What is Phonebanking? 5 Tips for Organizing a Phone Bank
Canvassing is a core part of political campaigns, but knocking on every single voter’s door may not be practical for many campaigns. Fortunately, you can still get in touch with voters through phonebanking.
Phonebanking is the practice of assembling a group of people, usually volunteers, to call voters as part of a political campaign. It’s used to further a variety of campaign goals, such as gathering information from voters, recruiting volunteers, and encouraging people to get out and vote.
Today, approximately 97% of Americans own a cell phone, meaning nearly every voter in your district can be reached by phone. Of course, like any other voter outreach method, phonebanking initiatives find the most success when they are backed by a research-driven strategy that takes local voters’ interests, politics, and communication preferences into account.
5 Phonebanking Tips
To reach potentially thousands of voters, phonebanking campaigns need a team of volunteers to make calls, talk to voters, and make a record of the conversation. Even with dedicated volunteers ready to make hundreds of calls, phonebanking is a time-consuming process, and campaigns should prepare by implementing the following strategies:
1. Use Phonebanking Software
In traditional phonebanking, campaign staff manually compile voter call lists and print them out to share with specific volunteers. Then, volunteers dial each voter’s phone number and record important information and responses to survey questions from their conversation before moving on to the next phone number.
With pen and paper, this process takes a considerable amount of time, which makes contacting all of your district’s voters challenging. Not only does it take longer for your volunteers to make calls and record information, but it also takes even more time for campaign staff to enter all that information back into VAN. Fortunately, Democratic and progressive campaigns can leverage phonebanking software from NGP VAN known as Open Virtual Phone Bank (or OpenVPB).
Before OpenVPB, VAN users could call voters and record data directly into VAN if they had a user account, but phone banks were mostly driven by paper lists and manual data entry. However, when OpenVPB was created several years ago, it quickly shifted how phone banks were organized to drive more voter contact and more efficient phone bank operations.
OpenVPB provides volunteers with a seamless, high-tech phone banking experience for the candidate of their choice. It also allows volunteers to make calls from wherever they are (as long as they have internet access) and enter valuable responses from voters directly into VAN.
2. Host Phone Banks
With phonebanking technology, volunteers can make campaign calls from the comfort of their own homes. While some may prefer this convenience, many volunteers appreciate the camaraderie and motivation a phone bank can provide.
Schedule times, likely between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. during the week when voters are likely to be home, for your volunteers to gather together and make calls. By being together, they can support one another and provide assistance in case something unexpected happens on a call, like a voter asking about an issue that a volunteer might not have prepared for.
3. Segment Voter Call Lists
Based on your win number, you’ll want to prioritize your voter outreach based on the number of voters you need to mobilize or persuade to win your election. Ensure volunteers have effective conversations with voters by segmenting your call lists using voter data. There are several ways to segment voters that benefit campaigns, such as:
One of the simplest ways to divide voters is by neighborhoods, districts, or precincts. Just like with door-to-door canvassing, assigning volunteers to call their own neighborhoods may increase the chances of voters being receptive to your campaign since they may be speaking with someone they may know. If volunteers have phone numbers with local area codes, it can sometimes help increase contact rates as well. If they do not have local area codes or they aren’t comfortable using their personal phones, you can also use VPB Connect, our phonebanking add-on feature that provides click-to-dial functionality within OpenVPB and uses a local phone number for all calls from your organization.
Divide voters based on their designated or likely party affiliation and how strongly they support that party. This can be useful for easing volunteers into calling by giving new volunteers a list of Democratic voters who just need a reminder to show up to the polls. More experienced volunteers who are ready to talk about the issues and potentially have challenging conversations may instead call undecided voters or even those with the opposite party affiliation who may be persuaded to either vote for your campaign or simply not vote for your opponent. If these voters don’t vote for your opponent but they also don’t vote for you, it’s still one less vote you need to make up elsewhere.
