Inside a Democratic campaign—Improving your call time

We live in a mobile era

Cell phones are everywhere, along with digital calling like Google Voice. They have been for a while, and even with that being true, most of the call time operations I run into still focus on the standard.: small room and a cell phone. The reason you hear most is no distractions. There is a point to this—if candidates are doing something else or are easily distracted, then call time falls apart.

If you are a candidate in a small district, call time in private is easily the best method. There is nothing to interrupt you from talking to a potential donor and no outside, unwelcome noises that will disrupt your conversation. 

If you are running in a geographically large area, though, from state Senate to governor, you’re going to have a lot of time in a car. A properly staffed campaign can make good use of this, as the back seat of a vehicle is a great place to do call time and can often lead to unique conversations with donors, including follow-up opportunities. If you know you are going to a location, call donors in that location on your way there. “Hey, XYZ, It’s (candidate name)” and point out that not only do you hope they will donate to the campaign, but you are also going to be in their community soon. This helps build your events and your fundraising, especially for smaller-population, large-geography races. 


If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies this year, Sorry To Bother You, you’ve heard a lot about STTS, Stick To The Script. For telemarketing, the characters are advised that they have to stick tightly to the pre-written script in order to succeed. What you learn in the movie is also true in call time: making people feel as though the conversation is unique to them by actually doing just that is likely to solicit more interest in your campaign and more support. In other words, don’t make generic asks. Be okay talking to donors about their concerns. While you don’t need long conversations to do that, a good rhythm allows you to talk to a potential donor about the issues that motivate them to vote for and support you. As much as your campaign wants them to financially contribute, having someone who is excited about your candidacy and will work hard and spread the positive word about you is worth as much, and often more, than a contribution.

Don’t be afraid to laugh, talk a bit off topic, you know, do that thing called being human. One of the most effective call times I’ve ever seen or heard occurred in a Missouri race (candidate will be unnamed), who began a phone call with a larger donor like this: “Well, you know why I’m calling, but before we get there, what the hell is going on with the Rams?” At this point in time the Rams were in St. Louis. Big laugh. About a five-minute conversation followed, and boom, max donor. The thing is, people like to donate to campaigns where they actually like the person. Be human. If you know the person you are calling, don’t force a rigid conversation down their throat, and remind them they are talking to a friend outside of politics.

Sometimes a call isn’t the answer.

Call time is an effective way to raise money. But in smaller races, many donors want to do something shocking: they actually want to meet you. Be prepared to use some of your call time to offer opportunities to meet you. Donors may give you a commitment for a certain amount on a phone call, but if you follow it up with an opportunity to meet at a house party, a community gathering, a coffee shop, or anywhere else to sit and humanize your race, you likely find that the call was only the start of the conversation.

Everything in your fundraising has to work together to amplify the message to the donors that you are a candidate worth their hard-earned money. 

I’m a donor! Damn these phone calls!

If you are a donor and you don’t want a lot of phone calls, I have a surefire method for you: contribute the maximum online right away. 

Okay, so that isn’t a solution for everyone, or for every race. In local market races, state house, state senate, and small market mayoral races, there is another option. If you know that you are unlikely to give for any reason and you are still involved in the Democratic effort, send a note to a campaign and simply say: “I love your campaign, but I cannot contribute to this cycle, as most of my resources are going to (another candidate, personal expenses, whatever).” Believe it or not, campaigns do appreciate it, and many will take you off their call list to save their candidate time. You’ll still get the emails and options later, but being a good donor also means letting campaigns know where you stand.

If you can’t give a max but you give a fair amount, let’s say more than 25 percent of a max, and you know that is all you will contribute, let the candidate know that too—it saves them from calling you back and also keeps their call sheets open for other opportunities. “Jeff, I’m proud to give your campaign $200, but this is all I can give this cycle.”

Final thoughts

We live in the era of Citizens United, dark money, and big expensive campaigns. It is truly unfortunate. Campaigns can win with less money, that is true. However, a campaign must have at least enough money on hand to get their message out to voters. You can be a big part of that. Small donations in bundles to campaigns matter. Every cent that goes into a well-run campaign helps the Democratic effort up and down the ballot. Candidates often dread call time. If you are a candidate, try to power through with some of the tips above. If you are a donor, though, be nice to a candidate. If you can’t give, keep it short and let them move on, but be nice to them—they are doing what they have to do in order to win. 

Two years ago, I offered this video on the subject, and it’s a good re-watch now!

Next week on Nuts & Bolts: Clean Campaigns in a dirty world

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