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Phone Banking: Getting Your Campaign or Organization Started

Campaigns use phone banking to spread campaign messages, recruit volunteers, and more. Here’s how it works.

The Get Thru Team

Traditionally, phone banking has been used by campaigns and organizations to efficiently get in touch with voters. Callers work together to quickly call through a list of potential voters, looking to speak with people in order to further campaign goals. As the popularity of this tool has grown exponentially over the years, other areas have found success using phone banking to get in touch with their target audience whether it’s for volunteer recruitment, wellness checks for vulnerable populations, or most recently, phone banking to assess and meet the needs of communities impacted by COVID-19.

Kinds of phone banking

There’s more than one way to phone bank! Depending on the needs of your organization, there are three ways to start. You might choose a specific type of phone banking, or go for a hybrid approach.

In-person phone banks

[A note here: while we remain hopeful that we will all be able to return to as many in person activities soon, we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic still greatly restricts our ability to gather together. Our guidance on best practices for in-person phone banks is evergreen, though we provide this guidance with a loud and clear caveat that CDC guidelines on masks, social distancing, and in-person events be strictly adhered to. As a result, this should not be considered advice to return to in-person activities at this time.]

There are some definite advantages to in-person phone banking. For one, it can make it much easier to train and support callers; if they’re having trouble with the technology, someone will be right there to help. Additionally, you can be sure that each caller gets the right training and has all the tools they need to be successful.

However, the biggest benefit is probably in the morale boost provided by a phone banking event. There’s a collaborative, collective energy that rises when everyone is working together in one place! Some phone bank planners lean into that energy by using cues to remind everyone of what they’re working for -- having volunteers ring a bell whenever someone commits to support a candidate or books a volunteer shift, for example, or keeping a visual thermometer measuring calls and contacts as you work towards a goal.

Of course, in-person phone banking requires you to have people show up to a physical location, which comes with its own set of drawbacks and logistics. This leads us to...

Distributed phone banks

The second approach is distributed, or virtual, phone banks which still rely on callers to reach out to potential voters, but they can participate from anywhere! So when COVID-19 hit, it was easy to adapt to distributed phone banks. (Here’s a look at how campaigns used ThruTalk to connect people to resources during the COVID-19 crisis and tips for effective remote phone banking.)

Virtual phone banking parties are one way to get everyone calling at the same time (during your peak hours, and so that call waiting times are shorter for each volunteer) and to boost morale! 

You can set up a conference call via Zoom or another platform in order to kick things off and help everyone feel like a part of the group effort. This is also a great time to show your (short) training videos or explain any part of the technology.

Virtual phone banking is powerful because it allows people to work from the comfort of their own home - while being able to meaningfully contribute to the campaign’s goals.

If you’re using virtual techniques, be sure that someone is always available to answer questions and help with technology during call parties. 

Interested in doing a virtual phone bank? Reach out to us and we’ll get you set up in no time!

Hybrid phone banks

Of course, you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can also decide to merge the two, into a third hybrid approach.

If you have a distributed phone bank going on at the same time as your in-person phone bank, you can tap volunteers who are able to make it in person (or who especially appreciate the group camaraderie) as well as those who can’t come in (or who just prefer to call from home).

[Pro tip: Kick off your hybrid phone bank with a conference call between your in-person and virtual callers. This helps tie everything together so that everyone feels like a part of the bigger team effort.]

Paid vs. volunteer phone banks

Paid phone banks rely on paid call center employees to make calls, whereas volunteer phone banks are made up of — you guessed it — volunteers.

While we’re mostly focusing on volunteer efforts in this article, paid phone banks can be a good supplement for certain types of campaigns. Whatever your approach, ThruTalk is designed to help you call all the phones really fast, and have tons of one-to-one conversations at scale.

A good phone banking campaign requires advance preparation, good communication, and clear instructions. Here’s how we suggest approaching your event:

Prepare early

Spread the word early so that you find enough people for your bank. The more people participating at any time, the less time each caller will find themselves waiting for someone to pick up the phone.

Get the word out

Be sure to communicate your need for volunteers early and present an organized front. Phone banking is a great ask for the people in your volunteer network! Most people don’t love sitting on the phone trying to call people all day - so be sure to let your volunteers know how much you appreciate their effort.

Because phone banking can also be a social event, it’s an ideal chance for volunteers to bring along a friend, too. Be sure to ask your volunteers if they can think of anyone else who might want to tag along.

Time your phone bank effectively

We’ve found that three-hour shifts work well for most volunteers, so that’s a good length of time for your coordinated phone bank.

Generally, people pick up phone calls most often between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. in their own time zone, making those good choices for phone banking efforts. However, if you also have some phone banking events during the workweek, you’ll be able to catch people who work outside that traditional structure (and who may not be receiving as many phone calls).

Train volunteers

Keep the training short, energized, and clear! Phone banking can be intimidating the first time. Your volunteers should feel like they’re in good hands with the information and technology they need to make the call.

Our video tutorial is short (just 3 minutes long). If you have supplementary materials, we recommend you keep the training itself to less than 10 minutes overall so that volunteers can spend their time calling and making a difference. If you’ve got staff or trusted volunteers on hand to answer individual questions (even virtually), that will help keep the main group moving.

Manage and use data wisely

Make sure you’re collecting, managing, and using the data from your calls wisely. ThruTalk’s nightly caller reports help with  this process, but it’s up to you to act upon what the data’s telling you and tailor your campaign accordingly.

Phone banking use cases

Our campaigns use phone banking for all kinds of uses, including ballot chasing, event recruitment, fundraising, GOTV, support ID, persuasion, and volunteer asks. You can even apply deep canvassing techniques through phone banking. If you don’t yet have a script, see here for some great(script examples) for different types of use cases.

Does phone banking still work?

According to the Sister District Project, besides door-to-door canvassing, phone banking is the “most effective way to clean lists and identify voters.” It’s an important tool for many campaigns to reach a large number of people in an efficient manner.

Of course, we’re all suspicious of spam and robocallers. The benefit of a volunteer-run phone bank is that the voter will be connecting with a real, live person on the other end of the line. They’re much more likely to listen to the message and engage with the conversation.

Phone banking software such as ThruTalk also simplifies phone banking so that volunteers can get up and running without stress. Again, we recommend keeping the training very short (our own tutorial video, which you can use with your volunteers, is only 3 minutes long).

If you’ve set things up correctly, volunteers should be able to easily follow along with the script, record information from their call, and keep the lines ringing for your campaign.

Ready to boost your phone banking efforts with ThruTalk? Let's go!


The Get Thru Team

GetThru was created by veterans of Bernie 2016, where we helped build the campaign’s historic voter contact operation. In the process, we saw the need for better technology for large scale 1-to-1 communication that reaches people where they are—on their cell phones.

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