It's a new day, legislatively. Don't use old tactics. Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash.

Despite North Carolina Democrats’ modest gains in the General Assembly in this week’s elections, the state’s power dynamic changed substantially.

The GOP’s veto-proof majority is gone. Passing anything will now require Democratic support.

What does this mean for your organization? It means that your strategy for generating support needs to change substantially–and in just a few short months.

Most organizations will squander the next few weeks analyzing results and debating the need for change. You can take advantage by being more aggressive.

More influencers require more communication

For the past six years, Democrats’ irrelevance meant you could focus your resources on a few legislators within the GOP; usually, members of leadership who had the interest to move your bill.

With a small number of relevant legislators, the tactic of choice was hiring the right lobbyist. That makes sense. It’s targeted and cost-effective.

In 2019, though, every legislator could matter. And, of course, Governor Cooper now has negotiating leverage, too. Lobbying as a standalone tactic targeting potentially dozens of legislators and the executive branch isn’t nearly as efficient.

When every legislator could matter, cost-effective advocacy is critical. Invest money in training an army of volunteers.

Your members or your advocates will need to be able to deliver your message and build relationships with as many legislators as necessary to position you for success.

Given the GOP’s lengthy run of dominance, your organization’s advocacy program may have atrophied a bit. Or maybe a lot.

You still have a little time to get your advocacy game in-shape. But you don’t have enough time to waste on what’s not important.

To get ready, start with an audit of every advocacy program’s most important components.

The basic advocacy audit

*Technology platform. Can you track advocate activities, segment your audience, and manage all of your communications in one spot? If you can’t, there are solutions for every budget (I promise) that provide these must-have capabilities. Start here.

*Advocacy communications. Are you communicating often enough to keep your advocates educated, engaged, motivated? This requires some combination of email, social media, and lower volume/higher touch tactics like phone calls. If not, start by creating a 30-day communications calendar that establishes a regular cadence.

If you need something to kick-start your advocacy communications, a brief (4-5 question) survey is always a good idea. Ask advocates to re-engage by letting you know what issues they’re most interested in, what types of activities they enjoy, and how often they expect to see issue updates.

The responses will help you determine not only who your most engaged advocates are, but it will help establish a framework for your communications calendar.

*Recruitment tactics. There aren’t that many channels through which you can find new advocates. It’s usually a combination of Facebook, your website, email, events, and word-of-mouth from existing advocates. The challenging part is combining these channels in the most cost-effective way. Start by determining what combination yields the highest response rate in the timeframe you need.

*Mobilization tactics. News flash: Most organizations will respond to the need for more advocacy with volume. More advocate emails to legislators will do the trick! That’s exactly the wrong approach.

There are no shortcuts to building relationships that will affect legislators’ decision making. Getting noticed requires advocates having personal conversations on a consistent basis over a longer period of time. You have to earn the attention. You can’t demand it.

Can you deliver legislator communications in more personal ways like meetings or hand-written letters?

The answer is probably in some districts, yes; in most districts, no. To expand your capability, consider connecting advocates who have done meetings (or are interested in doing them) with those in other districts who have a history of completing easier actions. Peer endorsements of your chosen tactics go a long way.

*Measurement and results. Your technology platform of choice will include all the measurement tools you need. But you have to be able to predict your results.

For example, if you sent an issue education email to your advocates, do you know how many would open it? If you asked for a response, how many would provide it? If you mobilized your advocates tomorrow, could you predict the response rate? Do you know about how many communications you could generate to targeted legislators in a week?

If you’re answering these questions with “no” or “not sure” use your communications calendar to get baseline measurements. Make sure to build-in opportunities (beyond a survey) for advocates to take actions.

In the areas where you don’t have as much activity, do you need to recruit more advocates? Or do you need to do more personalized outreach (i.e. call them, arrange to meet for coffee, etc.) to the advocates you have to get them more engaged?

Big opportunities still remain in 2018

Most organizations will take this remaining time before January to do…not much of anything.

You should be more aggressive.

Newly-elected members will be getting their bearings and looking for friends. Party leaders will be establishing their agendas. With most organizations focused on their internal operations, almost no one plans to capitalize on the rare opportunity to get a legislator’s full attention before the session starts.

You should take advantage of it.

Set-up short, in-district meetings for your advocates with your targeted legislators. Establish your agenda and get a clear understanding of the legislator’s needs and priorities. By the time the session starts, you’ll have a 40-day headstart on executing your legislative strategy.

North Carolina politics will continue to change. The great thing about having a strong advocacy program is that it works no matter who’s in charge.

If you have questions about how to get your advocacy program ready for 2019, please send me an email at mike@relateadvocacy.com.

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