- What is a Responsible Endowments Fund (REF)? What is its purpose?
- Is there a minimum amount of money that must be accumulated to establish an REF? How is the money invested?
- Are there any administrative fees or other charges for setting up an REF?
- How do I set one up? How long does it take?
- What happens to the money if the college doesn’t divest?
- How is the REF different from other escrow accounts?
- Who can I get in touch with if I want to establish a Responsible Endowments Fund?
The Responsible Endowments Fund is a creative and powerful way to escalate your campaign. Similar to an escrow account, the REF collects donations from members of the college community (students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff) and holds the money through the Triskeles Foundation until the institution commits to your campaign’s demands. An REF proves to campus administrators and trustees that the campaign’s supporters are willing to put their money where their mouth is - and the college should too! You can view this as a financial petition of sorts. Though the fund is not necessarily intended to divert money from the school’s endowment, the REF can be an especially powerful tactic when coupled with a commitment not to donate to the college directly.
The fund can be powerful both by raising a significant amount of money, and gathering greater number of donors, strengthening the statement that both students and alumni will not support an institution invested in injustice. The REF is also a great way to for alumni to engage in divestment campaigns, particularly because colleges are highly dependent on alumni support and donations. However, all members of the community can contribute to the growth of the fund.
Is there a minimum amount of money that must be accumulated to establish an REF? How is the money invested?
A $25 dollar donation is required to start the fund initially, but there is no minimum amount that must be accumulated. However, ideally the fund will accumulate $10,000, at which point the Triskeles Foundation is able to invest the money in a socially responsible investment strategy.
The money accumulated in the REF (at $10,000) is invested in socially responsible and environmentally sustainable strategies through the Triskeles Foundation. Investment recommendations will be made by a committee including REC board members and students. As with any investments, the value of the investment and the earnings may vary based on what they are invested in.
Triskeles charges a 1% annual management fee to maintain the fund and process credit card transactions. Additionally, there is a small fee charged at the time of disbursement. Fortunately, Triskeles has waived all other minimum fees. Once invested (at $10,000) there is an investment manager fee of .05% charged to the fund on an annual basis; depending on the specific investments or mutual funds selected there may be additional internal fees charged.
There are three main components necessary to set up a Responsible Endowments Fund. The process of creating the fund takes between two days and a few weeks. Students are encouraged to spearhead the fund creation process, though they are required to do so with the support of the REC staff. Here’s what you’ll need:
Terms of the Fund: These terms will specify the demands of your campaign, a timeline by which the college must meet the demands in order to receive the funds, and a plan for where the money will be distributed if the demands are not met.
Fund Advisors: The fund advisors will establish an official fund agreement with Triskeles and are responsible for recommending the final outcome of the fund - whether the demands have been met or not and making the final recommendation to distribute the accumulated money. At least one fund advisor must be REC staff.
Organizing Plan: This plan will outline how the student campaign will organize community members to gather donations to the fund. The purpose of creating this plan is to ensure that students are strategically engaging their campaign supporters to make the REF project as successful as possible. Approval of the organizing plan and frequent check-ins with REC staff are required for campaigns that wish to establish an REF.
When you set up your REF, your campaign will have to decide on specific terms which will determine when and if the money is given to your campus, and a specific timeline by which those demands must be met. Each campaign has the option to decide how the money will be used if your college does not meet the demands by the deadline listed in your fund’s terms. The Triskeles Foundation will receive the final recommendations from the Fund's advisors as to the disbursement of the funds. Some campaigns have decided to donate the contents of the fund to environmental justice organizations near their campus. Others have chosen to donate the accumulated money to the Divestment Student Network to continue growing the divestment movement. Some campaigns, such as Swarthmore Mountain Justice are choosing to dedicate 2% of their fund to Responsible Endowments Coalition for our ongoing work supporting the student divestment movement. We are happy to work with you throughout the process of establishing your REF to help you define specific demands, timeline, and a contingency plans for the money if your demands are not met. To see sample demands and stipulations for existing REF’s, check out our website at www.giveresponsibly.org.
The REF is designed to match the demands and context of any college endowment campaign that aligns with REC's political priorities. All campus campaigns are different, and context matters. The REF is not a generic tool, but rather one that is adaptable and uniquely developed for each campaign. This way, campaigns can cater the timeline and terms of the fund based on the stage of the campaign to stay accountable to the particular context and priorities of the group.
Alternative endowment or escrow funds like the REF can be a potent tool, but only if they take into account the specific campaign context and are integrated into a broader escalation strategy. We work closely with students to develop terms for the fund, a back-up plan for disbursing the funds if the college fails to meet demands, and an organizing plan to incorporate the tactic into your campaign. We provide ongoing consultation and support for leveraging the REF to its full capacity in order to make it as successful as possible. Our goal is to support students in becoming strong, whole, and effective organizers and for the fund to become a successful component of a campaign strategy.
The REF project is managed by our Alumni Team, Nina and Jess, who are committed to fostering intergenerational organizing relationships. The REF is a great way to build a stronger base of alumni and to engage already supportive alumni in helping grow the fund. Rather than allowing alums to work unilaterally to divert donations from the college's general endowment, the REF encourages collaboration between students and alums to grow the fund and put pressure in campaign targets. Thus, we see the REF as both an escalation tactic and a base-building strategy.
In order for the REF to maximally contribute to creating endowments that reflect community values, the fund is managed responsibly with screens to prevent investment in the fossil fuel industry, private prisons, arms, tobacco, pornography, factory meat farms, and genetically modified foods. In addition, we highly recommend that groups include reinvestment demands in their fund terms to ensure that colleges not only divest from injustice, but also reinvest in community-based solutions. We also encourage campaigns to divert funds (if demands are not met) to supporting ongoing student organizing for social justice.
Please contact our Alumni Organizing Team with further questions or to set up a fund! Our Alumni Organizer, Jess Grady-Benson, is bottom-lining the REF project and would be happy to chat with you about setting up a fund. Contact Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also reach our Alumni Coordinator, Nina Macapinlac at email@example.com who is supporting the project.