaigns, news on fossil fuel companies and the oil and gas market, or be a place to post “open letters”, announcements of actions or other gatherings, and more. Blogs can also provide quotes to media, or calls to action. A blog can be located on Facebook and/or Instagram in the form of comments on the campaign’s posts, as a freestanding column through Wordpress or similar, or as a portion of the campaign’s website. Campaigns may also contribute content to the blog and repost on their website. The key to blogging is regularity of posts, so be sure that your campaign can maintain a commitment to blog upkeep.

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.

  • A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words: Above all else, always photograph your campaign’s activities. This is particularly relevant for action and events that are meant to make a visual point. However, you can also take photographs of the campaign’s members looking serious in a meeting, near a substation, fracking well, or other energy infrastructure, or in suits walking somewhere important. Having a variety of images helps reporters write stories about you and helps you frame your own messaging. To capitalize on photographs, make your numbers look as large as possible. Suggestions to make pictures more impactful include having the pictured campaign members wear the same color, hold a large sign, making a photographable gesture, etc. It is also helpful to consider the audience: students, the general public, and administration. Also note that the photographs you take will be distributed throughout the internet and will represent the movement as a whole.
  • Once you have accumulated some photos, you can add them to a slide deck, as Harvard has done to document its great ‘Heat Week’. You can also put them into a Powerpoint, automate the slides, and narrate sound files. There’s also a variety of programs that allows you to turn your pictures into video, including Youtube and other platforms.
  • Build a Press List: When you have formed the campaign, explored local publications, and found reporters who cover news about the university, local news, and environmental issues, you can also find reporters who cover divestment in national publications, and stay in touch with them as well. Follow the reporters on social media accounts and send them a greeting from your primary account. Send an email introducing the campaign, and include a link to your web materials. This initial introduction is the start of the process of building a relationship with reporters, which will both increase the likelihood that the campaign is covered, as well as the likelihood that it is covered in a way that the campaign wants to be represented. You can also then email the ‘press list’ you have built with your campaign’s press releases, updates, blog posts, and more. Because much of the power of divestment is symbolic, it is important that your campaign be visible in public dialogue.
  • Writing News Articles: After a notable event, announcement, win, or action, it can be helpful to write an article about what happened. This allows your campaign to get ahead of the media and frame the situation in a way that advances and benefits your campaign. Consequently it is important to write the article before the event if you know ahead of time that it will happen, or alternatively, immediately after an event. Choose a snappy, emotive headline to grab attention. For example “ Yale University Ducks on Fossil Fuel Divest Decision--and Fails Leadership 101 or “ Catholic University's Divestment Decision A Call to Action on Climate and Human Rights ”. Ideally, you have enough lead time to draft an article before an event or decision so it can be circulated to the necessary folks in the campaign, edited, and sent out immediately after an event. Another important item to consider is how articles will be dispersed. At minimum, send articles out via social media and to your press list.
  • Op-Eds: An Op-Ed is a persuasive essay published in a paper but written by a third party. You can rally your members, supporters, and stakeholders to write Op-Eds. Papers receive very many Op-Eds every week, so follow word counts and other editorial publishing guidelines carefully to maximize the chance your Op-Ed will be published. Your campaign may send in 5 Op-Eds and have none, or all, of them published; it can be unpredictable.
  • Writing Press Releases: A press release is similar to the article process, but reserved for when your campaign wants to break big news.
  • Invite Press: For significant events, invite press. This can be helpful to get external media coverage of your campaign’s activities. Even better, you can embed a reporter. If your campaign is planning a big action, confrontation with administrators, or negotiations with administration, invite a reporter you are friendly with to join you. For maximum effect, the reporter should not disclose their profession to administrators, who will censor their speech if they know they are amongst media. This is particularly easy if your campaign is dressing alike for an action, and the reporter is willing to dress like the campaign for the story.
  • Speaking to Press: If you reach out to press, be prepared to be quoted by them. Prepare specific members of your campaign to be the “press contacts” and represent your campaign to media. When communicating with press, do not speak conversationally or ramble. Have clear talking points prepared and memorized ahead of time and speak in short, understandable, quotable sentences. If you want to say something private to a reporter, you need to get them to agree to an “off the record” conversation before you talk to them. If this clarification is not made, journalistic custom is that you are open to being quoted. When speaking to press, also consider the audience; it could be people who do not know about divestment, people who do not believe in climate change, or the like. Be sure to message in a way that appeals to a broad audience. 
  • Strategic Timing & Storytelling: Media is all about timing and messaging. Often press will not cover an event unless it is ‘newsworthy’ i.e. meaning new, relevant, interesting, and adding fresh perspective. Seek to frame your news as dramatic, pivotal, meaningful, and fresh. Check out the Center for Story-Based Strategy for more information. 

Open Letters

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.


