by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Organizer
As the school year comes to a close, I've finally submitted a formal community investment proposal to Tufts administrators on behalf of Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR). The proposal urges Tufts to live up to its ideals of active citizenship by investing a portion of its operating account into a local bank, which will support small business and low-income residents, improve town-gown relations, and promote opportunities for interdisciplinary education. The proposal was presented alongside a letter of support from the Tufts Progressive Alumni Network (TPAN), a petition for community investment signed by 100+ students, signatures of support from many individual alumni, and REC's handbook on community investment for administrators, Maximizing Returns to Colleges & Communities (PDF). It contained two semesters' worth of research and organizing, and incorporated the needs and desires of students, faculty, administrators, and the local community. While the administration won't formally debate the proposal until the next meeting of the Board of Trustees, there was productive dialogue about the proposal's contents and the potential concerns of the administration. No matter the outcome, though, I'm proud of the proposal, grateful for the support of those who helped shape it, and confident that the Tufts campus is collectively more active and informed about investment responsibility.
At the same time, I don't feel a sense of completion, and I don't think I will feel one after getting a definitive answer from the administration, either. Working as a community investment organizer has opened my eyes to how much more of an impact a university can have on the local community by simply moving its money, and our universities can always improve. Being a part of REC has also taught me about the myriad other ways that universities can improve socioeconomic conditions. This work is also always unfinished. Finally, representing investment responsibility at Tufts has allowed me to realize and interact with the variety of activist individuals and student groups on this campus fighting for progressive causes, and impressed upon me our mutually supportive goals. Therefore, even though I've handed in a final proposal to school administrators regarding my community investment initiative, the opportunities and challenges I see regarding community investment, socially responsible investment, and activism in general in higher education seem greater than ever. My community investment campaign served to open my eyes to new ideas and new ventures on my campus and on others. I am reminded of a quote from the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society:
"these social uses of the universities' resources also demonstrate the unchangeable reliance by men of power on the men and storehouses of knowledge: this makes the university functionally tied to society in new ways, revealing new potentialities, new levers for change."
Ultimately, this isn’t troubling. In fact, it’s beneficial. When we try to create change – like working to improve higher education investments – we begin to think more critically about the work we are doing and how it can impact present campaigns or lead to future ones. Therefore, our past experiences allow us to be more adept at identifying and acting on these “new potentialities” for change. In a way, we become the “new levers for change” ourselves. A year of student organizing has taught me skills and introduced me to people that I will always wish to remember. It’s taught me how I work best with people, what I am most effective at, and what my weaknesses are. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them, and should have approached some things differently. At the end of the day, though, I am better prepared for the next chapter in the story – and I hope that all my fellow organizers feel the same way!
Here at Fordham University, we have almost completed our proposal for community investment which will be submitted to the university administration. There are many different ways to write a proposal like this. Some people write very detailed and long proposals, citing statistics, accounting for risks, and provided numerous examples. We decided to take the shorter route and modeled our proposal off of Seattle University our fellow Jesuit school (the proposal can be found in REC’s Move Our Money: A Community Investment Toolkit for Students). I found the style of Seattle’s proposal preferable to other longer ones because of its length, content, and message.
To start with our proposal is almost exactly two pages single-spaced. I think when dealing with these kinds of things length is extremely important. If you are using this proposal to spark interest from your administration, keep it short. Would you want to read 10 pages of financial jargon if you didn’t have to? Keeping it at a manageable length makes it more accessible not only to the administration, but to other stakeholders (students, faculty, community members). While the ultimate goal is the administration, you want other people to support your proposal in order to give you leverage.
We tried to keep the content simplified and concise in our proposal. We had only three sections: the main argument, recommended CDFIs, and a short conclusion. The main argument had very little to do with the financial aspects of community investment. Instead, we very plainly explained what community investment was, what other schools were doing it, and what we wanted Fordham to do. Even if we do have the financial literacy to write about returns on investment, the university will have to do that research on its own before it makes the change. It does help to make sure your language shows you know what you’re talking about, but there is no need to go on and on about asset classes or detailing the difference between difference between different types of CDFIs.
Our message was made clear by our use of Fordham’s own mission statement in the opening paragraph. We tried to say that we need to do this because it is Fordham duty as a stakeholder in our community. I think messages like these, for initial proposals at least, are more powerful than other approaches (ie the economic one). Using their own words and presenting it as something that will bring respect and prestige to the university are very powerful. When you get to meet with the CFO or Board of Trustees you can make all your other arguments, but to get a leg in, I believe giving them the incentive of a better reputation is your best bet.
We’ll all be handing in our proposals in the coming weeks, most likely. Not only for community investment, but for SRI committees, transparency or whatever other responsible endowment campaign you have going one. Remember that length, content, and message are very important. If you’d like to take a look at Fordham’s proposal, or want some feedback on yours, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to check our REC’s resources page for other sample proposals.