Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash.

In sports, trophies are won on the practice field and collected on game day.

Yes, this is a cliche. But, cliches are usually labeled as such because they’re true.

And this one is definitely true as it applies to successfully navigating the North Carolina General Assembly–especially in the COVID era.

A short September session is all that stands between us and 2021. The 2021 session promises to be like no other. The state is facing a $4 billion deficit. There will be a number of new faces in both chambers voting on how to resolve it. And, there is a good chance they’ll be making these decisions from home.

Who bears the brunt of this budget balancing will be determined just as much, if not more, by what happens between now and January as by what happens after the new 2021 session gavels-in.

The organizations that keep working hard away from Jones Street will be better-positioned for success. Take advantage of this time now to fine-tune your advocacy program and get your communications started early.

Here’s a pre-session activity checklist:

  • Send your advocacy survey. Readers of this blog, by this point, know this tactic is referenced in nearly every advocacy post. That’s because it’s the most important planning tool. Get your advocates’ feedback on how this session went: How well did you adjust to the demands of COVID? What communications channels are working? Which need to be added? What issues are advocates concerned about for 2021? What can be improved upon?
  • Organize advocate trainings. Use your survey to help determine what advocates need more help with. Maybe it’s doing remote legislator meetings. Maybe it’s organizing locally. Develop a 30-minute session that fills the void. Since there isn’t any legislation on which to mobilize your advocates, these sessions are a great way to keep everyone connected and engaged.
  • Leadership development. This is an extension of the advocate training point above. If you have a leadership group—and especially if you’ve determined you need to create one—now is the time to engage. If you have leaders already, reach out and take extra time to find out what they need. Tailor trainings specifically for them. Do a Zoom session to get them sharing ideas amongst themselves. If you need to create a leadership program, start with a deep dive on your data. Who’s more engaged with your content? Who is completing every advocacy action? Use this data to develop a shortlist of potential leaders, create a role description that captures what you need them to do, and start your outreach. Recruiting leadership-level advocates is a slow process that will require personal engagement from your advocacy staff.
  • Tend to your tech. This is the perfect time to do an advocacy technology audit. Is your advocacy CRM meeting your needs? Have you realized that you need an advocacy CRM to help you better organize, segment and track your advocacy audiences? Do you need to add channels to your mix, like maybe text? You have plenty of time to assess and, if necessary, organize a solicitation to find the best partner to meet your needs.
  • And tend to your data! I saved the only exclamation point in this post for this because data quality is consistently overlooked, even though email lists are the lifeblood of every advocacy program. You depend on your emails making it to your advocates’ inboxes so they can deliver your message to legislators. But poor data quality puts this capability at risk. The biggest email platforms are clamping down on senders with poor open rates and bad frequency. Getting flagged by the Gmail algorithm can send your email performance plummeting. Take a systematic approach to data quality now while you have the time. We’re platform agnostic at Relate, but Phone2Action has developed a data management guide that’s worth your email address to download.
  • Prepare your new legislator outreach program. There will likely be a larger group of first-time legislators in Raleigh next session. Those new legislators will be looking to find their way. Make sure your organization is there first to help them. Don’t wait for January when every organization will be reaching out. Be prepared to mobilize your advocates on November 4. Get your remote meetings (or maybe even by then your in-person, socially-distanced meetings) on the calendar early and start building relationships.

Have a plan to make the most of the next six months. Make no mistake, North Carolina’s 2021 legislative game has already started.

What’s missing from this checklist? What other challenges is your organization facing? I’m happy to answer your questions or provide more detail on these tactics. Email me at