April 27, 2020
Reach Out and Touch Someone (by Phone)

Sister District team and affiliate leaders around the nation are building virtual gatherings to connect with volunteers, introduce their candidates, and provide the opportunity for those interested to donate early money to help our candidates build winning campaigns. And, we have released virtual resources to help leaders navigate the challenges — and explore the advantages — of organizing such gatherings during the pandemic in general, and with social distancing in particular.

A question facing all organizers right now

Given the constraints and upheaval in our volunteers’ lives, should we adjust how we invite people to events? Will volunteers feel intruded upon, or like we are asking too much?

Our focus is always on personal connection in making invitations; this means, among other things, picking up the phone to have a conversation in addition to email. We can do our best with mass communications like email and social media blasts, but we can only tailor those invitations so much. Only through a one-on-one conversation can you really learn what someone else is going through, get a sense for the degree to which the invitation or ask you have in mind is appropriate for that person, and proceed accordingly.

My suggestion, bolstered by the experiences of our Organizing Department staff and Organizing Fellows during this pandemic, is to double down on phone calls to engage volunteers and build your events.

Phone contact rates are up

Over the month of March, our spring cohort of Organizing Fellows made 784 phone calls to Sister District volunteers to build teams in AZ, MI, PA, NC, TX, FL, GA, CA, and NJ.

Of those dials, Fellows spoke with 239 people – a 30% contact rate. The average contact rate for all three Organizing Fellow terms in 2019 was 21%. The contact rate over the past month is nearly 50% greater than the average for all last year. This increase in rate might tell us something about this moment: that our volunteers want to connect. They want to talk.

How are our phone conversions going?

When speaking with someone, our first goal is always simply to connect and learn. Next, we share a volunteering idea to gauge interest. We personalize our asks on what we learn, but we go into these conversations planning to focus on the primary ask and then fall back to the others as needed.

Right now, our asks are:
Primary: Would you like to attend a call with our Head of Organizing and other volunteers in your area to talk about how we can organize virtually to help candidates?
Secondary: We are building a virtual event to introduce volunteers in your city to our 2020 candidates, would you like to attend?
Tertiary: When phonebanking for our candidates begins, would you be interested in calling voters with us?

41% of the people we have spoken with have said yes to at least one of those asks. We have had a few people tell us they’re too overwhelmed to think about volunteering, and thank us for what we are doing.

Late March Case Study

For 2.5 hours between March 23 and March 26, Organizing Fellow Erika Siao called 40 volunteers in New Jersey City. She spoke with 15 people (a 37.5% contact rate), and seven of those (47%), said yes to the primary ask.

Erika took some notes on her calls:

Talked to N, who is a nurse on the front lines of coronavirus, has multiple children, is running a nonprofit on the side working to advocate for moms of color, AND is super excited about joining Sister District and wants to bring friends to the first call. Super inspiring!

And this note from another Fellow, Michael Davis:

Volunteers are enthusiastic about participating remotely. Also, the ask of participating in a Zoom meeting (with Organizing team or kick-off call) was met positively by most. Made most calls on the weekend and had a high contact rate.

Main Takeaway

I encourage all volunteer teams to make phone calls to recruit volunteers for 2020 candidate kick-off events. Our Organizing Department has a straightforward system ready for Sister District teams that allows remote volunteers to work together to make calls through a volunteer list. It is the exact same system we use for the Organizing Fellows program.

Next Step

If you’re a Sister District volunteer leader, please reach out to your contact in the Organizing Department soon, as you want to make invitation calls 2-3 weeks out from your event. We are ready to help each step of the way!