Reflecting on 15 years of student organizing
We are immensely grateful for your valuable contributions to the work and campaigns REC has supported since 2004. In late 2019, REC conducted a thorough Listening Tour, engaging a diverse range of stakeholders and community members in conversations about the organization's future.
After 15 years of powerful student organizing, and with careful consideration, REC has decided to close our doors. In doing so, we celebrate the many wins activists have had over the years.
The purpose of this statement is to provide greater detail about our decision to sunset and and how to do so responsibly.
I. Reflections on our current moment and on our past
First, we want to honor the hard-won campaigns, thousands of student organizers, and lives that were changed as a result of REC. What the REC community accomplished was valuable. We want to honor the founders for their vision as well as the legacy of the great work students have done that continues to have positive impacts in the world and within our movements.
The organization did essential work to create a space for students that draws a connection between organizing, collective liberation, and critical thought around finance -- a space that took many years to develop, and that increasingly focused on diverse, inclusive leadership along the way. REC increased its student of color base tenfold from 2012 to 2014, and from 2014 to 2018 grew to be an organization with a majority student of color base. Staff coordinated campaigns at 45 campuses, built partnerships with dozens of new organizations, launched the national university prison divestment campaign, and shaped fossil fuel divestment strategy.
Universities that REC staffed saw some of the biggest results: Columbia University divested from private prisons; the New School divested its $340 million endowment from fossil fuels and reinvested in climate solutions; Oberlin invested $5 million in responsible investment; and Cambridge Associates now offers a fossil-free investment portfolio to universities because of REC’s work. There were a dozen more campaign victories of varying magnitudes on fossil fuel divestment and prison divestment over the past several years.
REC served as a resource for students working on various divestment campaigns. REC continued to organize student trainings each summer. REC also took a community of student organizers, some working on fossil fuel divestment and others working on prison divestment, to learn together and from anti-militarization activists in the Philippines. We have learned that this was a deeply transformative experience of international solidarity for participants in the program.
REC helped to build a student divestment movement of leaders committed to cross-movement solidarity. These students have graduated from college and gone on to serve as leaders in far-reaching movements ranging from the Sunrise Movement to the Fight for 15 to BYP 100. Many students have credited REC for supporting formative experiences in their journey as young activists.
As we close our doors, we honor all the powerful legacies student activists have left behind that have ripple effects beyond what we are currently able to see.
II. Why are we closing our doors?
In 2019, REC conducted a thorough Listening Tour to gather stakeholder input. After careful consideration, the REC board has opted to sunset the organization in a responsible manner for multiple reasons:
- Not wanting to compete for limited resources: REC’s traditional funding sources have declined to renew funding, which would require the organization to pursue new funding sources that could put it in competition with other small, resource-constrained nonprofits in the youth organizing space.
- Knowing that reinvigorating the organization would require significant resources in order to hire responsibly and sustainably.
- Acknowledging limited board capacity and concerns about the ability to remain a standalone nonprofit.
- The fact that the Listening Tour did not surface a strategic partner that could incorporate REC as an official project on a cross-issue basis. We are appreciative of the pilot partnership between REC and ACRE from 2017-2018.
- Recognizing the strong existing leadership within the movement ecosystem, and seeing an opportunity to step aside as peer organizations evolve and thrive.
III. A Responsible Sunset
It is clear that REC has played an important role for many people over the years. For some students, REC served as a pathway to activism. Others were already heavily engaged in organizing, but were able to utilize REC resources to advance their work. REC has chosen to sunset at this time. This means:
- Issuing this Public Statement on REC’s decision to sunset responsibly.
- Surfacing lessons learned for the nonprofit and organizing spaces.
- Sharing the full findings of REC’s 2019 stakeholder Listening Tour Report
- Making REC Resources available to the public: We hope the legacy of the work is able to live on in a new incarnation, and in a manner that supports movement partners. We have dedicated REC’s resources to the public domain by waiving all rights, and will keep resources online on both our website and in a public Google Drive folder.
- Creating a referral list for youth activists: If you are looking to connect with organizations that support youth activists, here is a referral list of groups that were referenced by REC’s Listening Tour interviewees.
- Elevating peers: Organizations from REC’s referral list were invited to opt-in to an email that was sent to funders, highlighting their work, providing contact information, and encouraging funders to reach out should their goals align.
- Disbursing Responsible Endowment Funds per alumni wishes: Alumni contacts for each school fund were given the opportunity to determine how they wanted their funds to be directed.
- Granting remaining REC funds: We will be granting our remaining funds to select peer organizations for general operating support. REC conducted a landscape analysis that reviewed Nationwide Programming, Student Organizing Support, Responsible Investing Work, Youth Leadership Development, Online Organizing Resources, and Youth Connection & Convenings. Taking into account this analysis, previous partnerships, funding needs, youth organizing related to responsible investment, established connection, and confirmed interest in REC resources, REC identified three organizations to be the grant recipients: Divest Ed, Freedom to Thrive, and Power Shift Network. REC respects the work being done by these organizations, and feels providing unrestricted funds to them is the most beneficial approach.
We are closing our doors so that others can open. We are sunsetting as others have been rising and contributing to social, economic, and racial justice. This decision is made not in sadness but in gratitude for having been part of something bigger than a single entity. We offer our deepest heartfelt thanks to the student activists, organizers, staff, board, leaders, funders, and partner organizations, who shared collective successes while confronting society’s biggest challenges.