Letter Writing Guide
October 17, 2013
As discussed in my two-part series on morally responsible investing (found here and here), there are times when it is prudent to contact the management of a company in order to make your views known. Coming from the perspective of investors, the Investor Relations Department of the company is going to be your default addressee. If the company has instituted a certain policy, is engaging in some type of corporate activity, or has a product or line of business that makes you morally uncomfortable as an investor, feel free to let them know about it. Hopefully, this will help them to make more informed decisions in the future. However, try to keep the following points in mind as you do:
1) We war not against flesh and blood, so there is no need for personal attacks. Don't write out of anger. Don't make anything personal. It's important to remember that these are human beings operating in a certain capacity in order to make a living for themselves and their families. You have no idea where they may be coming from personally. They may be getting pulled in many different directions, and trying to do their best when put in precarious positions. Try to make sure your letter is written in a tone that reflects sincere concern, which comes from your love for others.
2) Start out accentuating the positive. Tell the person receiving your letter what you like about the company and the job management has done. You may even highlight the positives that led you to become an investor in the first place. It's basic human nature that criticism is easier to receive once we know that the person criticizing us isn't doing it just to attack us. People feel a strong personal connection to the company for which they work. So, even if you don't see it as a personal matter, they may feel very differently. If your letter immediately comes across as an attack, it's going to put the reader in a defensive mode. If that's the case, they won't be as open to receiving your honest, sincere feedback, no matter how good your intentions may be. What you say is important, but how you say it is equally important.
3) Carefully explain your position. Be specific. For example, you may be concerned with some report that the company is not treating workers fairly. Talk about the specific issues that you would like to see addressed. Send them a copy of Love Works by Joel Manby and tell them how implementing the principles found therein has changed your business for the better. There is also the issue of products which cause sin. For example, you may have learned that a large drugstore chain in which you are invested has a small online subsidiary which sells pornographic DVDs. Don't simply demand that they shed this business line. Explain clearly that you believe pornography is harmful to the people who make it and the customers who view it. Explain that you believe it is unwise to profit from the harm of other human beings. Don't be afraid to speak God's truth. Give scripture references which support your view. Let them know that as a shareholder, you would much rather give up any profit made from those DVDs, than reap financial gain by taking part in something that you believe brings harm to others. If an issue has gotten to the point that you no longer feel comfortable staying invested in the company unless they change their policy, let them know that as well. It's important to give them a fair chance to implement changes before abandoning them altogether. Just realize that unless you are a very large shareholder, you aren't in a good position to make demands. Further, whether we are relatively large or small shareholders, we should attempt to act in gentleness, kindness, humility, and love when addressing these issues.
4) Remember that you are called to be a light shining in a dark world (Matthew 5:16). There are 3 distinct profiles possible for the person receiving your letter. First, the person reading your letter may be spiritually lost. In that case, you have a perfect opportunity to bear witness to God's truth, goodness, and love. Feel free to share what God has done for you recently, or throughout your life. Try to relate the topic at hand to any personal experience you may have, if possible.
Second, the person to whom you are writing may be a Christian. They may completely agree that the company has made a bad decision, but are unable to admit as much for fear of losing their job. It's not the time to throw stones in judgment. That person would be in a tough position. We may be able to offer guidance and encouragement out of our sincere love for that person.
Last, the person reading your letter could be a Christian who has wandered from the path. In that case, the person reading your letter would need to be gently restored through words of truth, sincere concern, and humble correction. You have no way of knowing which profile is consistent with the person or people who will be reading your letter. Keep that in mind as you write. In the 21st century, we are very "connected", but we are so impersonal. There is a human being on the other side of your letter, and you have a chance to make an impact on them first and foremost.
5) Letters and phone calls have a greater effect than emails. It's very easy to dismiss and dispose of an email. Letters, especially hand-written letters, are much more personal. They show that you cared enough to spend significant time and effort in your contact with them. They show that you went beyond entering your name and clicking a box on someone else's website. Form letters and emails are useful tools. But they aren't as personal and as effective as making phone calls and sending hard copy letters.
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