Value of Phone Outreach


In the recorded message be sure to include an impactful statistic about your campaign’s issue to draw in the listener, such as: “Did you know that more than half of school-aged children do not drink enough water? Water plays an important role in maintaining a child’s overall health and drinking water can help children learn better. However, many students in [COUNTY OR STATE] don’t have access to safe and appealing water at no charge during the school day. [CAMPAIGN/ORGANIZATION NAME] is working to change that. [CALL TO ACTION – VISIT WEBSITE, ASK TO CALL BACK, ENCOURAGE SUPPORT]”

Even in today’s digital era, person-to-person contact remains one of the most effective means of relationship building. Below is an overview of how to train volunteers for phone outreach, as well as an explanation of two different types: phone banks and phone patch-through programs. This is something you can also host virtually with your volunteers making calls out of their own house after attending a virtual training led by staff. 

Phone Banking

  • Operating a phone bank connects your organization’s volunteers with potential new advocates—people you hope will want to learn more about your issues, get involved with your campaign and take action to help you achieve your goals. To host a successful phone bank, make sure you address the steps below.

Recruit and Train Volunteers

  • Enlist your team. Find people who would be willing to make calls on a regular or semi-regular basis. Current staff members at your organization or existing volunteers are the best resources.
  • Identify your manager. Designate someone from your team to manage the call center. Train them to lead the volunteers and ensure program success.
  • Train your callers. Brief volunteers on the issues, key talking points for the call, information to collect while on the phone and how to exercise cultural sensitivity whenever appropriate. Conduct a training session where they can learn the campaign’s messaging and practice making calls to familiarize themselves with the process. They should also be trained on telephone relay services for those who are deaf.
  • Identify any unique language needs. Does your community include non-native English speakers? If yes, be sure to recruit bilingual volunteers or enlist the help of volunteer translators.

Find a Location and Supplies

  • Decide where people will make the calls. Before moving forward in this process, you must determine if you want callers to work from a centralized location or not. People can make calls from their homes, but without supervision, they might not stick to the script and could damage potential or existing relationships. Your offices could be a good location for local, targeted calls.
  • Make sure your office or location is ADA compliant and accessible by inclusive public transportation so that you don’t limit the number of your potential volunteers or staff meembers.
  • Equip yourself. Make sure your call center has enough lines and telephones for volunteers. Consider printing out talking points and information gathering sheets.
  • Set time limits and provide refreshments. Establish how long you want the call center to be open. If it is for a long period, make sure you provide food and drinks to volunteers.

Create a Call List

  • Develop your list. A call list is essential to any successful phone bank, but like all communication, it must be targeted. You should select individuals based on a known or potential interest in your issue including folks from the following groups: food justice and hunger organizations, members of coalition partner organizations, health professionals, school leaders, local health departments, community organization members, etc. Several resources are available to help discover target audiences, including U.S. Census data. As you develop your list, be sure to have callers who can communicate in the relevant languages spoken in the community.
  • Start with existing advocates at your organization. You already have their information, and it will make sense to them when they hear from you because they have previously expressed a passion for related issues. If possible, include in this level of outreach, a mention of a prior action or event they participated in to help kick start the conversation.
  • Consider buying lists. It is also possible to buy lists with phone numbers and other advocate information. Prices vary based on the level of targeting and number of people in a list, but InfoUSA, Caldwell List Company, and Dataman Group can be good resources if you wish to purchase a list.

Develop a Script

  • Prepare a script and some one-pagers to be sure volunteers have the materials they need for effective and informative conversations. As you develop your script, you may want to practice on someone not familiar with the issue to ensure your audience understands it in its intended way. Make sure you rate your script on accessibility with an 8th grade reading level or lower. Make sure your script includes the following information:
    • Introduction: Provide a brief introduction of who you are, the organization you represent and a one to two sentence explanation of why you are calling, and then ask if the person on the other end of the line has time to talk about the issue.
    • Outline of the Issue: If the caller has the time, explain the issue, why it is important and what your campaign is doing to help create change. This is the point where targeting is most important. Be sure you know the person you’re talking to and tailor the conversation to them.
    • Request for Assistance: Following the explanation of the issue, ask the advocates for another point of contact, e.g., their email or mailing address. If you already have this information, confirm that you have the correct addresses and follow up by asking if they’re interested in getting more involved in your campaign. Having this information will allow you to follow up later and provide further details about the issue and volunteer opportunities.
    • Closing: If someone declines to hear about the issue, ask if there would be a better time to call back. Lastly, whether advocates want to speak or not, always thank them for their time.
  • Below is a framework for a script. You may need more than one script depending on your intended goal for the call.
    • Hi [ADVOCATE NAME]. My name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m calling on behalf of [YOUR ORGANIZATION].
    • We’re working to [CAMPAIGN GOALS] in [ADVOCATE CITY]. Do you have a few minutes to talk about how this initiative will help you and your family?
    • IF YES
      • Great! [Insert persuasive information about your campaign here, including a statistic or two to prove your point. Consider tying in something specific about the geographic location to make the topic more relevant.]
      • The Ask: If you join us, we will keep you up-to-date on this issue, progress being made in your area and nationally, as well as ways you can be more involved. Will you join us in this mission?
        • IF YES: Wonderful. Let me get your [EMAIL, MAILING ADDRESS, ETC.] so we can keep you updated.
        • IF NO: Well, thanks for your time, and if you want to learn more about the program you can visit [WEBSITE]. Have a great [DAY, EVENING].
    • IF NO
      • Is there a more convenient time I can call you back? (If yes, make a note of when to call back. If no, then skip to…). Thanks for your time and if you want to learn more about the program you can visit [WEBSITE]. Have a great [DAY, EVENING].
      • Hi [ADVOCATE NAME]. My name is [YOUR NAME], and I’m calling on behalf of [YOUR ORGANIZATION].
      • We’re working to [CAMPAIGN GOALS] in [ADVOCATE CITY].
      • The Ask: Please call us at [PHONE NUMBER] or visit our website at [WEBSITE], to learn more and join our cause.
      • Thank you and have a great day!

