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Adopting A Recurring Phonebank in 2020 – Sister District EUG

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By Bonnie Henderson, HQL Sister District EUG

Are you eager to up your Sister District team’s phonebanking game? I’ve got one word for you: outsource.

Not the calling, but the organizing, training, and troubleshooting. We at Sister District EUG adopted an already functioning recurring phonebank in 2020, and it was great! Our number of phonebankers multiplied, as did our total dials. Along the way we made new friends—OK, not real, in-person friend-friends, but better than Facebook “friends”: real people whose faces we saw every week and whose voices we heard and who shared our values, even if they didn’t share our zip code. Especially in a pandemic, that alone was worth it!

A little background: Lala Wu refers to us at Sister District EUG as “small but mighty.” She flatters us. The Oregon county we draw from is deep blue and the size of Connecticut but with one-tenth the population. So when we arranged our first phonebank party of 2020 (in person, pre-pandemic), I was pretty happy when two potential phonebankers showed up: gotta start somewhere.

That first phonebank didn’t go well! To be honest, all I really wanted to do was make calls, not spend my time begging others to try it and coaching them in how to do it and explaining why their time was well spent even if they spoke to only a couple of voters in a couple of hours. 

So when Head of Organizing Neal Morgan mentioned that Portland—100 miles away—had a great phonebank going, we were intrigued. A couple of us joined their regular Sunday phonebank on Zoom, and the genius of joining an existing Sister District team’s recurring phonebank was instantly obvious. They had great volunteer trainers willing to take as much time with beginners as needed, doing all the hand-holding you need to do (but none of our district captains wanted to do) to help people get started, while the veteran callers got right to work.

Brief check-ins gave everyone a chance to meet and share highs and lows. When the list ran out—as it does now and then—they knew who to call and they got us back to work quickly. The loneliness of the long-distance phonebanker evaporated in the camaraderie of this group that grew larger every week. By November 2020, this phonebank—made up mainly of Portlanders plus random SDP volunteers from around the country and, ultimately, more than a dozen of us from SDP EUG—had made 65,211 dials, an astonishing number. And I suspect most of those phonebankers are ready and willing to jump in again as soon as we have candidates needing our help in 2021. I am. 

The thing is, phonebanking only works at scale. That is HOW it works. One phonebanker making 50 dials and reaching a one or two live voters isn’t going to swing an election outcome. But dozens of phonebankers doing the same thing, week after week, can. Running a phonebank works at scale too: It takes one or two leaders to troubleshoot and train newcomers whether you have three phonebankers or 30. Knowing we were part of a big, generous, friendly group of no-longer-strangers created a kind of momentum that kept us coming back each week, and that repetition is what you need to have an impact: more callers making more dials on more days.

When you’re trying to recruit new phonebankers, success breeds success, and fun speaks louder than nagging. When your handful of volunteers have a good experience phonebanking, they tell their friends, and your numbers grow naturally. I love our small-but-mighty SDP EUG group, and I can hardly wait to get back to postcarding in wine bars and playing trivia with them in person to raise money for candidates. But when I’m making calls, I don’t really care if my fellow phonebankers live down the street or 100 miles away. 

I’ve phonebanked on landlines in crowded campaign offices, and on my own smartphone alone at home, and in “parties” at someone else’s home. But I think I speak for everyone when I say that by far the best experience is a big virtual phonebank with good leaders, pandemic or no pandemic. It’s efficient, which makes it rewarding. It’s even a little addictive. 

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