This could be the year you try phone banking!

by Dean Briggs

Why should I phone bank?

Many of us want to help elect progressive candidates but are more comfortable holding a sign or writing postcards than calling strangers on the phone. Maybe you’ve phone banked in the past, but not recently. Or you’re reluctant to try it for the first time. This is your year to get involved! It’s not just about defeating Trump. There are many Democratic and progressive candidates who need your help.

Cambridge-based Swing Blue Alliance provides many opportunities to phone bank in crucial races where your efforts can help win elections, as does Indivisible National through its “Project 2024: Majority Over MAGA.” In these phone banks, you’ll speak with other Democrats and progressives, including voters who have a low likelihood of turning out in purple districts around the country where their votes can make a difference. This is a very big year for both candidate elections and ballot initiatives. To win, we must mobilize volunteers in multiple states.

How do I start?

Recently I spoke with Beth Lev from Indivisible Northampton – Swing Left Western Massachusetts, and Steve Vogel and Jeff Lobo from Swing Blue Alliance to get their tips for newcomers. Here’s what I learned:

You can ease into it. Start by signing up for a session online (see links at the bottom of this article). Depending on the campaign, you may receive background material on candidates and issues in advance. I like to Google the candidates and their opponents beforehand, to learn more about the election. 

Next, join the Zoom call at the scheduled time. Sessions may begin with brief introductions, and you may be joined by a mix of veterans and first timers. There is always a training session at the beginning, and newcomers may be offered a breakout group for further information. Once the breakout session is complete, you can decide whether you want to participate. You’re welcome to make one, many, or no calls. It’s up to you. If you’re ready to start, you can click on the web page with the dialer (if the phone bank is using an online system) and sign in. You’ll leave the Zoom session open in the background, so you can jump back in with any questions and join the wrap-up at the end of your shift.

After roughly an hour and a half, volunteers rejoin the Zoom session to briefly discuss some interesting conversations with callers, share tips, and ask any questions they may have.

What’s it like? I’m not a techie!

Increasingly, campaigns use phone-banking websites such as “Scale to Win” or “HubDialer” to make their calls. Systems like this make it very easy to reach potential voters. Once you’re on the website, there will be a script you can follow, but you can say it in your own words. There may be a couple of boxes to check during your conversation, such as “strong support,” “leaning,” and so on. Usually there’s a button to click on for an automated dialer that works in the background. Once the dialer makes a connection, you will see the voter’s name on a screen and you can begin talking.

You may face hangups and wrong numbers for a string of calls, then suddenly will have a deeply personal connection with a voter. This happened to me recently with a man who answered for his wife and wanted to talk. She had cancer and had not been out of the house apart from her treatments. But he was bringing her to the polls in a wheelchair on Election Day because they both felt so strongly about the candidate. I felt moved by their commitment and eager to talk with more people.

Studies have shown that the most effective phone banking is about quality, not quantity, and there are no set expectations for how many calls a volunteer should make. So take your time. Beth, Steve and Jeff agreed that making a personal connection with a voter is important to ensure their participation.

Another concern of volunteers is that voters will ask questions that they’re unprepared to answer, such as, “Where do I vote?” The online system may provide that on the screen for each voter. If not, it is ok to say, “I’ll find out and call you back,” making sure to capture the person’s phone number and address before hanging up. 

Dont worry about not being tech-savvy: The leaders of your phone bank will be glad to help you feel comfortable with Zoom and the calling process. You get the message that volunteers are valued and respected, and we’re in this together.

Beth, Steve, and Jeff told me that they have had volunteers who have been phone banking with their groups for years because they like the community of people they work with. While most of their phone bankers are from Massachusetts, some are from states across the country and are part of the larger Swing Blue Alliance community.

What are my next steps?

If you’d like to do just a little more this election cycle, check out the phone banks from Indivisible Northampton – Swing Left Western Massachusetts, Swing Blue Alliance and Indivisible National:

Swing Blue Alliance

Fill out the form and click the box below for “Make calls.” If you’re already receiving the group’s email newsletter, look inside for links to phone banks.

Please email Beth Lev at: beth@in-slwm.org

Indivisible Action

Fill out the form and click on the box below for “Phonebanking”