Send in those proxy votes.
I f you own stock in a company, you're not just betting on its future; you're actually a part owner of it, albeit with a tiny share. You get the right to receive dividends and any rights and privileges that go with ownership.
One of the rights that most shareholders have is to vote their shares at annual company meetings. Even though you may not think your vote will make a difference, it can. It's important to look through the materials for your company's annual meeting and to monitor closely the issues that company management will discuss there.
Reviewing annual reports, proxy statements and other literature will help keep you better informed about your company and its prospects, as well as warn you of any possible disagreements among company management and large shareholders.
The proxy form is similar to an absentee ballot, allowing you to mail in your vote. (Alternatively, you can usually vote online.) Along with it, you'll receive a small booklet called a proxy statement that explains the issues up for a vote in more detail. It will usually describe the company's position on the issues, often with the opposing position explained as well. While proxy forms usually include recommendations from company management as to how they would like you to vote your shares, you have no obligation to follow these recommendations.
Recent business scandals have led to cries for greater corporate responsibility. We shareholders should exercise our rights to participate in our companies' governance, supporting good policies and practices. The best way you can be heard is by casting your vote, by proxy or in person. Even when management's side wins, if enough people have voted the other way, it can make an impression and a difference.
Learn more about proxy voting online. At sites such as proxydemocracy.org, you can look up your companies to see what issues are being voted on, get guidance on how you might want to vote, and learn how your mutual funds have voted, too.