The nonprofit group RESULTS proves ordinary people can influence policymakers on big issues.
RESULTS is not a high-profile organization, but it helps famous nonprofits get things done and it does this by harnessing the power of regular folks to influence the representatives we elect.
Its model for affecting the direction of government policy is especially relevant today when so many people are looking for a way to have their concerns heard and acted on.
Willie Dickerson, a retired teacher who lives in Snohomish, is a RESULTS volunteer. “This is a special time,” Dickerson said, “though I’m not happy about what caused it.”
He said RESULTS works to create relationships with people in Congress, and he thinks lawmakers listen because the organization doesn’t ask for itself but on behalf of causes that most people would consider good and worthy.
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RESULTS is dedicated to ending poverty, hunger and killer diseases, and to making the needs of children a priority for governments in the U.S. and around the world. It has a small staff in Washington, D.C., and depends heavily on its volunteers in 40 states and four countries. It has been credited with protecting Head Start, helping the microfinance movement get vital support, pressuring the U.S. to double its contribution to the Global Partnership for Education, which benefits poor children, and much more.
I sat with Dickerson at last Thursday night’s fundraiser for the local chapter. The keynote speaker was Chris Elias, who heads the global development program of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His presence was a testament to the value that big nonprofits place on RESULTS. And recently retired representative Jim McDermott was there to receive the group’s Seeds of Hope award.
Elias said that what makes RESULTS special is “how powerful it is at helping people express their citizenship. It’s not always so obvious how citizens can make a difference.”
RESULTS trains people to be effective advocates, identifies issues that need action and provides volunteers with the information they’ll need to talk with their representatives.
Willie Dickerson’s brother, Bob, was kind of the ultimate volunteer, and just about everyone who spoke Thursday spent time praising him.
Bob Dickerson was working as a lawyer when he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. He decided he wanted to dedicate whatever time he had left to doing good in the world. So he quit his practice and volunteered nearly full time for RESULTS, which he’d been a member of for about a decade.
He had more years left than he imagined, and in that time he accomplished a great deal by forging relationships with politicians and peppering media with letters and opinion pieces championing the causes that are central to RESULTS.
He said goodbye in a piece titled “Death Without Regrets” that ran in The New York Times in November 2014 and was less about him and more about RESULTS and the work of improving other people’s lives. He passed away the next year.
McDermott, who often worked with Dickerson and other volunteers, said the country is being tested and it needs the kinds of engaged citizens RESULTS represents more than ever.
He urged the group to engage with people in Congress who don’t see things the way they do. Representatives have more issues in front of them than they can understand well, so it can be good to have reasonable voices helping them make choices.
And, McDermott said, it’s hard for an elected official to ignore an office full of constituents.
Joanne Carter, RESULTS executive director, said there’s been an upsurge in people contacting her office to get involved. “I’ve never seen this kind of hunger in people wanting to get deeply engaged. They want help figuring out how to move beyond marching and town halls.”
(You can get more information from Karen Gielen, who leads the local chapter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
RESULTS is nonpartisan and works with politicians in both parties. Keeping those lines open is going to be important now because so much of the work the group cares about is at risk. Carter mentioned the push to cut foreign aid, and she said Medicaid and anti-poverty programs like SNAP, which provides food aid to poor families with children, are endangered.
“I can’t say that in this moment I feel hopeful,” she said. But in her years in Washington, D.C., she said she has seen the “power of passionate commitment” in action.
She knows people can make a difference.