The short session of North Carolina’s legislative biennium is upon us and, given legislators’ anxiousness at the thought of political upheaval in November, the session promises to actually be short.
That means most big decisions will be made in advance and the legislative agenda will be limited. Most organizations’ priorities will wait until 2019.
But this 2018 short session still provides a significant opportunity.
Despite the long odds, many organizations will proceed to bombard the legislature with lobbyist visits, calls, emails, etc. in an attempt to get their issues addressed this year.
In most cases, this is exactly the wrong approach.
This year’s agenda has been set based on what, by statute, must be done as well as what will have the biggest impact on voters in November. If your issue doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it’s white noise. Attempting to turn up the volume of that white noise is, at best, going to annoy legislators. Your organization becomes part of the issue-peddling masses.
The most fundamental job of any advocacy program is to stand out from the average issue-peddlers. The best way to do that is to take a longer-term view. Focus instead on building trust that you can use in 2019 and beyond.
2018 provides the perfect opportunity to build trust.
Take the radical step of scheduling legislator meetings without having an immediate ask. This is a cardinal sin in the advocacy world. But it’s one that you should relish making.
Provide more in-depth education on your issue. Introduce a few new message points. Have different audiences affected by your issue tell their story. As the legislator waits for what appears to be inevitable, wrap things up by simply asking to keep him or her informed. For extra credit, ask the legislator about their campaign and his or her most immediate needs.
Very few organizations schedule meetings when they don’t need something immediately. Even fewer ask about the legislator’s needs. But that’s the very essence of a relationship–offering value and asking for nothing in return.
Over the long term, relationships are what get bills passed. If you’re just meeting legislators when you need something, you may be checking the right boxes, but you’re not building relationships.
The choice before most organizations in North Carolina in 2018 is:
Follow the masses in doubling-down on an extremely high-risk bet that you can change the legislature’s agenda;
Use the opportunity to build trust that will yield dividends for years to come.
Rarely are the answers to important questions so obvious.
Let me know what you think. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.