Create responsive architecture to keep your campaign resilient and efficient over time.
The cornerstone of any successful campaign is a clear comprehension of your target: the person or group(s) from which you seek change. In the case of divestment campaigns, the target is likely to be the University president, board of directors, or administration. You should aspire to understand your target’s motivations, points of leverage, challenges, and goals. This knowledge can help tailor your campaign to create rewards that mirror those sought by your target and/or create trouble your target seeks to avoid.
In thinking about universities, it is helpful to realize that while most universities were founded with altruistic missions or to serve the public decades or hundreds of years ago, due to diminishing public funding, rising costs, and increased competition ‘higher education’ has become an industry. Universities have transitioned into businesses that provide educational services to students, research to the business community, and economic benefit to the communities where they are located. Looking at higher education through this lens explains some of the actions of the administrators, who are pressured to maintain and grow the financial health of their institution. This frame also helps explain the approach universities are taking toward fossil fuel divestment, which is focused on returns over altruism or promoting environmental benefit. This lens offers a way of understanding university boards of directors, which are commonly composed of current or ex-CEOs. You should be ready to interact with CEOs working toward improving the university's financial health.
For many administrators, divestment is a business decision in which emotion or ethics does not play a role. The people you meet may or may not understand or ‘believe’ climate change is a reality at all or that people cause it. Administrators may not have any type of environmental sympathy at all; be prepared to use an approach that does not require agreement that the environment is an important priority. Be prepared to ‘speak the language’ of your target, and communicate with administrators using financial explanations that show that failure to recognize environmental harm is a financial risk to the university.
As noted above many administrators are from the private sector or are former c-level corporate staff. As such they are accustomed to discussing business matters with private sector peers in the form of sales pitches, business development, and investment opportunities. Work to explain your arguments in this way: how does divestment help universities make money, save money, reduce risk, reduce costs, or add other types of value? Learning to explain fossil fuel divestment this way for the purpose of communicating with the administration will minimize the need to have them on board for a moral argument, which is an agreement that may be impossible to achieve. Even if you do achieve it, the moral argument may not be enough to sway the administration to divest due to concerns about their fiduciary duty, which is typically financial.
You may or may not have had experience working with people in executive positions in business. If not, here are some suggestions for interfacing with ‘C-level’ staff (CEO: Chief Executive Officer, CIO: Chief Investment Officer, COO: Chief Operative Officer, etc.)
Also keep in mind that executives work together. You should expect that university executive staff are working together and collaborating across universities, against divestment. Divestment is discussed at industry gatherings and university administrators are sharing knowledge. So students would benefit from going into interactions with administrators with the intention to be strategic and effective. The Student Divestment Network is doing a great job uniting students across campuses and sharing results of interactions with administration.
When working on a fossil fuel divestment campaign, it is important to know how the endowment is managed and how university implements decisions about the endowment. Universities have a variety of organizational structures to manage academics, operations and the endowment, further complicated by whether the school is public or private, its size and other factors. Universities may have different titles for equivalent roles (ex. Chancellor versus President), or have a unique organizational hierarchy. Organizational charts are sometimes posted; search the website under the term “organizational chart”. There are often separate organization charts by each division in the university, so a single organizational chart may not demonstrate all the relationships and players involved. Faculty, staff, administrators and students can play a variety of roles in participating and influencing these organizational hierarchies and knowing the existing structure and people involved at various level in the university can be crucial to getting a win for divestment.
The top position at a University is usually called the President or Chancellor (this paper will refer to the role President). The President often serves as more of a figurehead for external engagements rather than an actively involved internal decision maker (especially at larger schools), but usually provides guiding visions and strategies that are implemented by other administrators and staff at the university. Even if the President is not directly involved with a decision such as investment strategies, they can help sway other members of the university from their public leadership position. Under the President, there are often numerous vice-presidents or vice-chancellors that are key decision makers that lead more specific groups such as planning and budget, business, student affairs, information technology, physical operations, etc. Under these management positions, there are groups of staff that work on various details within the unit. These positions all fall within the Administration & Operations sphere.
Within the Academic sphere, the broadest organizational groupings are usually Divisions (led by Deans or Provost). Then there are Departments which are specific to a field of study and have multiple faculty involved. Many schools practice “shared governance” principles, meaning that the faculty have equal influence to the school's direction and decision making as the administration and staff. Faculty often exercise their governance through a faculty senate, which has different sub-committees that help plan out majors, minors, class offerings, academic qualifications, etc. Faculty members often participate in committees that include administration and staff. The influence of faculty members should not be overlook and faculty senates can pass resolutions of support which can help convince administration bodies if needed.
