There are some in Washington who say there’s no replacement for a face-to-face meeting, and it’s a defensible point of view. It’s hard to build relationships without it. But the virtual fly-in, which connects supporters with lawmakers on a video call, also has serious advantages.
Virtual fly-ins lower the barrier to entry, decrease costs and minimize the variables associated with travel. Connecting supporters to members of Congress digitally is simply far more efficient than flying people to Washington. The result is that many organizations saw participation swell when fly-ins went virtual.
“We see organizations directly meeting with hundreds of lawmakers and staffers,” said Will Lopez – VP of Customer Success. “In-person meetings are vital. But a virtual event can attract far more people. Advocates who could never fly to Washington are completely willing to jump on a call.”
While a virtual event may be easier than a physical event, any fly-in is always a major undertaking. At GovPredict and Phone2Action, we deal with hundreds of companies that conduct successful fly-ins, and they identify several critical elements to make an event work. We have collected some of those components here to help your organization mobilize.
Preparation is Essential
Like so many things in public affairs and government relations, working in advance can make a major difference. A detailed action plan is essential, covering exactly what needs to be accomplished and who owns each item. Here are some elements that should shape your plan.
- Ensure Participation. When your supporters agree to meet with a lawmaker or staffer, that’s one call they cannot miss. Setup a schedule for them and use automated reminders to keep everyone on track. Group supporters into teams, so that there are several people talking to each lawmaker. That way, even if some supporters do skip out, no meeting will be thinly attended.
- Invest in Training. Your supporters must be able to convey your message and answer questions with confidence. That means they must understand your issues intimately. Schedule multiple training sessions long before your fly-in to get your supporters up to speed. Don’t just send bodies to meet with Congress. Send educated delegates.
- Use Collateral. A one-page digital summary that explains your issue and your position, delivered to lawmakers in advance, can save a great deal of time. Most meetings with lawmakers last about 15 minutes. If the basics are covered in your briefing document, your advocates can use that time to tell their stories—and that is what resonates with public officials.
- Collect Intelligence. Fly-ins are used to convey information to Congress, but information can and should flow both ways. Your advocates can bring back valuable political intelligence, explaining where lawmakers stand and what they said. Ask your supporters to supply an after-action synopsis and give them a single system to deposit this intelligence, including their report, notes, pictures and audio or video clips.
A successful fly-in can help your program long after the Big Day—if you do things correctly.
- Create Momentum. Your team will spend time and energy creating momentum going into your fly-in. You should ensure that you have momentum coming out of the event, too. Publicize your efforts, and not just the day after. Keep the website updated. Keep social channels buzzing. Done correctly, you can be highlighting your fly-in with fresh content for several weeks.
- Harvest Compelling Content. If you are inviting scores of supporters to meet with lawmakers, this is a great time to collect their personal stories. These can be written accounts or audio or video clips. Stories collected now can be used in campaigns all year long.
- Focus on Super Advocates. The people who participate in a fly-in, attending training and then meeting with a lawmaker, have made a major commitment to your organization. Treat them like they are special. Give them personal thanks, access to your leadership, perks to reward participation and anything else you can think of to keep them motivated. These are the people who will help your advocacy efforts moving forward.
Of course, there are many more components that go into a successful fly-in. But many organizations say all the work is extremely worthwhile.
“A fly-in does so many things,” Will Lopez – VP of Customer Success said. “It builds your relationship with lawmakers, motivates your supporters and increases your visibility. Organizing an event can be a challenge. But it is a solid investment of time and effort.”
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