Four Strategies to Enhance Your Future Fly-Ins
Looking for ways to make the most out of your next fly-in? One advocacy expert shares how associations can create meaningful experiences that will not only help member advocates hone their skills but also effectively share their story with legislators.
Spring is a busy season for association fly-ins. Whether members are headed to Capitol Hill or their state capital, fly-ins give association staff and their volunteer advocates the opportunity to meet with legislators to tell their stories and make crucial asks, network with one another, and form long-lasting connections.
But like most other things, lobby days have changed since the pandemic. Lindsey Miller, senior manager of grassroots advocacy at the National Restaurant Association, has seen these changes firsthand.
“People have gone through so much over the last few years and now have a real desire to tell their stories [to legislators],” she said. “The pandemic has shown us how critical advocacy efforts can be for industries and their associations.”
She shared how associations can make the most out of their fly-in days for member advocates, legislators, and their organizations.
Creating a successful fly-in requires the association to prepare and educate their advocates ahead of time. Training sessions can help ensure members are on the same page and understand urgent issues.
During the pandemic, the National Restaurant Association used informational videos to keep member advocates updated on issues. The 90-second videos proved to be so productive that the association will continue using this messaging strategy.
“You want to keep your member advocates on track,” Miller said. “Make sure they go into the fly-in meeting with a story and a clear ask.”
Since the pandemic, Miller has found that it’s key that your training information is packaged concisely.
“Our attention spans have dropped, so keeping sessions tight and to the point will help your audience stay engaged,” she said.
Develop an Effective Story
Since representatives are bombarded with emails and letters every day, a sincere story and ask can help members break through the noise.
“With the popularity of TikTok videos and Instagram reels, we’re seeing that folks are able to craft a message quickly that still makes a big impact,” Miller said.
She recommends highlighting the distinctive qualities of your industry to legislators. “As the National Restaurant Association, food is a great way we can connect with representatives. But any association can find something that is unique to their members to show off to legislators,” she said. “A personal connection will stick with them.”
Embrace New Tools
Though in-person meetings are back in full swing, Miller anticipates that video will still play an important role for fly-ins.
“It’s often easier to get on a Zoom call with legislators than meeting in person,” she said. “Virtual meetings can be easier to organize your advocates depending on how busy folks are.”
Since people have grown more comfortable on camera after years of video meetings, Miller recommends associations take advantage of that in their advocacy efforts.
“Telling your story in a one-minute video that includes what you’ve gone through and your ask is a really good way to break through to legislators,” she said.
These videos can also be valuable tools to help other advocates improve their storytelling skills.
“Watching another member advocate gives you a better understanding of how to shape and articulate your own story,” Miller said.
Identify Key Advocates
When volunteer advocates feel like they made an impact during a fly-in, they’re more likely to want to participate again. “You want them to walk away from the experience feeling useful,” Miller said.
She recommends associations develop grasstop advocates—individual members who can mobilize support and may already have relationships with legislators. When issues arise, following up grassroots advocacy with key industry leaders can have a meaningful impact on legislators.
“Find the advocates that crushed it at their fly-in meetings and have good relationships with representatives and staff,” Miller said. “One critical voice in each district is really important.”
Whether your next fly-in is virtual or in-person make sure to focus on your advocates. “Incorporate networking events, make it fun, give them a memorable experience in D.C. or at their state capitol,” Miller said. “Good events don’t just happen: do more run of shows than you think you need, do more planning calls.”