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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 political 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 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.

Phone banking has long been a standard part of direct voter contact for politics. While most phone bank shifts last a few hours, much of that time is spent manually dialing prospective voters, filling in results on call sheets, and manually entering the data into VAN (or functional equivalent). As time is of the essence in any campaign, the less time your staff and volunteers have to devote to manual tasks, the more time they have to talk to voters. Using a dialer eliminates the need for your staff and volunteers to manually enter every phone number as the system will connect them to voters who have already decided to speak to them.

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

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 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 at 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 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 can 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 numbers fast, and have tons of one-to-one conversations at scale.

A good phone banking campaign requires 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 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

The phone banking tool should be intuitive and easy to use, volunteers and supporters want to be productive as quickly as possible.  In our experience ease of use for the volunteers is a critical success factor. 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.  I

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 is telling you and tailor your campaign accordingly.

Phonebanking use cases

Our campaigns use phone banking for all kinds of uses, including ballot chasing, event recruitment, fundraising, GOTV, support ID, persuasion, political campaigns 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 efficiently.

Of course, we’re all suspicious of spam and robocalls. 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 in the conversation.

Phonebanking 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 calls, and keep the lines ringing for your campaign.

Developing Your Plan

Using ThruTalk as your dialer will give you the freedom to devote more time to talking to voters as it will save you from having to do a lot of the manual work that comes with phone banking. Of course, in order to use ThruTalk in the most effective manner possible you will need to develop a plan for using it. Things you should consider include:

  • What do you want to do with ThruTalk?
  • Who do you want to reach with ThruTalk?
  • When do you want to use ThruTalk?

Before you do anything else, decide what you are phone banking for, this will lay the groundwork for your approach to your ThruTalk strategy on everything. While an election and independent group campaigns will have different needs at any given time, the fact that almost every adult can be reached with some kind of phone means that ThruTalk has the flexibility to meet all your phone banking needs. You will need to decide if you are going to use ThruTalk for volunteer recruitment, voter/event turnout, fundraising, etc. Although the mechanics of using ThruTalk will remain the same across all types of phone banks, understanding the scope of your phone bank campaigns will determine the number and size of your call lists, how many separate services you will need to administer, who you decide to call, and when.

Regardless of what you are phone banking for, you will need to determine who you are going to call, the contact list, known supporters or cold contacts. Both approaches can be effective and are necessary for any political campaign, but should be used for different purposes.

Known Supporters

  • Good for Fundraising, Volunteer Recruitment, Event Turnout, VBM Ballot Chase, and GOTV
  • Puts you in contact with people who will be most receptive to speaking to the campaign
  • As your users will be talking to supporters, these conversations may be longer. The upside is that means you’ll be more likely to reach your goals, on the other hand this will also mean your users will get through your list slower.

Cold Contacts

  • Good for Survey Questions, Support ID, and Persuasion Calls
  • Allows you to generate support and potentially discover new supporters who can be turned into volunteers.
  • Gives you a clue as to how non-supporters are receiving your campaign
  • As your users are talking to cold contacts, the conversations may be shorter and they are more likely to encounter hostile contacts. While this may impact the overall morale of your users, the data gained from these conversations will be important in shaping how you proceed.

How to Structure Your Phone Bank

Phonebanking used to mean a room full of people making calls, entering responses on call sheets, and a group of people devoted to entering that data into a database. Phone banking with ThruTalk eliminates the need for paper and manual data entry as your phone bankers will be able to record responses as they follow along with the script. Additionally, ThruTalk’s dialer calls contacts in proportion to the number of users on any given service (beginning at 3 contacts per 1 user)  meaning that the more people you have phone banking at the same time, the faster you will get through your list. Given this functionality, you’ll need to consider how you will staff your phone bank to make the most of ThruTalk’s efficiencies.

