Combining the learnings from the last two years with your pre-pandemic in-person event expertise can result in a powerful hybrid fly-in model, which can allow you to have an even bigger impact than focusing on one or the other.
However, there’s an art to nailing a hybrid fly-in that will be remembered and talked about — for the right reasons — for years to come by supporters, members, clients, and lawmakers in attendance. Follow these best practices to ensure your hybrid fly-in is a smashing hit.
1. Start Early
“Planning a fly-in lobby day is an exercise in project planning and management,” said Seth Chase, government affairs director at the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. “It takes six months to put everything together for our lobby day and it involves staff from other departments at my association.”
The best way to have a well-organized fly-in, whether virtual, in person, or hybrid, is to start early so you have time to prepare and get buy-in from the rest of your organization. A hybrid fly-in should be an interdepartmental project that increases enthusiasm for the government affairs department. Communicate effectively with everyone in your organization about your plans early on — you may be surprised at the ideas people bring to the table or the ways they are excited to pitch in. Planning early allows your colleagues to get involved and pool their resources as they work together for the success of the entire organization.
Connect with the media early on to start generating awareness and coverage. Not all news outlets will cover this type of event, but depending on the issues, your event could get some traction. However, don’t wait until the last minute to reach out to media contacts about your issues and event — get it on their radar early.
When it comes to legislator outreach, a rule of thumb is to make sure to make requests for a meeting at least two weeks in advance.
2. Work Backwards
Not sure where to start? Think about the ultimate goal you want to achieve or the outcomes you want to see from your fly-in. “Think about the needs of your advocates and what congressional staffers want to get out of meeting with your members,” Chase said.
Have your goals clearly in mind so when you get bogged down with minor organizational issues that will certainly arise, you can refocus on what you really want to achieve. It can be helpful to get a vision of your ideal hybrid fly-in by seeing what other organizations have done successfully. Talk to similar organizations about what they wish they had done differently and what worked well, or attend other fly-ins, and don’t be afraid to “steal” their ideas as you piece together your strategy.
Determine how you will measure whether your event was successful so you can work toward that goal. You might want staffers or members to make commitments that align with your organization’s stance on an issue or policy, a certain number of registrants and attendees, or a certain volume of participation in a digital campaign. Have concrete goals, and communicate them with your organization and advocates so everyone is aware of your end game.
Once your goals are clear, create a timeline and a task list based on the outcomes you hope to see as a result of your fly-in. Then, assign tasks to people in your organization and start planning the issues you’ll focus on.
3. Brief Your Advocates Thoroughly
Your advocates are your biggest asset in any fly-in. As important as it is to organize yourself and your team members, equipping your advocates — whether they’ll be online or in person — will go a long way in pulling off a successful fly-in.
One of the best parts of virtual or hybrid fly-ins is that more people are able to participate who otherwise wouldn’t have had the resources to join. “We get more geographic diversity to our participants, which means we reach more members of Congress,” Chase said.
Remember just because meetings with legislators are somewhat the norm for you, some of your attendees maybe haven’t had a similar experience before. Chase prepares his advocates the day before the event. They learn about each bill for 45 minutes and everyone gets a fact sheet, the text of the bill, and their talking points. Chase also equips supporters with a follow-up letter to send after the meeting, so “just in case they don’t get the message quite right, it’s right there in the letter,” he said.
Consider creating fact sheets for advocates with talking points they can quickly refer to during conversations, and hold training sessions with those who may be interested but need to learn more about the most important points to emphasize so they don’t get off-topic.
”"We get more geographic diversity to our participants, which means we reach more members of Congress."Seth ChaseGovernment affairs director, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
“We turned our typical in-person training into video-on-demand trainings so we can help people feel more comfortable and prepared to have conversations with a legislator,” said Jessica Cooper, grassroots director at the National Federation of Independent Business, at a FiscalNote event. Focusing on training advocates on what it means to be involved and on pressing issues is an advantage of hosting fly-ins, and even more leveraging the on-demand format that can more easily adjust to your supporters’ schedules.
You can also host a webinar on lobbying and interacting with policymakers online, suggests Lauren DePutter, director of political programs at the College of American Pathologists. The webinars can cover lobby day talking points and reference material, training members on everything from the different branches of government to how to use the virtual meeting platform. “I like to give them a lesson in Congress 101,” she says.
It’s also valuable to send an evaluation survey to advocates after the fly-in, whether they attend in person or virtually. This is a valuable time to learn how you can improve and what you did well to help prepare for the next event.
4. Think Outside the Box
A hybrid fly-in means you can get creative and do things that just wouldn’t be possible with a virtual- or in-person-only event. For example, at World Vision’s recent virtual advocacy summit they were able to have speakers pre-record a message for advocates, including Senator Marco Rubio and Barry Black, chaplain of the Senate. These speakers might not have been available for an in-person meeting, but were available to stream live or with a recorded message, said Steve Reynolds, director of advocacy mobilization at World Vision.
Brainstorm which platform you will use to conduct calls, leveraging social media platforms like a Twitter chat or an Instagram live session, that may be more familiar to legislators. “There is an arsenal of different tools on the technology side that we can use,” said Joshua Habursky, head of government affairs at Premium Cigar Association.
Whether virtual or in person, it’s important to get creative with “leave-behinds” to help lawmakers remember the key points after a meeting. You should include important information about the lawmaker, the advocate running the meeting, and your organization. Make sure these include contact information for someone in the group who can answer the member or staffer follow-up questions. Format the leave-behinds in a visually appealing, easy-to-follow format and consider sending them before the meeting so legislators can come prepared.
5. Leverage Digital Advocacy Technology
In this uncertain and hybrid world we’re living in, it’s more important than ever to have the right advocacy solution that allows you to seamlessly move from in person to virtual as needed. Whether in person, virtual, or a little of both, VoterVoice gives you the tools you need to conduct a successful fly-in.
VoterVoice is there to help you organize and engage supporters and measure your impact, while ensuring that your message is heard by those with the power to enact change and drive results.