Advocacy Strategies for Lame Duck Sessions

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

lame duck

Lame Duck Sessions: Achieve Your Advocacy Goals 

Lame duck session is about to begin, and it should not come as a surprise that this will be a particularly busy lame duck on the federal level. Government funding, the national defense authorization act, stock training, OPEC, January 6th, judicial confirmations, and same sex marriage just to name a few things on the big list of issues for lame duck. And that is just on the federal level. Some state legislatures have lame duck too! We get it -after election season is over, it’s easy to just want to hole up, make sour dough bread, chicken soup, and shut off your political brain for a while. But get ready, we are about to go into lame duck legislative session. Now is the time to be prepared for short-term and long-term legislative and advocacy fights ahead. As we prepare for advocacy campaigns this year and next, here are some suggestions for advocacy strategies for the upcoming sessions both lame duck and the full legislative session ahead. 

Define your short-term advocacy goals - Start with a plan. What do you need to accomplish in the next few weeks to set your advocacy organization up for the future? Pass a bill? Develop a strategic relationship with a future committee chair? Build capacity in a region or a specific district? Define an issue as a funding priority? Clarifying your short-term advocacy goals early and being as specific as possible will help you develop an advocacy plan to get where you need to go for lame duck. Do a planning session with your team, if you need thoughts on this, drop us a note here. Remember lame duck moves fast.  

Know what else is moving – Lame duck does not allow for a lot of things to really move at once, so understand what the real priorities are. In lame duck you are not only competing with the folks on the other side of your issue, but you are also competing with other issue on the table.   

Understand the players – Who are the key drivers of legislative priorities for lame duck? Do you have a chance to move anything? Make sure you power map the key players who you need to engage with.  

Define your long-term advocacy goals – Although there may be a specific bill you are working to pass for lame duck, most of the advocacy work that happens during lame duck session will center on short term gains for long-term, ongoing fights that aren’t bound by the legislative season or a 1-year timeline. Play the long game and integrate your strategy goals and metrics with your short-term goals. Know that lame duck will sometimes set you up for a future battle.  

Grow your advocacy assets – Develop relationships and advocacy capacity for the next session. Think about how you can leverage the lame duck session to build the infrastructure you need for both the short and long term, specifically in terms of lists, supporters, and budget. There are many tactics, from virtual lobby visits to harnessing click-to-call technology to a list of potential advocates, or on a site like Pandora. You can also use a petition strategy to build district level sign-ups for the short and long term, which could be very useful in capacity building. 

Create a plan – Creating a written plan with timelines and benchmarks for success for lame duck and how it connects to your strategy for the next session, will allow you to assess whether you achieved your goals. You would be surprised (or maybe not) by how few people write down a short or long-term advocacy plan. 

Make an advocacy calendar – While a lame duck session may not be the time to accomplish a ton of things legislatively, thinking about it as part of a larger advocacy fight is just smart strategy. Use the lame duck session as a time to lay the groundwork and advance your legislative and position with the public in other ways. Organizing and creating active public relations around your position to your membership coalition partners and the public can be a real bonus for long term goals. Laying the advocacy groundwork means setting a schedule and doing it soon, and setting goals and metrics to track success. 

Engage and expand your coalition – It may have been a long time since you engaged with your coalition partners. Well, if you have not reached out, now is the time. There may be fissures in your coalitions that need to be fixed. Even small disagreements around legislative priorities can expand into real friction without solid communication and planning. Now is also a time to see if there are new folks to build partnerships with. It is hard and often impossible to do coalition planning and outreach during lame duck session so don’t wait to reach out.     

Seize your advocacy opportunities –  While many people see it as a chore, advocacy is an opportunity to create long-term relationships and lasting benefits for an organization. Whether it is fundraising, signing up new supporters, or training advocates on virtual lobbying, you should use this time to build capacity that you can harness for the bigger fights you’ll inevitably face down the line. A longer-term asset that will pay dividends in the future.  

Understand your message – Urgency and priority are critical pieces of lame duck messaging. Why does the need to be done now and why should your issue be top of the list? Make sure you can say it clearly and strongly. Have good stories ready to go. Recruiting folks in advance who can tell your story with urgency and priority – is critical.  

Don’t Delay- Plan now – The longer you wait to plan your advocacy strategy and act, the more reactive and less effective you’ll be. Don’t get caught on your heels—you know your issue. Look at your timeline and create a calendar that will allow you to plan, be proactive, and take advantage of the time and opportunity you have to make your issue a priority. 

Engagement matters – Building relationships with elected officials, members, and other constituencies is a long-term benefit to your advocacy organization. No one wants to feel like they are only contacted when you want something. Take the time to build a relationship that exists outside of the political campaign and legislative cycle. The more you work at it, the healthier and more organized your organization will be. Being active now will make your organization stronger for next year. Think of it as an ongoing workout, a way to continue to grow your advocacy strength for the next time you need it. 

Quick tips: 

  • Have a short term and long-term strategy – Have plans and options for what you want to do. 
  • Understand your environment – Know what else is out there and how you will compete. 
  • Know the players – Understand the decision makers and know how you will work with them. 
  • Have a coalition – Have a real active engaged coalition.
  • Have a message – Your message must clearly communicate urgency and priority. 
  • Don’t Delay – We know there are lots of distractions this time of year to stop you from your advocacy planning. If this was easy everyone would do it. The groups that get started early and keep at it, get good results over time.

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