American companies are mobilizing to support democracy in 2024 and beyond. That is how

This year is transcendental for the proper functioning of democracy and companies that depend on a stable government, the rule of law and social cohesion. And yet, many of our fellow CEOs say they would prefer not to participate in the US elections in November.

This approach ignores an important reality: avoiding these elections is going to be impossible, and doing so jeopardizes progress on all issues.

There is an assumption permeating the business community that supporting elections, and our democracy in general, is risky. However, American businesses can rally to support their employees and ensure they don’t have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting. Employers can support voter education, election integrity, and other essential, nonpartisan pillars of our democratic system. And when they do, it’s very popular with their employees. This year, these low-risk, high-impact initiatives couldn’t be more important.

Based on Patagonia’s history of civic engagement, along with new research from NationSwell, here’s what we recommend:

First, reject the notion that democracy is a third-rail issue.

Voting, other forms of civic participation, and promoting the integrity of our electoral system should not be partisan activities.

Employers can stand firm and confident in rejecting any premise to the contrary, given that 80% of all Americans believe businesses play a role in fostering free and fair elections, according to a recent Weber Shandwick survey.

However, ill-intentioned actors seek to discourage companies and others from expressing support or taking action when democracy, or the fundamental rights it guarantees, are at risk. But actively promoting civic engagement can do more than mitigate those risks—it’s a net benefit for businesses. Research shows that civically engaged employees are more productive, more creative, and more satisfied in their jobs.

Prepare for threats to democracy and pressure from employees and customers to speak out

Given the likelihood of situations such as a disputed election result and civil unrest, companies should develop response frameworks and contingencies.

Employees and customers increasingly expect companies to speak up and take action during a crisis. And no leader wants to be caught off guard when the moment demands that they respond with urgency, clarity and conviction.

Find a path that aligns with your organization’s values

The range of opportunities to support a healthy democracy is broad, and no two companies need to take the same approach. NationSwell’s research identified three broad goals that companies can (and often do) pursue: encourage and enable civic participation, promote accessibility, transparency and quality of information, and support issues that protect rights and strengthen democracy.

Companies can leverage numerous capabilities: workplace policies and benefits, employee engagement and people infrastructure, core products and services, political contributions and advocacy, and corporate voice.

Provide accurate information

The 2024 election cycle is the first national election in the era of generative artificial intelligence, which experts warn can be exploited to undermine democracy.

To combat media manipulation, hire a credible third party to train your employees on media literacy and how to identify deepfakes.

To encourage voter participation, provide employees with important details about how to register and cast a vote in their state, information about candidates down the ballot, and information about ballot measures.

Seek security and strength in collaboration.

In 2018, Patagonia helped launch Time to Vote, a business-led movement to ensure employees don’t have to choose between receiving a paycheck and casting their vote. Throughout 2022 and 2023, Don’t Ban Equality added nearly 1,000 new companies to its efforts to protect and promote access to reproductive healthcare. And just a few weeks ago, Levi Strauss & Co., Lyft and SHOWTIME/MTV Entertainment Studios announced the Community College Pledge, which aims to close the voting gap between community college students and those at four-year universities .

While the risk of inaction on democracy is likely greater than the risk of action, these examples can attest to the relative security that coalitions provide for participating companies. And they show that when working together, two or more organizations can combine capabilities, mobilize peers, and scale impact.

Finally, invest in long-term changes.

While the urgency around the 2024 election is difficult to ignore and critical to address, we cannot solve the challenges associated with American democracy in a single election cycle. Companies can help restore the health of our democratic institutions and processes by advocating for policies that protect and restore voting rights, increase public financing of elections, and regulate the use of manipulated media in elections.

Companies can help Americans develop their civic competence by offering employees access to civic education programs, encouraging civil and productive dialogue in the workplace, and promoting civic volunteerism.

The election will be here before we know it, and now is the time for corporate leaders to prepare. Years from now, shareholders, stakeholders, employees and our children will ask us what we did in 2024 to defend our democracy.

Greg Behrman is CEO of NationSwell. Ryan Gellert is CEO of Patagonia.

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