As you make your decisions about how you will structure your phone banks with GetThru, you need to consider the following:

  • Your Capacity: The number of people attending any one phone bank can vary greatly, and you will likely have a mixed shift of experienced and new volunteers, and you’ll need to onboard new phone bankers. As such, you need to know how many people will be phone banking and how many of them you can devote to ThruTalk administration and/or onboarding new volunteers.
  • For campaigns with large numbers (15+) of staff and volunteers, it may be helpful to appoint 2 or 3 experienced staff or super-volunteers to monitor the phone bank’s progress, load new lists as needed, onboard new volunteers, and provide front-line troubleshooting. Of course, smaller phone banks may only be able to spare one person to perform the listed duties. Additionally, because ThruTalk is hosted on a web browser, you can leverage the power of multiple offices to phone bank through the same list without worrying about people using the same call sheet.
  • In-Person vs. Virtual Phone Banking (or both): ThruTalk’s web-based platform shines as it allows campaigns to host virtual phone banks with individuals, allied groups, or volunteers hosting a phone bank party anywhere in the country. When working with virtual phone bankers, you may need to have a ThruTalk admin act as a point of contact with the virtual phone bankers to help them troubleshoot, understand the ThruTalk tool, and any other campaign-specific details you need them to know.


1. What is phone banking and how can it benefit my candidate's campaign or organization?
Political phone banking involves using callers to efficiently connect with voters or target audiences for various purposes such as political campaigning, volunteer recruitment, wellness checks, or community support during events like COVID-19. It's a powerful tool to engage with your audience and further your goals.

2. What are the different kinds of phone banking approaches?
There are three main types: in-person phone banks, distributed (virtual), and a hybrid approach combining both. In-person provides a collaborative environment, distributed allows flexibility, and hybrid combines the benefits of both.

3. What are the advantages of distributed or virtual?
Distributed allows callers to participate from anywhere, contributing to the campaign's goals remotely. It's flexible and effective, especially during circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Can I combine both in-person and virtual?
Yes, a hybrid approach allows you to merge in-person and virtual phone banks, catering to volunteers' preferences and maximizing the benefits of both methods.

5. What's the difference between paid and volunteer?
Paid phone banks involve hired call center employees, while volunteer phone banks rely on volunteers. The article mainly focuses on volunteer efforts, but it mentions that paid phone banks can be a supplement for specific campaigns.

6. How can I prepare for a candidate's political campaign in an election year?
Early preparation is key. Spread the word early, communicate the need for volunteers, and ensure an organized approach. Consider the time of the phone bank, the length of shifts, and effective training.

7. When is the best time to conduct a phone banking campaign?
Phone banking during peak hours (5 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time) is recommended, but having events during the workweek can help reach those with different schedules.

8. How should I train volunteers for phone banking?
Keep the training short, energized, and clear. Utilize resources like video tutorials (preferably under 10 minutes) and ensure volunteers have the information and technology needed to make successful calls.

9. How should I manage and use data collected during phone banking?
Collect, manage, and use data wisely. Tools like ThruTalk's nightly caller reports can assist, but it's crucial to analyze data and tailor your campaign accordingly.

10. What are some use cases for phone banking?
Phone banking can be used for various purposes, including ballot chasing, event recruitment, fundraising, GOTV (Get Out the Vote), support ID, persuasion, volunteer asks, political elections and applying deep canvassing techniques.

11. Does phone banking still work, considering concerns about spam and robocalls?
According to the Sister District Project, phone banking remains one of the most effective ways to clean lists and identify voters. Volunteer-run phone banks provide a personal touch, making voters more likely to engage with the conversation. Utilizing user-friendly software like ThruTalk further enhances effectiveness.

12. Will people see my phone number?
No! Even when you’re called in using your phone for a better experience, ThruTalk hides your phone number, so no one will have your own personal number.

13. Are Automated Dialers legal?
Yes, an auto dialer is legal when not using for Marketing. If your campaign or organization wishes to contact people from the voter file (VAN), this call list is perfectly acceptable.

14. What do I do if someone doesn’t want to talk or is hostile?
Use the “Term Codes” on the left to mark them as “Remove Number - Do not call” and move on to the next call! They may ask to be on a do not call list, which can easily be added.

15.  Should I use the phone or texting?
Short answer is both. Peer to Peer texting and dialing are each effective as stand alone, but a omni channel approach will produce the best possible results.  If you want to develop volunteers and supporters reaching them is critical.

16.  Is it hard to get your message through?
A good call script is important to deliver the best message.  A good source for the message is the political candidate.

17.  Can we ask questions with the Phone Banking Software?
Surveys and questions to voter are a great use for a power dialer and the data can be helpful to the political campaign managers heading into the election.


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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