Phonebanking: Movement Building Through Fundraising

Interns Sarah Tran and Hai Chi Vu Phonebank at the Office

Interns Sarah Tran and Hai Chi Vu Phonebank at the Office

by Phuong Tseng

Have you ever tried calling someone you don’t know or called your friends to donate or volunteer some of their time to a non-profit organization? If you did then congratulations, you have experienced phone banking. Before I start talking about my experiences with phone-banking, I want to let you know that this type of phone banking is very different from the usual phone banking that a typical company or financial institution offers to their customers for transaction services. The type of phone banking that I’m writing about revolves around community organizing and community building. Have you ever tried calling someone you don’t know or called your friends to donate or volunteer some of their time to a non-profit organization? If you did then congratulations, you have experienced phone banking. Before I start talking about my experiences with phone-banking, I want to let you know that this type of phone banking is very different from the usual phone banking that a typical company or financial institution offers to their customers for transaction services. The type of phone banking that I’m writing about revolves around community organizing and community building.

But first, let me give you my short version of community organizing and community building: it is the process and involvement relating to event planning and community building through interactive workshops and engaging activities. It sounds fun doesn’t it? Organizers spend most of their time sitting in meetings and at their desk planning events and practicing their lines for their workshops all the time and may be multiple times a day. It might be fun at first but it can get really boring if you do it too often. Here’s another fun way for organizers and those of you who are looking for a new skill to learn or something exciting to do when you are bored. Try phone-banking!

I remember my first phone banking experience was with OutLoud Radio in summer 2009. When I was first introduced to phone banking, I was unsure if I could perform the task. I was quite hesitant about what I could do with phone banking because phone banking is so different from what I usually do– planning events and facilitating workshops. My first attempt was very difficult. I remember I was sweating, mumbling words after words, and speaking way too fast. It was not easy! My second phone banking experience was with API Equality in summer 2011. I was not that excited about phone banking when Vanessa Coe, API Equality Northern California’s Lead Organizer, told me that we had to call people to volunteer for our flash mob and ask people to be our Reel Q & A interviewees. I didn’t write the phone banking script and was given the script that very minute. Knowing that I was about to talk to folks whom I did not know made me even more anxious. The reason why I was so nervous was because I wasn’t that good at it. However, I realized and understood the importance of phone banking after Vanessa facilitated a workshop relating to phone banking at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance Summer Leadership Summit in 2011. I learned that phone banking could bring us closer to our allies, supporters, and people around us whom we would not talk to or not close to.

Then why was I so hesitant about phone-banking? I was hesitant because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen since I was unsure if that person would be willing to work with me or not. Also, I didn’t want to take too long talking on the phone because I was afraid that the callee would find me annoying. Therefore, organizers would usually call their friends and rarely call a random person but that was not my experience. Also, I had a big ego, I was not used to the idea of phone banking and asking people for favors. I felt like I was begging people to do a favor for me.

Yet, I learned that phone banking can be very simple. All you have to do is ask for donations or people to volunteer for event. By asking people directly, you get an instant respond right away and you are giving them an opportunity to be a part of your involvement. Often times, we assume that our friends and families aren’t interested in helping us. However, that assumption is wrong. Phone banking gives you an opportunity to catch up with your friends, make new friends, and learn about the amazing work that other folks are doing and how they can further support you in the work that you do. Most of them will be glad to support you because they believe in you as a person.

What I could have done better when I was phone banking: I always forget to breathe because I get so agitated about calling people without notifying them beforehand. It takes me a while and a few calls till I can start calming down and speak clearly and slowly. So, breathe and slow down when you speak while phone banking because it is not easy for people to listen to you if you speak too quickly. Also, speaking slowly and clearly will allow your callee to absorb and digest everything that you are telling them and it will make the conversation more interactive and engaging. Second, you do not need to beg or consistently pressure your callee to contribute or volunteer; if they are willing to support you, it is very likely that they will say, “yes,” after you have told them why you need them to do so. Although I’ve had some experiences with phone banking, I’m still not good at or fond of talking on the phone with my friends. However, even if you do not like phone banking you should still give it a few tries before you say “no” to it. Also, you should not hold a grudge against those who do not pick up your calls because (let’s be honest) you might have done something similar to someone in the past too.

Last, I would like to thank API Equality’s staff and interns for their support and encouragement because they motivated me to continue trying, and helped me to overcome my fear of phone banking. My most recent phone banking and fundraising was very successful because I was not mumbling or speaking too fast although I was a bit anxious about talking to my friends. Although I was somewhat hesitant about calling them, I was able to hold the conversation and raised a minimum of $10 per call; one of my very close friend donated as much as $60 and another friend donated twice because they thought that a one-time donation would not be enough! I was very empowered and delighted after my calls because I feel supported by my community. Ultimately, API Equality fund-raised $3,400 (in U.S. dollars) to send 2 staff and 5 interns to the 2012 National Queer Pacific Islander Alliance Conference in Arlington, Virginia. If it wasn’t for phone banking, we would not be able to fund-raise $3,400, in such a short amount of time, for the conference. So remember, if you need something from a friend or someone to support you by volunteering or donating to you or your organization, all you have to do is pick-up your phone and start calling your contacts. You’ll never know what people will say or do for you unless you ask.