COVID Mobilizations & Virtual Fly-ins

COVID Mobilizations & Virtual Fly-ins: How to Keep Your Audience Engaged and Show Value in today’s social distancing reality

Membership and trade organizations have particular challenges conducting advocacy amid the COVID-19 emergency. 

Members are preoccupied with adapting their own lives to a strange new world, their organizations to a work-from-home world, and the annual meetings and conferences that many associations use to focus advocacy efforts have largely been cancelled. It’s easy to see how advocacy could atrophy.

Yet your program cannot come to a halt. It’s a vital service to your membership, and there is much you can do to advance your agenda—and show your organization’s value to members—while maintaining safe practices. And given the wide-reaching impact on COVID-19 to most sectors of the economy, there is likely a pressing need to elevate your professions’ needs to legislators around the country. 

Many associations are conducting virtual fly-ins and other innovative campaigns that can communicate legislative priorities, help address the COVID-19 crisis and keep members engaged. We have real-world examples below. 

“Every organization still has a mission to carry out,” said Jeb Ory, CEO of Phone2Action. “The organizations we work with are adapting, learning how to better advance their cause in a digital environment. This emergency is an opportunity for every organization to show value to their members.” 

Real-World Strategies

Start with a dose of understanding. Your members are going through a great deal right now and anything you can do to support them with specific guidance and expertise on health, safety and productivity is important and valuable. But follow that with a dose of education, explaining that the work of government will carry on and that, to protect their interests, your advocacy program must continue. It is also something only your organization can provide.

Successful associations will use the current environment to strengthen their digital connection to members and improve virtual engagement. Many are doing exactly that right now with campaigns that relate to COVID-19. For example: 

  • American Nurses Association is urging members to contact lawmakers to prioritize and increase distribution of personal protective equipment to healthcare personnel working on the frontlines of the outbreak. More than 60,000 nurses have taken action and the numbers are growing!
  • The American College of Emergency Physicians is driving members to contact their U.S. Senators and House members to ensure emergency physicians and other frontline responders have the resources and supplies necessary to protect them while providing urgently needed care. The campaign engaged more than 20,000 emergency physicians in the last two days alone.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers surveyed its members about the impact of Coronavirus and released the results, including a data point showing that 78 percent anticipate financial impact. It is also maintaining a page of resources for its members.
  • The National Restaurant Association is supplying vital information to its members, who must comply with state and local health regulations and closure requirements in many areas. But it is also trying to help economically by promoting new legislation to support the industry an effort to shore up restaurants their workers during a time when most will not be working
  • The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is encouraging members to participate in the #GiftCardChallenge, which asks community members to buy a gift card from their favorite local business as a show of support. The association is promoting the idea widely. Their staff participated, too.
  • Many associations are also keeping their members informed on the latest news regarding bills and policy that can affect them.  The Rhode Island Hospitality Association, for example, has a pop-up message on its home page with a note from the association president directing members to a page of resources on policy that impacts them.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a Coronavirus Response Toolkit that helps members share data-based information about the virus and best practices. It includes graphics and other sharable assets that members can use to communicate with their own audiences.

In the last three days, Phone2Action clients have launched more than 900 campaigns. Yesterday alone, more than 130,000 people took action across dozens of campaigns, sending more than 235,000 messages to lawmakers. 

These campaigns varied in strategy and style. Some were standard legislative campaigns addressing pending bills, while others were signups and surveys allowing associations to interact with their members. One strategy that has received a great deal of traction is a “virtual fly-in,” which replaces an in-person lobby day. All these campaigns have one thing in common: they address COVID-19 head on, giving association members information and opportunities for action. The top priorities were:

  1. Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201) (Pushing the Senate to approve the House bill)
  2. General Paid Sick Leave
  3. Protect Incarcerated individuals

Of course, these are just a few examples. Organizations are pursuing dozens of digital strategies, from a simple note or video from the association president to video conferences with congressional staffers (who are still working, though not in Capitol Hill offices). Importantly, congressional offices can still access their constituent communications remotely, from home. 

It’s true that knocking on doors in the capital is off the table for the foreseeable future. But grassroots advocacy using digital tools is not. There are many ways your members can educate and influence federal, state and local officials. You simply have to be creative.  

A ‘Virtual Fly-in ’

For organizations that had to cancel a fly-in, leaving enthusiastic supporters (sometimes hundreds) stuck at home, there are ways to channel that energy and provide an outlet to participate in your association’s advocacy efforts.    

Consider hosting a “virtual fly-in,” a type of digital advocacy day that encourages supporters to participate in education and take action from wherever they may be. Here are some activities to consider:

  • Webinar or Conference Call. You can gather your supporters virtually to explain your priorities and then encourage them to take action. Just as you would in an actual fly-in, your virtual event can include education on bills, regulations and policies. It can also include action, though they will communicate with elected officials and staff electronically rather than face-to-face.
  • Campaign. After your call or webinar, text and/or email your members a campaign that highlights your key legislative priorities to their lawmakers. Encourage them to communicate their viewpoint on all channels.
  • Social Media “Take Over.” Give your audience an opportunity to share their stories with members of Congress, agency officials and other decision makers. Then, create a social media “take over” that shares these stories on your site and drives your members to take additional action.
  • Live Call-to-Action. Give members instant feedback on the campaign with the “Phone2Action live map” tool, which shows how individuals are taking action around the country. 

“In a world where we cannot meet face-to-face, it’s important to find new ways to engage and get people excited,” Ory said. “Today’s digital tools can do that. There are creative ways to keep people active and involved.” 

The #HearUsOut Initiative

Organizations that want to do something immediate and relevant can participate in Phone2Action’s #HearUsOut initiative, which enables anyone who lives or votes in the U.S. to easily contact elected officials and share views and concerns on the response to COVID-19.

The #HearUsOut initiative is a ready-made tool that people can use to ask questions, express concerns and describe what is happening in their communities. The Phone2Action platform will deliver the messages directly to members of Congress, state legislatures and city governments nationwide.

The initiative is open to the public. Associations can use it to encourage their members to communicate about the crisis and the response. Simply send them the link or encourage them to text “HearUsOut” to 52886.

“We are committed to minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and making an impact in our communities” Ory said. “We hope that by sharing our tools, we can make it easier for people to give direct feedback and address their concerns on the COVID-19 response in their communities.”

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