However, you should prioritize your calls based on who you need to contact to hit your win number. If you just need to mobilize enough likely or identified supporters to win, do that. But, if you need to convince others, it’s likely best to start persuading those voters and then shift to mobilize your likely and identified supporters as the election nears.
Try organizing voters into three groups: always votes, sometimes votes, and unlikely to vote. Dividing voters this way allows you to create more specialized call scripts to have a more relevant conversation with voters. For example, volunteers might focus on the people who sometimes vote during GOTV to mobilize them to cast their ballots as soon as possible, but they may ask someone who is unlikely to vote what information they can provide to make it easier for them to vote this year.
You can also remove, narrow, or add voters based on their contact history with your organization. For instance, if you spoke to a voter yesterday about whether they plan to support your candidate, you probably don’t need to contact them again today. Removing those contacts allows you to focus on the voters you haven’t reached yet. All these ways to segment data can be used together to create more specific lists (e.g., Democrats who sometimes vote in Precinct 411 or independent voters who always vote in District 3) to more effectively target and contact the voters you need to win your election.
If you can’t reach them over the phone, you should try and connect with voters through multichannel outreach (canvassing, texting, etc.) to potentially increase your odds of contacting them and gathering information to use later in the election cycle.
Create a Script to Match Your Conversation
Conversations with different groups of voters should have different scripts associated with them. For instance, if you’re speaking to someone who said they plan to support your campaign, you can shift that conversation to thank them for their support and ask if they’d be willing to volunteer. But, if they say they aren’t sure, you can ask them what issues or topics are important to them. After they respond, you can then explain how you plan to address those topics and others when you’re elected. By creating scripts to guide your conversations with different audiences, you have a better chance of building rapport with those voters and hopefully securing support for your campaign.
4. Have Strategies for a Variety of Situations.
Ideally, when a volunteer calls a voter, the voter will pick up and have a short conversation with the volunteer about your campaign. In practice, there are a wide variety of other situations that can occur when calling.
Before organizing your phone bank, review the following scenarios with volunteers so they understand how to react and will avoid wasting time:
The voter does not pick up: If you’re using OpenVPB and a call is declined or sent to voicemail, record the appropriate response (Refused, Not Home, Left Message, Disconnected, etc.). Some campaigns direct volunteers to leave messages if they are sent to voicemail, whereas others may prefer to just try again later.
Someone other than the voter answers: If someone who is not the voter, such as a spouse, child, parent, or other friend or family member, answers the phone, instruct volunteers to politely explain who they are trying to reach and for what purpose. If you’re using OpenVPB and someone asks “Who’s that?” or “You’ve got the wrong number.” or something along those lines, mark the appropriate response (Wrong Number) and move to the next call.
The voter asks the volunteer to call another time: If the voter asks for you to call back another time, take note of when they will be available and add a note to their voter profile. Make sure to note this follow-up call to the phone bank organizer so they can follow up with the voter in the future.
No matter how voters respond when called, ensure volunteers are courteous and thank everyone for their time. Prepare volunteers for the possibility that some callers may be rude but that being polite even to unreceptive voters still benefits your campaign by leaving a positive last impression.
5. Leverage Distributed Organizing.
Empower more volunteers to get involved through distributed organizing. Distributed organizing is a decentralized campaign management strategy wherein groups of physically remote volunteers organize themselves and conduct campaign activities in their area.
Distributed organizing is especially useful for statewide campaigns and campaigns that have many voters who may be difficult to canvass through a centralized campaign. Allow motivated volunteers to organize their own phone banks by providing them with call lists and sharing your campaign’s policies for calling for voters.
You can use your phonebanking software to provide these volunteers with call lists and allow them to update records of calls in your voter database in real time with OpenVPB.
Start Your Phonebanking Campaign Today!
Phonebaking helps campaigns contact more voters through effective one-on-one conversations to help achieve your campaign’s win number. To start phonebanking, research software that streamlines the calling process and empowers volunteers to make calls from anywhere like those available from NGP VAN. Learn how we can help your Democratic or progressive campaign improve your phonebanking efforts today.