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Harvard Forward launched on

 November 3, 2019

with the mission of getting 5 candidates elected to the Board of Overseers. 

The first step? Getting them on the ballot.

Every year, the HAA nomination committee picks 8 candidates for the ballot.

However, any Harvard alum can be nominated to the ballot via petition process if they gather enough signatures.

For the 2020 election, aspiring petition candidates needed 


signatures from alumni to qualify for the ballot.

The petition process: a very high barrier to entry.

After 2016, Harvard increased the number of signatures needed from around 200 to nearly 3,000.

This increase was justified in part because they added an online option to sign petitions. 

However, the online petition process is terrible. Alumni must sign in with their HarvardKey (which many don't have), fill out a poorly designed form, print, sign by hand, and scan or mail it to Harvard.

Many alumni took one look at this process and said, "I support these candidates, but there's no way I'm jumping through all those hoops." Hundreds of alumni complained to Harvard and asked them to accept electronic signatures, but they said no.

That's when we knew Harvard Forward would have to scale its efforts to have a chance at success. We requested the old-school parchment paper forms from Harvard. These forms were much easier for alumni to sign but required a lot of logistical planning, volunteer power, and organizing effort to ship around the world, collect signatures at events, then return them to Harvard. 

Our expenditures pre-election (Nov 3- June 30th): 

Field Director: Managing 300+ volunteers in dozens of states and countries was a monumental effort. Our field director, Geordie ('18, HGSE '19), was our only paid organizer pre-election. 

Mailing and Shipping: Harvard's parchment paper forms could not be scanned or faxed.
We had to send them around the world, from Hong Kong to Berlin, often with expedited shipping to meet deadlines. 

Digital Ads: We used a small number of ads, primarily to boost Harvard Forward meet-ups.

Campaign Infrastructure: Brand development and website/CRM set-up by Katy ('18).
Gsuite services, website hosting, mailing list management, etc.

Travel and Events: In a pre-pandemic world, events were essential for gathering signatures. For example, three of our candidates and several volunteers came to the Harvard-Yale game to talk to alumni about Harvard Forward.

Miscellaneous: Printing expenses, Harvard Club event fees, etc. 


Cost: Approximately $38,890 

Pre-election pie.jpeg

Pre-Election Expenditures

Because of the barriers Harvard designed, it is impossible to gather enough signatures without an extensive campaigning effort.

The purpose of a "nomination by petition" option is to make an election more democratic.

It makes it possible for any eligible person to qualify for the ballot if they have broad support from the alumni community. The garnering of that support is supposed to be the barrier to entry – not the process of actually signing the petition.


It was a truly herculean effort to collect the signatures, and it was only possible because of the grassroots campaign we built. Hundreds of student, alumni, and faculty donated their time and money to get our candidates on the ballot. It wouldn't have been possible any other way.


Thanks to everyone's incredible efforts, we ended up with more than 4,500 signatures. 

The election period started on July 1, 2020. To read about our election expenditures, click here.

Wondering how Harvard Forward is funded? Check out our campaign finance FAQ section.

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