Making the Most of a Snowed-In Advocacy Day

During its annual advocacy day in DC two weeks ago, the American Osteopathic Association had to think fast to reorganize events after a snowstorm hit the city. While inconvenient, the weather revealed some untapped potential that is now becoming a regular part of the program.

With the official start of spring tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine that just a couple of weeks ago Washington, DC, and other parts of the East Coast were blanketed under several inches of snow.

March 5 brought the region what was hopefully the last winter storm this year, but it also marked DO Day, the annual advocacy day of the American Osteopathic Association. With federal government offices closed for the day, event organizers were unsure how the fly-in would unfold. Would members of Congress be holding meetings? And how many of the scheduled attendees would be able to make it to DC given travel delays and cancelations?

While the snow did put a damper on some of the planned events that day, which became known as #DOSnowDay2015 on social media, and only about 800 of the initial 1,300 registered attendees were able to make it, the experience led to some valuable insights for AOA staff as well as some unexpected side benefits.

AOA’s Department of Government Relations Director, Ray Quintero, shared some takeaways and advice, such as the importance of communication and managing attendees’ expectations from the very early hours of the event.

“We began the day at 6 a.m. with registration, and our programming for the morning began at 7:30 a.m.,” Quintero said. But, at that point, organizers were still uncertain which members of Congress would still be holding meetings on the Hill that day.

“We were having to just kind of ease [attendees’] anxiety and let them know that we would be making announcements throughout the morning as we learned if any specific meetings had been canceled and to just go ahead and enjoy the programming for the morning,” Quintero said.

It turned out that roughly 90 percent of the scheduled meetings were canceled, which necessitated some fast thinking and modifications on the part of AOA staff.

“For the attendees that were still able to attend their meetings, it was kind of an adventure for them to venture out to Capitol Hill in the snow,” Quintero said. “For the attendees that were not, we really had to shift pretty quickly and make sure that we discussed with them that there are alternative ways for them to advocate even if they were not sitting with their member of Congress.”

There was an opportunity for attendees to write email letters to representatives, for example. And some attendees filmed video testimonials that they later tweeted to members of Congress. All in all it was a good chance for attendees to learn about the various ways they can advocate, and it offered some extra time for networking, Quintero said. “A lot of the feedback that we received was that attendees really enjoyed it, and they thought that even though they would have loved to be on Capitol Hill meeting with their members and their staffs directly, that they found the alternatives to be really valuable as well.”

So valuable that AOA is planning to add those alternative advocacy opportunities into the traditional DO Day programming in the future, Quintero said. “I think that we can take the best of both worlds and really make for an exciting new type of model in years of come, regardless of what the weather looks like.”

How has your association handled and learned from a canceled event? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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