If you own shares in a company, you have a voice. Shareholders can file proposals at companies whose shares they own, and vote on proposals they want the company to adopt. In the last 40 years, thousands of resolutions filed with companies by shareholders have broken new ground in fostering corporate policies that protect the environment, customers, and the bottom line.
Shareholder activism isn’t just for pension funds and billionaires. If you own shares, it’s simple to vote your “proxy” – the ballot containing resolutions that are up for a vote – by mail, internet, or phone. As a shareholder you can make change in companies by voting on the issues you care about, and use your influence as a shareowner to improve corporate decision-making.
Never voted your proxy before? Don’t worry, we have you covered.
As You Sow’s Proxy Voting Guidelines, produced in partnership with Proxy Impact, offers socially responsible investors a resource to align their investments with their values
- The Basics of Shareholder Advocacy
- Proxy Voting 101
- “Vote Your Proxies with Jon Scott & Friends”, a step-by-step instructional video
- What is a Proxy Ballot? Infographic from Green America
Voting is as easy as checking a few boxes and tossing your ballot in the mail. And it matters. If you don’t vote, your broker may vote for you and against good resolutions, against your wishes.
Shareholder resolutions can create real change. Harness the Power of the Proxy to make sure your voice is heard.
What can I do?
VOTE YOUR PROXY: If you own shares directly (or- shares that are not held in a mutual fund) it is key that you take the time to consider how to vote on resolutions.
1. Instruct your financial manager to vote for you
At any time of the year, you can instruct your manager to vote on your behalf one way or another for when proxy season comes in spring. Send your manager a letter, referencing your accounts, that describes how you would like the manager to vote your shares. For example:
Dear [MANAGER NAME HERE],
Please notify me of the prior year Annual General Meeting dates for companies I am directly invested in, and also please notify me when you receive proxy ballots from those companies. Please provide me with a list of the resolutions up for a vote, by company. I will instruct you as how to vote on these resolutions. However if there is any question, please vote my proxies according to the following guidelines:
[SHAREHOLDER VOTING PREFERENCES HERE]
You can make your voting guidelines as simple or complex as you desire. You could instruct your manager to vote yes on all Environmental, Social, Governance proposals, for example. As You Sow’s voting guidelines are coming soon.
Knowing the date of last year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), or the day shares are voted, can give you an idea of when to request a proxy from your financial manager.Proxies usually come out a month before the AGM. If you haven’t received your proxy by a month before the AGM, contact your manager.
If your financial manager tells you they won’t vote your shares for you, or that it is not part of the services that you have paid for, consider bringing your business elsewhere. Alternatively you can also hire a company to vote on your behalf. Such companies include Proxy Impact, ISS, Glass Lewis & Co., and Egan-Jones Ratings Company to vote on your behalf if you have a large volume of shares.
2. Vote your shares yourself
Shareholder advocacy promotes environmental, social, and governance change at companies from within.
If you receive proxy ballots in the mail, follow the instructions on the ballot. They will typically tell you to fill out the paperwork, and send it back in, call to vote, or vote by internet. Vote in one of these ways.
Note that companies have the advantage on the proxy; the company gets the “last word” in a proxy, and may bury the resolution in the back of the document, include possibly false information arguing against the resolution in an “Opposition Statement”, a statement from the company on why they do not want you to vote for it, and/or “summarize” and misrepresent the resolution up front to discourage you from reading it yourself. Be sure to go to the resolution, read it, and decide for yourself. You can also contact the people who put it on the ballot to learn about why they think you should vote for it.
If you don’t get a ballot for a company you know you own, contact your financial manager or the company itself about a month before the company’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
3. Hold your money manager and mutual fund accountable
You can’t control how your managers vote the shares in mutual funds – you invest in the mutual fund, and then the fund buys assets it technically owns. But you can pressure the mutual fund managers to vote for shareholder resolutions. Most financial managers don’t vote, or always vote with management, categorically. This helps management, but is not necessarily in the best interest of shareholders or the company.
To help change this, first find out how mutual funds vote. Consider contacting the financial managers who run mutual funds you invest in, and request their voting record, or policies on voting shareholder resolutions.
Next, ask them to vote for “ESG” resolutions. ESG stands for the words Environmental, Social, Governance, and is how those types of resolutions are referred to. With enough customers making this request, financial companies may begin voting for shareholder resolutions.
Mutual funds and other registered management investment companies that invest in voting securities are required to disclose the policies and procedures that they use to determine how to vote proxies relating to securities held in their portfolios.
You can request a description of a mutual fund’s proxy voting policies and procedures directly from the fund by calling a toll-free (or collect) telephone number listed in its semi-annual and annual reports to shareholders. The fund must then send you the information, without charge, within three business days of receipt of your request.