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Tale of two Marks: Unexpected paths to political influence

In December, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will give away 99 percent of their wealth—not through a traditional charitable trust, but rather through a limited-liability corporation, which will allow them greater ability to engage in political advocacy.

While most of us cannot give away anywhere near the amount of money that the Zuckerbergs can, their move is just one example of an ongoing trend with those seeking to impact positive social change: using political engagement. As more “do-gooder” individuals and organizations are realizing the need to play politically, the game of presidential politics is also changing. Gone are the days of campaigns crafting candidates’ platforms in isolation behind closed doors. Today, the smartest presidential teams are crowd sourcing their best ideas from the experts—organizations that are already on the ground, putting evidence-based solutions to work.

{mosads}Another Mark, Mark Shriver (son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver), has chosen direct political engagement as a way to create change. He has launched a political organization that is injecting children’s issues into the 2016 presidential race. Called Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), Shriver envisions it as the voice for kids.

When it comes to the best policies for children, there is no better expert than Save the Children—an internationally recognized organization that has been fighting for children since 1919.  But when political muscle was needed, Save the Children’s traditional nonprofit structure had limited ability to engage in a politically relevant way. To be impactful in the 2016 presidential, Shriver and other leaders at Save knew it would need a dynamic, transformative organization that merged its institutional knowledge with out-of-the-box policy ideas, data-driven polling and a robust, mobilized grassroots network amplified by a strong communications strategy. The goal was to create a 21st century model for issue campaigns. 

With Shriver’s leadership, SCAN was born. In less than two years, it has grown to become a true political player, working with both Republican and Democratic candidates and their teams to find innovative ways to expand early childhood education in the United States and end preventable maternal and child deaths around the world. Regardless of who becomes the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., SCAN is ensuring that children’s issues will be a top priority for action, not just sound bites or photo ops.

When it comes to presidential politics, the combination of good data, smart visibility and widespread constituent engagement are the three keys to success. Through bipartisan polling in early primary and battleground states, SCAN has discovered that not only are numbers critical—they speak for themselves.

In Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, SCAN has launched a “High 5 for Kids Campaign,” asking all presidential candidates what they would do if they were elected President to expand access to early childhood education and end preventable maternal and newborn child deaths. Candidates will see the large red foam high-five hand everywhere they go in our targeted states, be asked to put on a hand and take the pledge to support our two priorities. The may even meet “Palmer,” SCAN’s life-sized mascot.  Most importantly, candidates will understand that behind each “red hand” they encounter is a committed voter.

In New Hampshire, SCAN has sponsored the influential WMUR-TV “Conversation with the Candidate” series, asking each presidential candidate on the record about early childhood education and maternal and child survival and making sure their responses reach voters throughout the state. From Manchester to the White House, kids issues aren’t taking a perfunctory “job well done” platitude anymore–they are demanding promises and results and will have the political juice to back it up.    

From policy to polling, interactions to interviews, SCAN is leading the way in best practices for relevant engagement in a new era of presidential politics. SCAN is transforming children’s issues in the eyes of campaigns from “nice” to “necessary.”

One Mark is giving billions of dollars to engage in political advocacy. The other Mark is using strategic engagement with political campaigns to effect change. Either way, the game has changed; the smartest organizations are changing with it.

Sheridan is president of The Sheridan Group. He is a frequent speaker on how to use the levers of politics and policy to effect social change.


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