Writing Your Community Investment Proposal

By Brett Vetterlein, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

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 brett@endowmentethics.org.  And don’t forget to check our REC’s resources page for other sample proposals.

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