As alumni, you have a unique opportunity to encourage positive change within colleges and universities. Your donor dollars are absolutely vital to endowment growth and often provide the funds for the operating budget. This gives you particular influence on university policy. Here are a few ways to exercise that influence:
Ask for Your Donation to be Invested Responsibly
The next time that you donate, request that your money be invested in a responsible manner. There are a number of funds available with social or environmental screening policies, and your college may have options. If they refuse, this could be a powerful opportunity for you to further engage the giving office with one of the methods below.
Write a Letter to Your Alumni Giving Office
There are a number of different ways you can get the attention of your alma mater with a letter.
- Letter of Advocacy for Responsible Investment
The next time your alma mater solicits your donation, respond with a request to know how that money will be managed. As a donor you have a right to know that your money is being used in line with your values. Just writing a letter with your check saying “I’d like to make sure my money is being managed responsibly” can make a difference—and writing a letter and having it signed by a group of your old classmates can make a huge difference. Feel free to use REC’s sample alumni letter.
- Letter of Non-Giving
A letter of non-giving can send a stronger message than a general letter of advocacy, especially when it is used to leverage support for a specific ongoing campaign at your college. In your letter, you should confidently yet respectfully make it clear that you will not donate until you see a specific change in practice, such as the formation of a policy on investor responsibility, divestment from a harmful commodity, or a commitment to invest in the local community. Letters of non-giving will likely be unsuccessful if their tone is too antagonistic, their demands are too general, or if they fail to add to pressure already being applied by the student body on a concrete issue. Before writing a letter of non-giving, we encourage you to visit our website’s blog page to find out what campaigns are already being led by current students of your alma mater, or get in touch with a REC staff member for updates.
Create a Photo Petition
Join a group of alumni to take a photo with a sign encouraging responsible investment. This personalizes your demands in a manner that is not antagonistic, gets the message across quickly, and demonstrates group support. Try something as simple as “We donate to our alma mater, and would like to see more endowment transparency!”
Reach out to other alumni
Many schools allow access to an alumni directory. Organize a phone banking event and make phone calls asking alumni to send letters of advocacy or letters of non-giving. Tell them more about why responsible investment is important, and send them a form email so that it is simple for them to take action. You might focus your attention on gaining the support of a few high net worth donors, or alumni who have made a name for themselves as advocates for environmental or social justice. Or you may want to contact more recent alumni who have worked with REC on campaigns in the past, who will be more willing to give their time and support. We’re always here to help you network.
Donate to Your College’s Social Choice Fund
REC defines the term “Social Choice Fund” as a fund that a college or university controls which is invested in a manner that meets some form of ESG (environmental, social, governance) criteria. Alumni can choose to donate to this fund as a responsibly invested alternative to the general endowment.
There are a few colleges that have already started some form of Social Choice Fund including:
There are also efforts to start a Social Choice Fund at Harvard University.
Social Choice Funds are an admirable way of raising awareness, support, and confidence in responsible investment. Donations to Social Choice Funds act as a gauge of growing interest in responsible investment on the part of alumni and students alike. They show the administration that responsibly invested funds are feasible, they can demonstrate that responsible invested funds can still produce competitive returns, and they serve to bring money into the school rather than discourage alumni from donating altogether.
However, Social Choice Funds also have limitations. First of all, schools with Social Choice Funds rarely put in any effort to widely advertise them, which leaves all of the promotion in the hands of students, often resulting in lack of awareness a few years after the first launch. Some schools make it unnecessarily difficult to donate by requiring an excessive minimal donation level which precludes the majority of alumni from contributing. There can also be complications surrounding the issue of where the money is to be housed and who has control over it. Finally, having a Social Choice Fund as a responsibly invested alternative draws attention away from the fact that the majority of your college’s endowment is invested irresponsibly, and does little to pressure the administration to make more transformative changes to its investment policies.
Serve on Your School’s Committee on Investor Responsibility
A growing number of colleges have formed Committees (often abbreviated as CIRs or ACSIRs ) which meet a minimum of once a year to discuss issues relating to endowment responsibility, vote on the school’s proxy ballots, write shareholder resolutions, and receive student feedback about the endowment. Many committees include alumni members on these committees. Ask your alma mater’s Investment Office for more information, or get in touch with REC to ask if we have worked with your school’s committee in the past.
Get Involved with REC
Alumni can get involved with REC in a lot of ways. You can talk to us about serving on our Board of Directors, or in our Special Projects Committee. You can offer your time as a guest lecturer at one of our summer trainings, or attend one of REC’s events.
Support Organizing at Your School
Your donation, or a pool of small donations from a circle of alumni, can go a long way to keep students at your school educated and organized about the endowment. Some schools, like Tufts University and Georgetown University, have different variations of a Social Justice Fund, a pool of money that is available to students for community organizing, innovative start-ups, or service projects.
Or, donate to REC. We work to keep students involved with the endowment at their school, by giving lectures at colleges across the country, offering yearly summer training sessions to build new student leaders, and provide ongoing assistance for students working on a variety of different campaigns during the schoolyear.