Between canceled events, a shifting political agenda, and the direct impact those we represent, advocacy organizations face increasingly difficult challenges delivering messages to legislators and their staff in the COVID-19 world. I am Stephanie Vance, owner of Advocacy Associates and I’ve outlined some immediate, medium and long-term approaches to keep your advocacy program moving forward in these challenging times.
Immediate: Managing a Cancelled Fly-In
Based on the few hundred “meetings” we’ve scheduled in March 2020, Congressional staff are willing and eager to convert what had been their in-person conversations to “virtual.” We call these “dial-in fly-ins,” and they can be easier to arrange and often just as effective as an in-person meeting, especially when doing something as simple as phone calls.
Here are a few tips to make them as effective as possible.
- Simple Format: Simple host-less teleconferencing, with no video or other bells and whistles, works best. We use StartMeeting, which provides individual lines for each meeting.
- Capacity Issues: Dedicated phone lines for each meeting without an access code tend to be less confusing for advocates. However, given the dramatic increase in the use of the nation’s telecommunications network, this approach can cause capacity problems. Using a system that includes an access code can mitigate this problem. If you take this approach, be sure advocates aren’t confused by the “if you’re the host enter *” messages.
- Voice Over Internet Protocol: Choose a teleconference service that offers a Voice Over Internet Protocol option through an app, which will reduce stress on the nation’s telecommunications system.
- Advocate Preparation: In addition to knowing how to deliver an effective message, advocates need to be prepared for the logistics of a teleconference. For example, a conference call with an access code often won’t start until two people are on the line, which can confuse advocates and staff. Be prepared to offer “what to know before you call” and “what to do after you’ve called” webinars to address both logistical and content development questions. We’ve provided some preparatory materials at www.advocacyassociates.com/freebies.
Medium Term: Keeping Engaged Through Local Visits
You can also boost your messages by organizing local meetings. Here are some tips to maximize effectiveness.
- Pick one day or, at most, a week. This will narrow the amount of time you’ll spend trying to coordinate schedules.
- Don’t focus on recess periods. Between working on legislative solutions to COVID-19 and the elections, legislators and their D.C. staff will have even less time than usual to connect with constituents while in the district. Every legislator has local staff ready and eager to meet with advocates.
- Organized registration. When registering advocates, provide them with the list of local office locations for their legislator and ask them to choose the most accessible. This will help you avoid using GIS mapping to get the right advocates to the right place as the same time. Also, have a system in place for advocates to affirm their attendance at the meetings once scheduled. We find there’s a higher rate of attrition with these meetings.
Long Term: Online Learning
Finally, no matter how long the crisis lasts, you’ll need to keep your advocates’ skills sharp through online learning. If you go that route, consider the following:
- Provide Multiple Formats: You’ll need to have various options for those who are going to struggle with online as well as those who are “digital native.” These options include asynchronous, where people take classes at their own pace without leader interaction (see www.advocacyclassroom.com for examples); synchronous, where everyone joins together at the same time with an instructor; and, hybrid, where everyone takes the course at their own pace with instructor feedback on their work.
- Mini-Certification: Put together a two to three class certificate program to encourage participation. Classes can include understanding the policy issues, advocacy 101, “train the trainer,” building relationships, creating advocacy campaigns and building advocacy networks.
- Gamification: Set up an online or app-based system allowing advocates to review “bite-sized” snippets of information, followed by a short quiz with badges and other “prizes” as they move through the course.
This is a guest post contributed by Stephanie Vance, owner of Advocacy Associates.