Compile Data

  • You will want to make sure you track the data garnered from these phone calls—who you are calling, how many people you reach, how many volunteers sign up, who needs to be called back, etc.
    • Set standards and guidelines for recording data and be sure to train volunteers on the proper way to record information.
    • Consider creating a template in Excel for volunteers to record the data. Determine what you want to know about each person. You should at least have a first name, last name, phone number (home or mobile), email address, preferred language, as well as whether they picked up or you left a message and whether they wanted to talk or not. If possible, try to record their name and mailing address and any other helpful pieces of the conversation to shape future communications with this potential advocate.

Maintain the Relationship

  • Phone calls are the beginning of a relationship, not the end. To keep working with these advocates, you must follow up with them, either with another call or via email.

Phone Patches

  • A phone patch, as opposed to a phone bank, connects advocates with their elected officials. To host a phone-patching program, you will work with a third-party organization that calls advocates, explains the issue and asks if the advocates would like to be connected with his or her representative to voice support for a cause or issue. This is a supplemental method to the phone bank program and should target existing advocates, not new ones.
  • If you ask advocates to contact a legislator to support or oppose specific legislation, your phone patch calls will be considered grassroots lobbying. 

Create a Call List

  • As with phone banks, you will need to create a list of contacts to provide to the vendor. The vendor will use this list during the outreach process.

Develop Scripts for Messages

  • When individuals answer their phones, they will hear a prerecorded message and will be connected to a representative by pressing a designated number. A script that highlights the importance of the initiative should be written to serve as this recording. There should also be an option for non-English speakers to press a number to hear the message in their language.
  • Write scripts for:
    • Calls that are answered
    • Leaving a message
    • Note: If the script urges people to tell their legislators to support specific legislation, the calls would be lobbying. Patch through calls work the best for this kind of effort, rather than for more generic issue-support efforts, so consider this when developing the budget for your campaign activations.

Record the Results

  • Typically, a phone patch operator will provide a daily report with the results of the program. Collect that data and keep it for your records to help you strengthen future outreach efforts.

Additional Things to Consider

  • Whether you are phone banking or phone patching, there are some tips to keep in mind so your process runs smoothly.
  • Avoid using computer or auto dialing systems, as some states prohibit these and federal rules restrict auto-dialed calls to cell phones. Instead, have people dial numbers by hand. Hand-dialed phone banks also have a higher completion rate (50% compared to 15% with automated dialing systems, according to The Voices of America).
  • Hybrid systems also exist. These systems allow you to download to the phone so that you just hit “dial.” Volunteers can record the answers to the survey on the phone, which can then be downloaded to a computer. It also allows you to record a voicemail, so the volunteer can push a button that automatically plays your recorded message after the beep without having to stay on the line. However, these systems may not be used to call cell phone numbers unless the recipient has given your organization consent to call their cell phone.
  • Try to make your calls between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, as these are the hours you will most likely find people at home.
  • Make sure volunteers know how to react in different situations (e.g., leaving a message on a machine, speaking with a hostile individual or speaking to someone with a speech impediment or disability such as a hearing impairment.) 
  • Be sure the efforts of the campaign aren’t limited by do-not-call lists.
    • Typically, these apply only to telemarking sales calls. At the federal level, the do-not-call provisions do not cover calls from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors or companies with which a consumer has an existing business relationship.
    • Most states follow the standard set by the federal government, but state laws can vary. Check state government websites to ensure compliance with these laws.

Key Takeaways

  • There are two different types of telephone programs: phone banking and phone patching. Phone banking is for recruiting volunteers, while phone patching is for connecting advocates with elected officials.
  • To ensure a well-organized phone bank, brainstorm all potential questions and responses volunteers may receive and build a script to equip your volunteers with the best way to react to a few common scenarios.
  • If your community includes non-English speakers, make sure you recruit phone volunteers who can speak those languages including telephone relay systems for those who are deaf.
  • Consider the best time to make these calls to reach the highest number of people.
  • Check your state’s laws on phone outreach to ensure you are complying with all do-not-call provisions.