Planning a Virtual Legislative Meeting for Your Advocates
By Nick DeSarno
Our world, our work and our profession have changed dramatically since the spread of COVID-19, but this is not the time to give up on your advocacy efforts. For many organizations, advocacy is now more important than ever. Traditional lobby days or fly-ins are not possible at this time, but canceling your planned advocacy day doesn’t mean you have to give up your grassroots efforts. Here are some considerations for planning a virtual advocacy day.
Virtual legislative meetings 101
The Council’s online survey of congressional staff shows that personal visits to Washington or to district offices are the most effective advocacy tactic. Therefore you may want to try to re-create the in-person feeling of a constituent meeting. This often means using a video chat platform. With video you can see a staffer’s expression or pick up on other important social clues. Video conferencing requires far more planning and testing then just using a conference call line, so please make sure your organization and advocates are prepared.
Whether you “dial-in” or video conference, it’s important to keep the technology as simple as possible. Ultimately your advocates need to become comfortable with hosting these meetings virtually. Video conferencing platforms include: Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business and iPhone’s FaceTime function. Zoom has quickly become the leading system, but organizations should be flexible and try to use the system preferred by the legislative office.
Important considerations when hosting a virtual legislative meeting
- Train your advocates. Keep instructions simple and consider making a video tutorial. This is new for everyone involved, so be ready to provide one-on-one technology support. It’s the advocacy professional’s job to remove unnecessary hurdles and be flexible with legislative offices or advocates who are less sophisticated with technology. Training is the single most important step.
- Test your tech. Make sure your technology works. Ultimately you will also want to test your platform with a friendly legislative staffer and advocate to work out any issues beforehand.
- Less is more. You shouldn’t expect to host as many meetings as you would during an in-person fly-in. This is the time to work on quality, high-value meetings.
- Hold shorter, more focused meetings. Do not expect to have an hour — or even 30 minutes. And resist discussing multiple complex issues. Stick to one or two issues and make sure they are relevant and timely. Otherwise your advocacy efforts may be sidelined during the crisis.
- Use visuals. When using video, you have an opportunity to show off your office, technology or other helpful demonstration. You can give a legislator a quick site tour using your phone and make key points without having to bring the legislator to you.
Share your strategies with the Council
How is your organization responding to COVID-19? We welcome your perspectives on how this is affecting your grassroots and advocacy efforts. Send us an email, start a message in Council Connect, or check out our latest resources here.
Reach Nick at 202.787.5971 or firstname.lastname@example.org.