In regards to the endowment, Universities manage these in a variety of ways. Usually, the endowment is managed under the general campus unit of University Relationships or External Affairs and may be held under the University Foundation. The endowment is usually semi-removed from day to day university operations, and is almost a separate sphere that is connected to the university as well as external influences. The University Foundation and Endowment is run by a Board of Trustees which is comprised of successful alumni, high profile donors and is often provided oversight by vice-president of business affairs or equivalent positions from the internal administration. The money in the endowment is often managed by external fund managers which included mutual funds, hedge funds and commingled funds (for more details on investment terminology and fund management procedure, please refer to the Financial Glossary). An example diagram of the endowment in relations to internal and external organizational structures is displayed below. It should be noted that this is not uniform among all universities.
Within the Endowment and Foundation, the Board of Trustees has the power to decide on investment decisions. The Board of Trustees often has an Investment Committee which focuses on advising investment strategy and can provide recommendation to the entire Board of Trustees on investment decision. The Board of Trustees has greater authority than the investment committee, but an approval from the investment committee is often needed if the decision has the potential to affect returns, as divestment might. One of the first steps of any campaign that can be helpful is mapping out of the membership of the investment committee and see what the connections are to internal and external relationship to the university. The Board of Trustees may also set up a task force to discuss the possibility of divesting, and conduct a “feasibility” report on the effect divestment could have on the portfolio. A consultant may be brought in to analyze the feasibility of divestment; if this occurs, work to get the deliverables they create disclosed to the campaign.
Strategic planning is an essential tool for any organization or campaign. Strategic planning consists of thinking about the long term goals as well as short term changes, as well as planning for and capitalizing on key moments to build the campaign. Creating a yearly or multi-year calendar plan can be a great tool to display the goals of a campaign and to map out the steps required to reach the goal.
Backwards time-lining is a method of accounting for the time needed to accomplish the previous steps for a goal on a specific time. Backwards time-lining can help identify when to start working on a project or aspect of the project, so that there is not a time crunch when it comes down to the event. Proper time-lining is one of the most important tools to create successful projects, especially in the context of student organizing where there are key dates that the school is subjected to. Within a divestment campaign context, strategic planning can be very helpful in developing campaign strength and building pressure for key decision moments. For example, let’s say that there are two large goals or events in February and May respectively. What steps must occur in the months prior to the event to need to make the goals or events a success? Who will be accountable for them? Then break those steps into smaller ones, assign dates and milestones, checking, and adjusting the plan responsive to real-time progress.
Strategic planning is a crucial practice to get organizers on the same page and to effectively work on collective and agreed upon goals. The beginning of the school year can be a good time to create a yearly plan for the goals of what to accomplish for that year. In regards to creating a timeline and strategic plan, here are some general tips:
There are many things to consider when creating a strategic plan for a divestment campaign. This will differ for each university, prior student engagement and how advanced the campaign is. Some things that may be helpful to include in a strategic plan are:
Here is an example timeline template for the 2014-2015 school year (2014-2015 Template Yearly Timeline). It delineates different potential working groups within a divestment campaign. Feel free to use this template for your own campaign, or to create something that works for your needs better. The exact format of a strategic timeline is not important; as long as tools are used to best guide the priorities of your campaign.
Sustaining student leadership and maintaining campaign strength is very important and can be difficult for student organizations. The word ‘turnover’ is often used to describe the constant flux of students through schools. Most students stay at the same university for 2-4 years, sometimes more or less. With the constant turnover rate and the time it take for students to get involved with organizations, student leaders of campaigns often leave in 3 years or less. University administration are also well aware of this fact and will sometimes drag out processes to create time for influential student leaders to graduate and leave the university, hoping to starve the campaign of guidance and momentum. (An argument for spreading leadership around the group) Thus maintaining campaign strength through multiple years is a very important strategy to create lasting change and demonstrating to the University that the divestment campaign is a credible threat.
A large part of maintaining engagement and campaign strength over multiple years is to have a well-defined process for leadership succession and transition. This includes mentoring less experienced leaders throughout the school year, creating a process for training future leaders, and involving a larger group of people than the campaign’s leadership in determining strategic direction. Some good practices to promote strong leadership succession include:
Offering Opportunities to Growing Leaders: Finally, it is helpful to cultivate future leaders by actively opening up positions for a growing leader to take a role in. This may include creating chances for less experience organizers to bottom line a certain project, or become a representative for a meeting with administration. In regard to meeting with administration, it can be helpful to have a younger student be involved so they will have a relationship with the university, experience in meetings, and first-hand knowledge of administrators. Formalized internship roles or field organizers positions are great opportunities for growing leaders to take a hold of.