How to “Start at Home”: Reaching Out to Your Corporate Employer

I went through a great advocacy training last weekend which concentrated on how to be an effective citizen lobbyist to your elected officials.

Today I talked with the trainer about what “starting at home” with your activism really means - what are some ways to “think local”? One way she suggested was to start with your employer.

1. If you work for a big corporation, it will probably have a “Corporate Social Responsibility Office” or a “Corporate Citizenship Office.” Often it can be found right on the corporation’s home page. This office is the one that tries to build “employee engagement” issues - for example, they might organize a day to help at a soup kitchen and ask employees to volunteer, and then get a bunch of press to come and see how the company is doing this community service. Find out what they’ve already done, what issues they like to concentrate on, and where those issues overlap with your issues of concern - that’s your sweet spot. Ask for a meeting at the social responsibility office and say, “I’m interested in this social issue. What has our company done on this issue, and what can I do to help?” Together you can brainstorm about putting together an Employee Engagement Day around that issue (see ideas in #5). The idea is to offer to be helpful, and to ask for your company to help you be helpful.

2. Also right on the corporation’s home page might be a link to where their philanthropy usually goes. See any overlap with issues you especially care about? Again, meet them where they are. Note that if your corporation has its own foundation, you might have zero connection to it as an employee - it has its own board, etc. Go back to step 1 and focus on employee engagement.

3. You catch more flies with honey. As an employee, you have no leverage to do any aggressive engagement. Find out what the company is doing RIGHT and focus on that first. For example, if you’re pitching a documentary screening, maybe don’t make it “Blackfish” (about animal cruelty at Sea World) if you work for, let’s say, Ringling Brothers?

4. Corporations are mostly loathe to get political. But if your goal is to chip away at the Trump agenda, you can disguise the political goals - for example, get the company to donate to public schools, which fights his education agenda, rather than try the much harder sell of helping Syrian refugees.

5. Some ideas for Employee Engagement Days:
Run a 5k to benefit a child literacy program
Host a lunchtime screening of a climate change documentary
Organize a park/beach cleanup day (and offer to help get the press there)
Invite a speaker from your favorite organization to a brown-bag lunch
Reach out to your favorite local organization for ideas (Tree People might suggest a day of tree-planting; Habitat for Humanity might suggest a day of repairing houses in a poor neighborhood. What organizations does your company already partner with?)

6. Your company’s day-to-day operations are another way you might be able to suggest an improvement. For example, if you care about climate change, does your company recycle? Does it recycle only beverage containers, but not plastic? Your Operations department would be able to answer that question. Start a conversation about it, and ask what you can do to help convince your company to start recycling (think about the great press!).