11 Lessons from the Last 12 Months

By Lauren Rahill

I often find the best way to plan for the future is to look to the past – and what a past 12 months we’ve had.


Mercifully, the Tiger King craze that came roaring into our unsuspecting lives in early quarantine is in the rear view (and seriously, if I never hear the abhorrent phrase “hey all you cool cats and kittens” again, it’ll be too soon). However, many other trends of COVID are far from over. Perhaps we can learn from it all.


Like most (or probably all) of you, come midnight on January 1, I breathed a sigh of relief. But I’ve also seen article after post after meme after gif that have carried the same message: a clock moving from 11:59 to 12:00 does not magic make. Now, officially one year in, the initial months of 2021 have already proven this message true.


So, while we may all be ready to say goodbye to 2020 and never speak of it again (aka, the year that must not be named), upon reflecting, I can see that many hard-earned lessons emerged from the chaos. And we’ll need them going forward.


Below are Sagac’s top 11 (work-related) takeaways from the past 12 months to help you navigate year two and beyond. And as for any negativity from 2020? Leave it in the past where it belongs!


1. Lean in. The past 12 months – and more recently, the events of January 6 – showed us that we must lean into our programs rather than pull back. Reinforcing your message instead of hiding from it is critical, especially in times when people are actively seeking information and clarity on issues they don’t fully understand (re: PACs). No matter what, stay in front of your audience. It’s much easier to increase momentum than to start a ball rolling that has completely stopped. As Pixar taught us, just keep swimming.


2. Be flexible. Anyone who knows me knows I live by a plan – at least in a work setting. But now more than ever, all of you planners out there need to know that adaptability is critical (as is perhaps using a pencil instead of a pen in your 2021 planner). The world is changing rapidly, and we must be ready to change with it. So set your plan and try it out. Measure your results on an ongoing basis (not just at the end of a campaign or at the end of the year). If it’s not working, change it.


3. Take their word for it. “Their” meaning your audience. We don’t always know what each audience wants, but luckily, there is a very simple solution to overcome uncertainty. Take a leaf out of Noah’s Notebook and ask them what they want! Probe for more information with market research and focus groups, one-on-one conversations with your members or employees, and discussions with leaders and internal contacts. Find out what your audience thinks, what they need and what really resonates. Like planning, conversations with your audience should be ongoing.


4. Stop assuming. When you assume … well, you know the saying. Don’t assume past ideas work in today’s environment. Use your experience as a starting point and then put a fresh twist on the old way of doing it, particularly in the areas we know for sure have changed (i.e., in-person events v. the virtual setting). Get creative, try new channels or messages and talk with others to share ideas. Your new idea may seem crazy (and a year ago, maybe it was), but why not try new things and have some fun with your program? Everyone else is doing it! Every idea doesn’t have to be brilliant and not every effort will generate success, but trying new ideas is the only way forward – and the only way to find your next golden egg.


5. Set, and then reset, expectations. This goes for leaders, your boss and yourself. Checking in regularly on the status of your projects and your results is important. What internal and external factors already or may potentially exist in the future? Going into 2020, we all had high hopes for record-breaking fundraising results. In reality flat was the new up. Moving forward, realistic expectation setting and taking all factors into consideration will continue to be important.


6. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. When it comes to a global pandemic, much is out of our control. We’ve all been forced to find ways to creatively use the current environment to our advantage, and we have seen some incredible results. For instance, working from home is a trend that won’t fully be going away any time soon (like the increasingly present Tik Tok mania). And hey, I’m a convert. At Sagac, we measure everything, including our own team’s productivity. As it turns out, a flexible setting garnered a 12% increase in internal productivity in 2020. At Sagac and across the board, the model has been proven: Embracing flexibility and change increases morale, in effect increasing efficiency and output.


7. BE the resource. As PAC professionals, you know the PAC and advocacy industry better than your members or employees. Acknowledge how important your role is. Then step up and take the reins as your organization’s expert by setting up webinars or town halls with your PAC-eligible class and your donors, providing updates to your leaders and setting the strategy for your program.


8. Lift the curtain. When you’re working with a topic that presents a disconnect between perception and reality, education is a must. Our experience, and our research data, shows us that audiences are actively asking for more information. Many of our clients are taking their members behind the curtain (like Oz, but without the unpleasant surprises!) – how disbursement decisions are made, where the money goes, etc. – and are receiving positive feedback.


9. Love the one you’re with. Whether you’re still getting pushback from leaders for doing a global fundraising effort or you’ve been given the green light to implement to your heart’s desire, focus on your donors. The grass isn’t always greener, so make it a priority to show the most value to those who have stuck with you. By building more engagement opportunities for your loyal donors, you expand the PAC program beyond the solicitation, giving them more reasons to dive in and buy in to your program.


10. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. You’ve heard us say this before, but at the end of the day, go for it. Think through your planned activities to make sure they make sense for your overall direction and review your communications to make sure they tell your story, are grammatically correct, remain legally compliant and satisfy your organization’s internal approval process. Then press send! It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to go out. The best solicitation is the one that’s on the street.


11. Ask. Ask your leaders for resources or permission to start something new. Remember, the worst your leaders can do is say no, but you won’t get what you don’t ask for. This also applies to your prospective donors. Many were wary about solicitations in 2020. But those who made the ask, even if it was smaller or more targeted than normal, saw more success than those who stood down. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.


As we move forward, step back, reflect and learn from last year’s experiences. Then allow that reflection and your own instincts to guide you into the future.


Let me know what you’re most looking forward to trying in 2021!

lauren@sagac.com | 405-474-5631


Lauren Rahill oversees Sagac’s account management and new business group. As Marketing Director, she brings to her role nearly a decade of experience planning and executing public affairs campaigns for pro-business political committees and managing the strategic planning aspects of Sagac’s public affairs clientele.