02 Jul. 2019 | Comments (0)
During my career, I often worked with corporate government relations executives, trying to get them to support legislation that is either important to the company’s corporate citizenship strategy and its focus areas, and/or to its partner organizations and local communities. Often, I found success, particularly when the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) priorities intersected with key legislators’ agendas. More often than not, however, I ran up against corporate lobbyists who didn’t want to use their political capital to fight for these issues; in many cases, they needed that capital to generate support for business-critical issues, such as intellectual property rights, telecommunications, and global competitiveness.
As companies seek to influence issues of public policy and social change through efforts beyond their traditional work in philanthropy, community relations, and volunteerism, participating in policy development and debate can be important. Tom Sheridan’s new book, Helping the Good Do Better: A White Hat Lobbyist’s Winning Strategies from the Front Lines of Social Change pulls the curtain back on how social issues, many that are important to business, get turned into legislation and policy. While the book is not written for business, it is full of useful information.
One chapter focuses on an issue that I have been engaged with for many years: national service. I am a past chair and longtime commissioner of the California Commission on Service and Volunteering. One of the responsibilities of the commission is to oversee AmeriCorps and Senior Corps in California. It is almost comical, and sad, that the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers these programs, is regularly zeroed out in appropriations. National Service has been around a long time and championed by presidents on both sides, from George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Yet, we have regular battles to keep these important programs alive. Sheridan helped create the strategy, working with Voices of National Service, to reauthorize this work and then fund it.
Other chapters of the book zero in on the creation of the Ryan White CARE Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, among others. Throughout these sections, Sheridan highlights the importance of bipartisan support. While he takes a liberal position, Sheridan also shows how reaching across the aisle has led to success.
Building strong coalitions is also crucial to success. One chapter focuses on cancer and the many organizations competing for support. The focus of these organizations varies—from pancreatic and ovarian cancer to prostate and others—and the competition among them has challenged funding. Yet, Sheridan notes that by working together as part of the coalition One Voice Against Cancer, cancer organizations have helped create a stronger federal funding environment for care, treatment, and research of all types of cancer.
Sheridan states in the book: “Great policy is written when it starts and stays close to the programs and people who are doing the most effective work to solve the problem. Often, there is too much distance, perhaps no connection, between advocates who write policy and program providers that serve real people.” Companies, through philanthropy and other mechanisms, have for years been primarily focused on supporting the nonprofit service providers that create social change, or the research that underpins it. But there is a big opportunity for business to influence public policy and to help scale important strategies and programs to increase the social impact companies seek.