For the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), its National Advocacy Days event is an annual opportunity to engage legislators on Capitol Hill on the organization’s three main issue areas of impact—youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.
Y-USA was looking to expand the impact of this event and increase the number of advocate voices in their advocacy day, but bringing more advocates to Washington can be challenging and expensive. So, they sought alternative ways to expand the impact of this event.
To expand the impact of their advocacy days, the Y organized a parallel virtual fly-in to happen simultaneously with their in-person fly-in using Quorum Grassroots.
“There’s a limit to how many people can come to our conference, and there is a cost of course, whenever you’re talking about traveling. So anybody who was unable to attend, we encouraged to complete a campaign in Quorum,” said Kelsey McKim, Communications Coordinator for the YMCA of the USA office in DC.
Organizations run online campaigns to have their advocates write letters to their members of Congress all the time, so what made this campaign feel like a “virtual fly-in”? The YMCA team adjusted settings in Quorum so that while advocates could submit letters over a period of time, they were not immediately sent to legislators. Then, on the day that advocates who had traveled to Washington went to their in-person meetings, the Y sent the online letters in bulk so they all arrived at the same time.
“Anybody who was unable to attend, we encouraged to complete a campaign in Quorum,” McKim said. “Using the ‘Approve’ feature, we held on to all of those responses until our Hill Day and then released them all at once so everyone at home was participating on the same day that everyone was going to Hill meetings.”
The YMCA promoted these actions in all registration outreach for the advocacy days, so those who received the invitation but could not attend knew there was a way to stay involved.
When a YMCA advocate participates in an in-person Hill meeting during their advocacy day, a typical meeting involves an outline of the main issues the Y's priority issues, followed up by sharing a personal story about how those issues impact that advocate or the Y in their community. This allows the legislator to understand not just at a high level why these issues are important, but how they impact an individuals and communities in their district.
By having partially editable letters for advocates in the YMCA’s Quorum campaign, they could simulate these two aspects of the meeting. McKim drafted the legislative asks portion of the email to make sure those points were clearly communicated to the legislator, and this portion was not editable by the advocate. Then, the advocate could personalize the second half of the letter with their individual story.
The YMCA operates as a federated system, so while the YMCA of the USA office in DC coordinates National Advocacy Days, each state has a state alliance that coordinates state-specific advocacy efforts. As a result, it's especially important to stay coordinated with who is meeting with who and what is discussed with each legislator or staffer.
“The average person doesn’t really recognize the difference between a YMCA at home or if someone comes to their office and says 'I’m from YMCA of the USA'. All they really here is somebody from the Y. We don’t want a legislator at home to say 'Hey, I saw your colleague last week!' and somebody in Missouri to wonder, 'Who, what?'”
To keep organized, the Y uses Quorum’s external interaction logger to allow advocates to log notes from their meetings on the Hill. By using an integrated system for tracking meetings and running advocacy campaigns, Y staff members will be able to go to a legislator’s profile and see all in one place what in-person meetings have taken place and what grassroots messages that office has received.
The Y’s virtual component of their Hill day drove in total 781 actions from 256 advocates—allowing the Y to nearly double their participation rate in their Hill Day. While many of the advocates from across the country who flew to DC have advocacy as part of their job description, pairing the in-person events with an online campaign allowed the Y to expand the number of people sharing their story with legislators.
“We always try to encourage that advocacy is not something that just happens in DC once a year, advocacy is everytime you invite someone to come to your Y, every time you have a communication with that member of Congress. Advocacy is year round and it happens at home,” McKim said. “[The virtual fly-in] helped our Hill Day feel more fleshed out and demonstrated that there is a Y movement even larger than the individual person a member of Congress might be meeting with.”