February 3, 2015

8 Tips for Calling Contacts Around an Issue Campaign

When preservation is placed in the hands of the voters, calling community members to explain the issues and ask for their support at the ballot box can be a boon to your campaign.

But making your case and educating voters over the phone can be intimidating. And organizing an event and coaching volunteers to help you get the word out has complications too.

Fear not, though. Here are eight tips for a fun and effective contact-calling event.

Get Your Team Together

When organizing an event like this, the more the merrier. Friends, relatives, and coworkers are all good groups to tap for participants. That said, it’s also valuable to include people who have previous experience with the issue.

Bringing in volunteers from other segments of the campaign who know the talking points can make the life of the organizer that much easier.

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Find an Event Site

It’s important to have all of your participants together so that they feel like part of a team. Beyond that, nearly any space that allows your team members to hear their conversations clearly will do.

A particularly good option is to find a like-minded organization that will allow you to hold your event in their office space after hours.

“If you can take over a marketing division or something and 40 people come in and you sit down at desks and cubicles, it makes it feel more official,” says Grant Stevens, who helped run the National Trust’s Yes on Issue 8 campaign to save Union Terminal in Cincinnati.

Working in an office space with landlines can also save volunteers valuable cell phone minutes.

Bring Refreshments

It’s always a nice idea to include refreshments for your volunteers. Light appetizers, pizza, pop, or even a few beers can attract additional participants and make volunteers feel like part of a team.

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Obtain Your List

Calling friends and family is a great way to get comfortable with promoting your issue over the phone, but to make a larger impact, you’ll need to expand your reach.

A good option for securing a list of reliable numbers is to partner with a like-minded organization that has a phone list of its own. Museums, nonprofits, and other local organizations may be willing to share member, donor, or other lists with you that will likely yield sympathetic voters on the other end of the line.

Time Your Calls

The most effective time to call is early evening. Call anytime before 5:00 p.m. and people are likely not home from work. Call after 9:00 p.m. and you're likely pushing people’s privacy limits.

“If you know your demographics really well -- for example, if you know you’re calling a lot of people who are retired -- you could definitely do that during the day because a lot of those folks are home at that point,” says Stevens. “But I think the vast majority you’re going to catch from 6:00-8:00 p.m.”

Write Your Script

Even for experienced volunteers, having a script that guides you through the conversation with voters can be a tremendous help. The best scripts provide a path for the conversation based on the responses your contacts are giving you.

Scripts also help keep conversations to the right length. Anything longer than a few minutes will cut into your productivity. Having a list with the top 10 FAQs and the appropriate responses is helpful too.

There should also be a section of the script that outlines a basic message to leave on a voicemail. In Cincinnati, it was a simple as “Hi, I’m calling for the Yes on Issue 8 campaign. The vote is on Tuesday. You can learn more at MyUnionTerminal.com.”

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Know Your Content

Beyond explaining the issue at hand, there are a few other important topics to discuss with contacts.

Explaining polling hours and locations is crucial to encouraging people to vote. It’s also important to explain the language of the ballot and ensure that a contact understands what voting in the affirmative or the negative means for the issue. Explaining where on the ballot the issue appears helps, too.

“One thing it always pays to ask people up front,” Stevens explains, “is ‘Are you a registered voter?’ You can call a whole bunch of people and if they’re not registered voters, that’s just a waste of your time.”

Avoid Conflict

Though most people will be polite on the phone, there will always be a few who are less than cordial.

“I think the question that has come up the most is ‘How did you get this number?,’” says Stevens, “so have a truthful response for that.”

When it comes to people who want to attack you or the campaign, it’s best to avoid confrontation.

“We just always said ‘We’re sorry you feel that way. Thank you for talking to us tonight,’ and hang up,” says Stevens. “It’s not worth your time, or their time, to get bitter about it.”

Combine these eight tips, and your contact-calling event should be well on its way to making a positive impact on your preservation campaign. Good luck!

David Weible was the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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