2020 Virtual Phonebanking with Sister District Greater Chicago

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Date: Saturday 3/14/20
Time: 4pm-6pm
Attendees: 8 (+ 1 person who had signed up and opted to call on her own)
Training time: 10 mins at beginning, 5 mins at end for check-in
Call time: 1 hour 45 mins
Total dials: 431 (+ 70 from person calling on her own)
Newsletter or other promotional URLs: Mailchimp Invite

What were your steps to put the party together?

We had already planned this as the second of two in-person phone banks, and we decided to switch it over to virtual.

How did you recruit for the party?

We updated the Eventbrite, requested a Zoom meeting, publicized it again and got more sign-ups. I think people were interested in the “virtual” connection as this was right after the shut downs began in earnest.

How did you confirm/remind RSVPs?

Eventbrite with a personalized follow-up email to registrants. We usually do it this way so we can check who the attendee is before providing the address, and we send out information on how to set up the VPB account ahead of time, along with ways to read up on the candidate.

How did you prepare for the party?

We told everyone it was an experiment and asked them to be patient, and noted that we were helping Sister District figure out how this sort of thing would work so it could be replicated across the country! Got the Zoom meeting set up and “claimed host” using the host code provided by HQ.

How did the party flow? What happened?

We all logged in at roughly the same time, and then we all muted and started calling. We used the chat window to ask questions and share experiences—that was fun. Occasionally someone would unmute to ask a question, but I recommend sticking to chat for questions. We tried stopping partway through for a “check-in” but that didn’t really work because there was always someone on the phone. We checked in again during the last five minutes and everyone was pretty enthusiastic.

What worked?

It was really fun to watch other callers talking to voters on the phone. You could definitely tell when someone was having a good conversation, you could see them laughing and talking earnestly. And you did not have the issue of people talking loudly on the phone nearby—something that can be an inconvenience at an in-person phone bank. It was actually easier to do Q&A via chat in some respects—everyone could see questions and answers, whereas I don’t think that happens at an in-person phone bank, you can end up answering the same question over and over.

What challenges did you encounter and how did you navigate?

We had all veteran phone bankers. A couple of “newbies” had signed up but then did not join. This meant that the issue of virtual training did not come up, but I was worried about that—how I could do it without disturbing everyone by un-muting, or whether it could be handled by chat. I was thinking of telling people to call me with questions so we could do it off-line, but it didn’t come up. I am glad to hear about the breakout room option and we will try it.

It’s hard to see both the phone bank window and the chat box. Most people toggled back and forth occasionally, but I felt it was important for at least one person to keep an eye on the chat box consistently to help people with questions. I shaped my browser window into a horizontal rectangle shape for the Virtual Phone Bank, moved it to the top of the screen so that the chat box of Zoom stuck out at the bottom so I could see both. Perhaps there’s a fix for this latter problem – I’m not very technically savvy.

One disadvantage is that it makes it harder to coach a new phone banker based on the actual content of their calls, which is something that I do a lot of at my phone banks.

If you do this again, what would you do differently?

I would just tell people not to unmute at all during the phone bank but to use the chat box, or to call/text me if they need something more direct, or use the breakout rooms if that works. (I’m a little worried about the breakout room person having a more isolated experience though).

I might try to take screenshots of us while some people are actually on the phone, not just everyone smiling at the camera. Maybe also screenshot the chat box when there is a particularly fun exchange going on, to use to market future virtual phone banks?

What suggestions do you have for teams planning and executing similar parties?

Embrace it – it really has some advantages over in-person phone banking.