For 20 years, Shared Hope International has been fighting to end sex trafficking and help victims in the U.S. and abroad. Yet despite years of work before Congress—it was founded by former lawmaker Linda Smith—it had never done a fly-in.
That changed this year when the organization decided to host a virtual three-day event that would allow volunteer ambassadors to meet directly with staffers in the House and Senate.
“We worked with members of Congress to create bills, but we never had a hill day,” said Camryn Peterson, digital advocacy manager. “We hadn’t given people the opportunity to meet with legislators. We though, ‘we’re in this virtual space—let’s give them that opportunity.’”
The results were well worth the effort. Shared Hope trained more than 60 volunteers who met with lawmakers and staff in 45 House and Senate offices. A grassroots campaign mobilized more than 400 supporters to email lawmakers, half of whom were new to the organization.
“They thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity,” Peterson said. “They felt really empowered. Several said that they would love to do this multiple times a year.”
A Novel Approach
How did Shared Hope go from zero to success? They tried some novel tactics. Because the organization was doing this for the first time, Peterson and her team were not operating under a legacy system. That was a challenge, because they had to create systems and procedures from scratch. But it was also an opportunity, because they were free to try innovative solutions.
Here are some of the lessons they learned:
- Build a Hub. Shared Hope used Phone2Action to build an Action Center, which contained all the materials related to the fly-in. This dramatically cut down on the amount of email needed to handle logistics and gave advocates one place to go for information. “It built our confidence to have this type of tool,” Peterson said.
- Let Advocates Do the Scheduling. Shared Hope built a campaign that allowed advocates themselves to request and schedule meetings with lawmakers. This took the burden off Shared Hope and got advocates invested in the effort. It also increased the number of meetings because constituents were making the ask. Peterson’s team simply tracked the results and the overall meeting schedule.
- Mix Staff and Volunteers. Shared Hope sent a team of volunteers and staffers to every virtual meeting. The advocates were trained in advance, but having a staffer on the call who could respond to any question provided a sense of security.
- Don’t Forget Grassroots. Peterson and her colleagues knew that not every Shared Hope supporter would be able to commit to a training schedule and a meeting. So they created a digital campaign—a live call to action—that allowed all Shared Hope supporters to email Congress. It provided a solid follow-up to meetings, and made their event a broader effort.
- Remember Recruiting. Shared Hope used the fly-in and its call to action to attract new supporters, gaining more than 200 new advocates. “It was an opportunity to engage people,” Peterson said, adding that “It was exciting to us. We did it all organically.”
Of course, Shared Hope also did all of the things that organizations traditionally do to support a fly-in. They identified bills, created scripts and training materials and scheduled webinars to brief volunteers on how to interact with Congress. It was a lot of work. But Peterson said it was worthwhile.
“We have now built connections with staff members,” she said. “This was an opportunity to build relationships and get information in front of them. When bills are introduced, we can say, ‘hey, remember when you met with your constituent?’ It’s great to get in there early.”
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