“You can’t be what you can’t see. When women see other women in power, it helps them believe that they can be next,” says Sarah Preston, Executive Director of Lillian’s List of North Carolina.
Preston works to recruit and provide strategic guidance and political training to women leaders across the state who are running for political office.
She says, “one important piece of our mission is to ask women to run.” Preston reports that women are not recruited as often as men to run for public office and very few of the established ways of recruitment center around women. Lillian’s List leans on their network of over 300 scouts to identify the next women leaders of North Carolina. Preston explains that women are not just asked to run for office, but are invited to be part of a life-long sisterhood where they can come back and help build up the women who will lead after them.
After women candidates are identified, Lillian’s List provides them with the training, leadership development, and emotional and financial support that they need to lead successful campaigns on both state and local levels. To address the needs of women who are interested in running for local office, such as city council, mayor, and county commissioner seats, Lillian’s List expanded their programs to include training specifically designed to help women successfully run in local races. The purpose of this training, as Preston explains, is to help women running at the local level learn to build strong campaigns from the ground up and create opportunities for them to move through the pipeline of elected office.
Preston hopes that while Lillian’s List continues to support women in North Carolina to run strong and competitive races, it will also serve as a space to ensure that they have positive and empowering experiences on the campaign trail, whether they win or lose. Preston shares that many of the women who ran in 2018 and lost their election are running again in 2020, noting that engaging with community members was their favorite part of campaigning and is what usually keeps them encouraged to run a second time. A loss is never easy to deal with, but Lillian’s List is committed to offering the same level of support when a woman candidate decides to run again. Preston says, “we know that the skills they learn and the infrastructure they build in their communities during their first race can help them win the second or third time around.”
Preston worked with legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly for more than 10 years and describes her transition to Lillian’s List as an opportunity to directly support women on their journey to public office. “I want to help women discover and step into their own power,” says Preston. “I want to help their dream of being the next county commissioner, city council member, or state legislator become real.