May 28, 2020

ASSOCIATION ADVOCACY during covid-19: how does your Association manage to push its organizational priorities in Washington; what new technologies has your Association been utilizing to advance your advocacy mission?

Advocacy Directors from 20 leading Association met on May 28, 2020 via Zoom Web-conference for a peer-to-peer discussion lead by Robert Schwartz, Ambassador Program Manager, Land Trust Alliance.

Noteworthy was that many of the Associations have been able to innovate in very meaningful ways during the pandemic, in spite of budgetary constraints.  The CEO of one Association held a video-meeting with a leading congressman. Another Association started holding a series of interviews with Association members and the CEO.  Town Hall meetings involving local chapter members and the local member(s) of Congress were reported as being successful.  Likewise, an Association invited local members of Congress to attend Board meetings by video conferencing.  Community webinars are more frequent and well attended at another Association which resulted in helping to define a more compelling advocacy agenda.   It was important to develop a bullpen of member-advocates that you can call upon to join a conference call with a member of Congress which may be staged at the spur of the moment.  Pivoting from the idea of an annual Capitol-Hill Day to multiple advocacy days spread out during the year is starting to evolve.   Working in partnership with other Associations with an overlapping mission was also another innovation which helped both for outreach and for cost sharing.

Although Congress may be closed to face-to-face office meetings at this time, the members of Congress and their staffers have been very accessible.  Another Association noted that the federal Agencies have also been accessible during this time.

Regarding technology and tools, Associations reported success with conference calls to the congressional offices.  Go to Meeting, Zoom and other video conferencing tools have helped Associations get local-advocates in front of their respective member of Congress.  Microsoft Teams is widely used for internal meetings by several Associations on the call.  Canva is a free app that one Association uses to create graphics and to stage emotion-garnering photos as part of the Advocacy outreach.  Utilizing the video-conferencing software as well as special features like Zoom “room” function to rehearse the calls beforehand has also helped a couple of Associations be more impactful.  Adobe connect was used by one Association to allow all advocates to access in real time the latest advocacy materials online.  Some “closed-captioning” capabilities exist with video-conferencing software, although none are reported to be working perfectly enough to replace having a live sign language interpreter on hand when needed.

A couple of healthcare related Associations indicated that covid-19 served as a driver for a policy change in Congress on reimbursement for telemedicine, allowing the industry to achieve in 10-weeks what has been an active agenda item for over 10-years.

How has your messaging changed (or not changed) due to covid-19?  In the Zoom poll we conducted of the Associations, 75% said they made a conscious effort to change their messaging to dovetail with covid-19 issues.  Thanking members of Congress for the work they are doing during the crisis is an important part of the advocacy outreach.  The innovations noted above were all a reflection of Associations changing their messaging and the method of delivery of their messages.

Has your Association done a Virtual Fly-In?  Only 3 Associations of the 20 in attendance reported having done a Virtual Fly-In.

In addition to the Advocacy Directors in attendance, the sole sponsor Soapbox Consulting provided the group with important subject matter about advocacysoftware that enables organizations to conduct Virtual Fly-In events and manage ongoing appointments with members of Congress and their staff.  Christopher Kush, the CEO of Soapbox offered 3 important lessons learned from many client engagements.  #1 – conference call phone in being more effective than webinars and video-calls; #2 – make it simple for advocates and the legislative member to communicate – e.g., Gotomeeting at the most simple level of use; #3 take pictures for social media, both for your Association as well as the Congressional office.   POC:  Christopher Kush

DELIVERY METHOD: Group live presented online due to COVID-19