OUR 2020 ELECTION EXPENDITURES
Harvard alumni live in all 50 states and in 200 countries.
In 2019, there were approximately
eligible voters for the Board of Overseers.
This is roughly the same number of eligible Overseers voters as Wyoming has registered voters.
However, Harvard has a voter participation problem.
In 2018,Wyoming had 72% registered voter turnout.
In 2018, Harvard had
less than 10% turnout.
In 2019, Harvard introduced online voting.
Even with the addition of online voting, last year's participation was around 12.5%.
Clearly, Harvard's voter engagement efforts aren't sufficient.
We decided we'd have to reach alumni ourselves.
Since the start of the election on July 1st, 2020, we've tried to reach alumni in two ways.
Grassroots organizing. We grew the volunteer network we had developed during the petition process, built our social media presence, and hosted virtual events.
People power: We have two wonderful summer fellows, Lani ('22) and Shannon ('20). They're part-time fellows who receive a stipend for their time. They have been the only paid campaign organizers during the election period. Lani helps run our social media, and Shannon helps organize virtual events and alumni outreach.
Campaign infrastructure: Google suite services, web hosting, mailing list management, etc.
Cost: Approximately $4,900
Digital advertising. In the '80s, the Harvard Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid campaign for Overseers fundraised to send mailers to alumni.
In 2020, we used the modern day equivalent: digital ads.
We were originally planning on doing much of our outreach at in-person Harvard events.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to rely more heavily upon digital advertising.
Ads: Mainly Facebook and Instagram ads with a few LinkedIn and Twitter ads.
These ads invited people to learn more about Harvard Forward by visiting our website so that they could make an informed decision when they cast their votes.
Cost: On average, less than $300 per day during the 52-day election period.
That's it. Those are our election expenditures.
All in all, Harvard Forward has spent less than 7¢ per eligible voter during this election.
That's a total of $3,980 per candidate.
To put this on a Harvard scale:
Election Expense per Overseer Candidate vs Student Cost of Attendance by Harvard Program
View footnote for sources.
When it comes to the type of money Harvard deals in,
Harvard Forward's expenses are just a drop in the bucket.
But we've been able to engage alumni in a way Harvard doesn't:
"In the 17 years since I've been an HBS alum, I have never voted in the overseers election. But I just did for the first time."
- Comment on one of our Facebook ads
We believe deeply in the intrinsic value of civic engagement.
Harvard's current election process does not facilitate any engagement: most alumni don't vote, and if they do vote, they're voting based on a 250-word bio and a headshot.
That's not much to go on.
We wanted to make sure alumni knew about the election and had the opportunity to learn about our candidates' visions for what Harvard could be.
We've reached thousands of alumni, and we've spoken to many who are excited about our campaign—and a few who politely (or not so politely) disagreed. And that's great!
At the end of the day, this is a democratic election.
All we can do is make alumni aware of what we're doing and why; they're the ones who will cast the votes.