We are entering a busy time of the year when organizations, associations and nonprofits conduct their fly-ins to make a connection between their supporters and those supporters’ Members of Congress. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is a group that conducts fly-ins very effectively through an integrated and intensive plan. Tony Kudner, Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for NHPCO, generously shared with CMF some of the lessons they have learned by building on successful advocacy strategies from previous years.
CMF: How long has NHPCO been doing fly-ins?
NHPCO: We have been doing organized fly-ins for about 6 to 7 years, and have done them in less organized forms prior to that. Traditionally, we have conducted them in conjunction with our management and leadership conference. We focused around providing hospice leaders with the tools they need to do their jobs. At the time, we averaged around 350-400 attendees.
CMF: What led you to reevaluate your fly-in strategies?
NHPCO: For one, the payoff. The money that went into hosting the fly-ins was not quite paying off for the hospice community. There were a few drawbacks to our strategy. Firstly, we were holding fly-ins during a time of the year that was best for appropriations issues. Our organization was better suited for fall and winter fly-ins rather than spring ones. Secondly, while CEOs are an incredible resource, bringing CEOs to the hill does not advance our issue very far from the advocacy perspective.
Finally, we needed to utilize the power of storytelling. Hospice has a great story to tell and a successful model of care. After attending a spring ALN conference last year, our VP of public affairs Angie Truesdale was inspired by the idea of telling your story, versus the traditional methods of presenting data to congressmen. We decided to make our Hill day about the good that Hospice does for the district instead of focusing on margins and regulatory burdens. This idea led us to create the Hospice Action Network Advocacy Intensive, a two-day program in which caregivers (nurses, hospice chaplains, social workers, etc.) would come to the Hill and tell their story and the story of their patients.
CMF: What lessons did you learn, and as a result what changes did you make?
NHPCO: With a lot of the healthcare fatigue that tended to surround providers in the wake of healthcare reform, it was hard to get the attention of lawmakers. But, the Advocacy Intensive strategy was a huge success. When it came time to stand up for hospice issues, congressmen did so. And, we got out of 2012 without any additional regulations or rate cuts.
CMF: What advice do you have for other groups conducting fly-ins?
NHPCO: In general, my advice is to put on your wide-angle lens. Think of what the strategic value is for the issue set and what would be the best time of the year to hold a fly-in. Consider logistics in identifying why a fly-in is important for your organization. Secondly, keep the event on the Hill as much as you can since it is a prime location. Thirdly, do as much of the training as you can beforehand. You can utilize webinars to educate folks on what to expect when they go into a congressional meeting. This will save valuable Member time. Finally, remember that a fly-in is not a one day event, it is a jumping-off point between a constituent and their Member of Congress. With that in mind, try building up and maintaining that relationship throughout the year.
For a more in-depth look at how to improve your fly-ins check out the next Advocacy Leader's Network event, "Come Fly-In with Me: Best Practices for Capitol Hill Lobby Day," which will be held Friday, May 17 from 8:30am-12:00pm.
This second session in a four part series focuses on ways to get the most out of your fly-ins by assessing best run lobby day efforts, reviewing new techniques, and discussing ways to leverage your stakeholders' efforts and gather valuable content for quality advocacy messaging. This series is part of CMF's Parternship for a More Perfect Union, which seeks to enhance communications, understanding, and the relationship between citizens and Congress.