  • What do you hope to achieve through this open letter campaign? It is likely that you want to build support, visibility, and to pressure your targets.
  • Who do you want this letter to be from?
    • Prominent Alumni and public/influential figures: Big donors, celebrities, politicians, business leaders, financial experts, heads of NGOs and corporations, etc. The university will likely feel the most pain from open letters written by prominent alumni and public/influential figures. An open letter from a VIP is also most likely to be deemed newsworthy.
    • Faculty: Prominent faculty, climate scientists, chairs of departments, etc. can put their careers at risk signing letters against the administration that employs them. For this reason, tenured faculty who are difficult to fire are the most likely open letter signers. An open letter from faculty explaining why a university’s climate change research is not sufficient action from a university would be especially helpful coming from a professor. Letters from professors have been quite successful getting news coverage at leading universities.
    • Students: Gaining student support for an open letter is similar to creating a petition that can be signed. This is helpful to show general support from the campuses, but lacks the ability to show that influential people and peers to the administration also believe that divestment should occur.
  • How do you define success? How many signatures do you need for it to have the intended impact?
  • What is your timeline and work-plan? Are your goals feasible and within your organizational capacity? Managing these logistics increases the likelihood of your letter getting noticed and creating impact.

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.

Student & Faculty Resolutions

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:

  • Setting up a meeting up with the Academic Senate Chair: Introduce yourself to the Academic Senate Chair, either in person or via email. Suggest that you meet in-person; arrange a lunch, coffee, or to attend the office hours of the Senate Chair. During the in-person meeting, raise the issue of divestment. Talk to the Senate Chair about divestment, determine their position on it, and address concerns. Then propose the idea of the resolution and ask what steps are needed to get a resolution put forth for a vote before the academic senate.
  • Finding faculty champions: A resolution can often be put up for a vote if one or more faculty members in the senate move that the resolution be considered. It is thus helpful to identify a faculty member to champion such efforts. It is most convenient if this faculty member is already part of your campaign. If not, follow a similar procedure as with the Senate Chair—meet in person, discuss divestment, and explore their willingness to propose the resolution.
  • Prepare Presentation Material: Make sure that the Academic Senate is properly informed before making a decision. Depending on the size of the Academic Senate, you may wish to ensure the outcome of the vote by meeting with the members separately to discuss divestment, address concerns, and make sure you’re getting the votes you need. You may also consider requesting to present to the Senate in the meeting before the resolution will be considered, creating a PowerPoint if you are allowed to, and/or sending a packet of material that can be distributed to the faculty senate before they make a decision. Also be prepared to address follow up questions and common arguments from faculty, in particular whether divestment will affect their research budgets and job security.
  • Spread Word of Passed Resolutions: If a student or faculty resolution is passed, issue a press release as soon as possible after the vote to put additional pressure for divestment on the administration.

Example Student and Faculty Resolutions

Sample Resolution (Fossil Free)

UC Berkeley 2/13/13

Pitzer College

UC Santa Barbara 2/14/13

American University

UC San Diego 2/20/13


UC Davis 4/9/2013

Brown University

UC Santa Cruz 4/8/13

Tufts University

UCB Referendum

Harvard Divest Referendum

San Francisco State University

Motion Regarding McGill Free from Fossil Fuels

CSU Chico Student Resolution

Northwestern University

Statewide California Federation of Teachers (Faculty)


UC Santa Barbara Academic Senate, May 2013 (Faculty)

Bowdoin College


Alternative Donation Funds

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. 

  1. Donors for Divestment Fund: A divestment fund is an option where donors can contribute funds that will only be given to the school, if the school divests. Other conditions can be applied to the funds’ allocations as your campaign sees fit. For example, Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s “Fund for a Responsible Swarthmore” creates additional conditions around reinvestment in which Swarthmore must agree not only to divest, but also to invest a portion of its endowment in climate solutions, community banks and credit unions, etc. Funds can also be invested responsibly while collecting donations and waiting for your school to divest. If you are interested in setting up a fund at your own school, or contributing to the multi-school fund, contact the Responsible Endowments Coalition.
  2. Crowd-funding/E-Pay: Another option for collecting donations contingent on divestment is via a crowd-funding platform like Tilt, which only charges donors’ credit cards if the administrator of the campaign (you) determines that the conditions have been met (divestment). Check out Fossil Free UC’s “Donors for Divestment” campaign for an example of how this can look.
  3. Pledge Campaign: A pledge campaign simply asks alumni and graduating seniors to make a pledge to donate a certain amount to the university if it divests. This pledge is non-binding, but still an effective way to showcase to your administration the number of alumni demanding divestment who are ready to reward their alma mater should it do the right thing. Targeting recent graduates and graduating seniors can be especially effective, as these are your school’s future donor base.
  4. Check Writing Campaign: A check writing campaign asks alumni to send checks with ‘cash when <school name> divests’ in the subject line. The checks can then be delivered in a large envelope to your administration along with a letter and big media splash. You can also have checks written to the schools, but attached to a letter that explicitly restricts the funds from being used by the school until it divests.
  5. How to use donated funds to pressure targets: Whichever method you choose, plan a strategy for maximizing the visibility of your donor campaign. When the time is right, you can hold an action where you publicly deliver a stack of pledges, checks, or donor names to your school president. You may want to time this type of action during your school’s annual fundraising drive. Use media, and consider writing an Op-Ed ahead of the action, perhaps authored by a donor alum, and e-blast a press release after the action. You can also keep a piggy bank or similar graphic on your campaign website illustrating the rising level of donations. Some schools have alumni clubs; you can reach out to these clubs, and plan an event to discuss the drive and encourage alumni to participate. The message that donors will withhold funds unless the school divests is very persuasive, and has an impact in proportion to the number of commitments you can rally.