When the U.S. Congress suspended in-person constituent meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocacy groups and organizations were forced to adopt and strengthen digital forms of communication and lobbying strategies.
For many, this adjustment also involved a crucial decision: either accept that advocates would not be able to meet in Washington, D.C. or pivot to virtual advocacy. Those that opted for a virtual advocacy day saw the advantages—elimination of travel time and costs associated with visiting Capitol Hill, flexibility in scheduling (which increased accessibility to lawmakers and staff), greater advocate participation and, in some cases, more efficient meetings.
However, there are also some unanticipated challenges with coordinating a virtual event, which we’ve navigated through our work organizing and executing three virtual advocacy events in the last year alone. Most recently, we seamlessly supported the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation (PKDF) Virtual Advocacy Day in April, 2023, which brought together 92 advocates who participated in 110 congressional meetings in support of policies and proposals that will further their mission to end polycystic kidney disease.
Here’s how to run an efficient and successful advocacy day:
- Offer a range of virtual education and training opportunities to cater to the diverse levels of advocacy experience.
More advocates can participate in virtual events; thus, the level of advocacy experience varies tremendously. Some individuals may require technology instructions, while others may need guidance on how to engage with lawmakers or a more comprehensive overview of the legislative agenda. Leading up to PKDF’s virtual advocacy day, we led a training webinar to discuss PKDF’s policy priorities and what to expect during meetings with federal lawmakers and staff.
One day prior to the event, we led virtual, optional “office hours” so that advocates could ask last minute questions. One-pagers, talking points, sample post-meeting follow-up emails, and a mock hill meeting guide were also provided to ensure that advocates were thoroughly prepared.
- Utilize your advocacy champions.
Leverage your most engaged and experienced advocates to help new advocacy day participants feel confident and prepared to meet with lawmakers and staff. PKDF Advocacy Champions served as state delegation leaders and “mentors,” shepherding in novice advocates and leading their own virtual state delegation preparatory meetings to assign speaking roles, network with others from the PKD community, walk through PKDF’s legislative priorities and practice for their Hill meetings.
- Maintain consistent communication with advocates leading up to the event.
The level of commitment for a virtual advocacy day is far less than for an in-person event, which can lead to no-shows. To prevent this, we utilized an online platform to track which advocates had not viewed their meeting schedules, followed by individual phone calls 1-2 days prior to the event to confirm their participation and make any necessary schedule adjustments.
Additionally, we sent regular emails to registrants with important updates pertaining to their congressional meetings schedule and to share valuable preparatory resources.
- Leverage the power of community members to promote the event digitally.
Community members can tap into their network and encourage others to get involved. We encouraged PKDF’s Advocacy Champion Network to create promo video content that PKDF could share on social media platforms. This amplified PKDF’s call for advocate participation.
We encourage you to follow these tips when planning a virtual or hybrid (virtual and in-person) advocacy day to ensure maximum participation and meeting effectiveness.
“The CURA team was instrumental in planning the PKD Foundation’s Virtual Advocacy Day. Their attention to detail ensured that our advocates were well prepared to share their journey with PKD and to represent our organization’s legislative priorities. Advocates felt supported and well prepared going into their meetings. With CURA’s support, we were able to communicate our impact immediately following the event, making certain that everyone involved felt successful and appreciated.” – Nicole Harr, Sr. Director of Community Engagement, Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation