If you had just met me in the last eight months, you would think phone banking was my thing. And it is, now. I do it (a lot). I post about it. And, as is self evident, I proselytize it. It is my mission to get more people helping out on this election, and as a San Francisco resident, selling phone banking is a great way to do that.
But it is a tough sell. I’ve not met a person who likes phone banking, at first. I know I didn’t.
I think that’s in part due to a divergence between the sales pitch and the reality. There’s a harmful tag-line that circulates about phone banking, “it’s easy.” In some ways, that’s true: you can do it from home; they give you the script, the list; you just need a phone, a laptop, and a speaking voice. The reality, though, is that in many ways, it’s hard. You have to try to sound natural but work off a script. You have to handle voters who may be unkind. You have to think on your feet, field questions you don’t know the answer to, and sometime, you mess up. Hard.
So what I’ve found is that many people do it once or twice, and then decide that it’s not for them. That was me, until it wasn’t. This article is about finding motivation, building skills, and making all the difference you can in the last few weeks before the most important election in all of our lifetimes.
My first time.
Until 14, I was too shy to order pizza over the phone (remember when that’s how we did that?!). But politics and college drew me out of my shell. Eventually, I learned to talk to strangers without turning beet red. I first phone banked for a state legislative candidate in the Bay Area when I was 18 years old. I hated it. I didn’t know a lot about the candidate (or what state legislators did). The system used an auto-dialer, so people treated me like a telemarketer (that is, unkindly). I didn’t feel like I was doing any good. After an hour and a half, I was done.
It was an inauspicious start, and one which put me off this type of volunteering for well over a decade.
My political interests drew me to phone banking a handful of other times in the dozen or so years between my first try and 2016. In the meantime, I also volunteered a full summer doing door-to-door fundraising for the DNC, I ran two Democratic clubs, did Election Day GOTV and poll watching, organized rallies, and registered voters (among other activities). Phone banking was my least favorite political activity.
The 2016 election crushed me. Like many of us, with Obama at the helm, I had taking politics for granted. Frankly, after finishing school, I didn’t know how to fit politics into my life, other than a few stray days every four years helping out on Election Day.
But in 2017, I knew that this complacency was a luxury that we couldn’t afford. I needed to do more, and needed to figure out what (and fast).
Linking in with Sister District gave me the perfect pathway back into activism. I had a community-based group to engage with, and was provided carefully selected races to offer my assistance to. But besides attending parties (which only does so much, besides take the edge off), there are only a handful of things that one can do remotely to make a difference. And one thing that is proven to be the most effective.
The 2018 election cycle is the most important of any of our lifetimes. For this cycle I knew that, to do the most I could do, to have the biggest impact on elections, I needed to learn to love something I had always hated: phone banking. So I took a mental journey to change my thinking about it.
One excuse that I had made for myself (to justify non-involvement), was that phone banking didn’t really do that much. Only, that’s not true. Studies show that, outside of face-to-face canvassing, phone banking is the most effective way to get out the vote. Personal human connections, of the type that you can get through live telephone calls, are proven to have a significant impact.
On top of that, it provides incredibly valuable data for the campaign: who’s a likely voter, who’s a strong supporter, who’s a Trumpkin who is not worth more attention. When a volunteer army takes care of the screener calls, it frees up paid staff to handle more important campaign tasks.
Finally, while one call might not do a lot, it’s not about one call. It is about being part of a movement. Hundreds of people, making dozens (or hundreds) of calls, reaches thousands of people. Combined, we make a difference.
The important first step to take is to feel this deeply: you can make a difference.
I know, I know. I’m contradicting myself. Phone banking was hard for me, but I knew it didn’t have to be.
Nothing makes speaking off the cuff easier than actually knowing who you’re volunteering for. Once you get to know a bit more about the candidate themselves, you’re ready to speak naturally, and promote the candidate to the voters you reach out to. (This is also one of the reasons I love Sister District. Each district is focused on just a few candidates — and you get to know them really well!) Read over some materials. Watch a video. Take a bit to feel comfortable speaking about your candidate. Think about why you are volunteering for them.
Just like you weren’t born good at your job, you likely won’t be a great phone banker out of the gate. But that changes. Take 15 minutes before you start to do a run through with a partner. Tweak the script until it feels right for you.
Once you start dialing, give yourself a break. It’s okay if you’re not perfect (none of us are), but you get to learn from every call to do better the next time.
Volunteering is a lot about attitude. If you smile on the phone, people can hear it. And putting a smile on your face will change your attitude towards it — it is going to be more fun. If you’re getting worn down, take some time — grab a snack (or a drink). Find your happy place.
One great way to become more comfortable with calling is to get really comfortable with a few response lines:
Q: I’ve already gotten a bajillion calls today. A: That must be so frustrating. I’m a volunteer, so I don’t control who is called, but I think this is just reflective of what an important election this is.
Q: Are you from here? A: I’m actually volunteering remotely because I am so excited about X candidate, and I know that she can make a positive difference to my fellow citizens in your district!
Q: What is X candidate’s stand on [some obscure issue]? A: That’s a great question. I’m actually not sure about her stand on [SOI], but I know she cares deeply about [related issue]. You can also find more details on her website.
Q: [ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY] A: Thank you, have a nice day.
Think of the question you dread getting (or one you got and couldn’t answer). Script out your own great response (or ask another volunteer for a suggestion).
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. But it definitely can be. Once you learn how to tolerate the negative, the positive (fun) aspects of phone banking can really shine through.
Here are a few go to coping mechanisms for getting through those tough moments.
So, how is this fun?
No more excuses! You have all the tools you need to make a difference. Finding a place to phone bank could not be easier. Amazing groups, such as the ones below, host phone banking events where you can meet fellow volunteers and donate your time to amazing Democratic candidates.
Or, contact a local campaign: they will definitely have a home for you.