To add energy and excitement to its Capitol Hill fly-in, the American Dental Association partnered with the American Student Dental Association. The joint event expands opportunities for engagement and future membership growth.
Spring is fly-in season in Washington, DC, which might mean your members will be headed to Capitol Hill soon.
These events are a highlight of many associations’ advocacy activities. In some case, they also offer an opportunity for organizations that see eye to eye on legislative issues to partner together.
Two years ago, the American Dental Association (ADA) paired up with the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), for a dentist and student lobby day. It seems that the expression “two heads are better than one” holds true for their event.
“It’s become so popular, it’s now the second-largest dental meeting that the ADA puts on,” says Michael Graham, senior vice president of government affairs. The separate fly-ins typically drew about 500 attendees each, but the combined lobby day is so popular that ADA and ASDA must cap attendance at 1,100 people.
“By mingling members, it has boosted the energy level of this one event through the ceiling,” Graham says. “It’s turned into three days of learning about advocacy issues as well as who the ADA is.”
As dental students, ASDA members have access to free ADA membership, but when they graduate, they have to decide whether to become full dues-paying members. Engaging them early in the wider ADA community through events like the fly-in is a powerful way to reinforce the value of membership, Graham says.
Think a combined member fly-in might work for you and an allied association? Keep these three tips from Graham in mind:
Start with advocacy training. Most ASDA students have never lobbied members of Congress before, and many ADA members have. On day one, there’s an opportunity for ADA members to give students some pointers for effective Capitol Hill meetings.
Of course, association staff should also play a key role in preparing members for fly-ins [ASAE login required], but don’t be afraid to lean on experienced members to help train first-time attendees, Graham says. “The students are not shy either,” he adds. “At the opening reception, often its dental students who will look and find experienced dentists from their state to engage in learning.”
Create mixed delegations. Once members have met, ADA and ASDA create delegations to meet with members of Congress. These groups are typically organized by state or region. “Our goal is to get the delegations talking as a single team,” Graham explains. “Often it’s the student who can speak to important education issues and the dentist who speaks to issues affecting the profession.”
Leave room for networking. The three-day combined member fly-in has many structured programs baked into the agenda, including keynote speeches from well-known political strategists and former members of Congress. But just as important, Graham says, are the unstructured moments when attendees network and truly get to know each other.
“The fun thing about it is these conversations happen naturally,” Graham says. “Dentists are thrilled to be around students, and students are eager to find [professional] networks.”
Creating a highly engaging experience with opportunities for member-to-member connections can also build word-of-mouth referrals. And in ADA’s case, it helps lay the foundation for students to transition to professional membership.
“What we have found is that there may only be seven or eight students who attend from each dental school, but they’ll go back and tell their fellow students about the experience,” Graham says. “That helps us build an even bigger student presence, and it’s something that’s great for the future of membership.”