Call time. The very words bring cold beads of sweat to the foreheads of many self-respecting candidates. Yet unless you can self-fund or draw upon a financial sugar daddy, candidate call time will be a major part of your campaign. Ask any experienced campaigner: a candidate who doesn’t make the calls doesn’t stand a chance.
There are lots of methods for raising campaign cash: parties, emails, direct mail, a Donate button on your website. But none comes close to the power of a personal appeal from the candidate. That being the case, you need to make the most of call time.
How much call time is required? The answer varies depending on your skill in getting to yes and how quickly you complete each call. But it also depends on (a) the quality of the list you’re calling from and (b) the efficiency of your dialing system.
The All-Important List
During my 2016 congressional campaign, I raised more than half our war chest from friends and family. I hated the thought of asking buddies and business contacts for money, but you know what? Calling strangers is a lot harder. Your friends already know and trust you; they want you to succeed, and they’ll usually jump at the chance to help make it happen.
(Side note: There’s a whole technique for conducting the actual call — the right mindset, the perfect combination of script and conversation, the art of drawing the other person into a meaningful exchange while keeping the call brief — but it deserves a fuller discussion so we’ll save it for its own post.)
The point here is that your best list is probably your own list. But once you blow through those folks, what’s next? Chances are you’re going to need to pay for the next group of targets.
There’s any number of fundraising firms — just Google “Democratic fundraising firms” and see what you get. Their quality and pricing varies greatly depending on the firm, research methods, specific people doing the research, and any additional services offered by the firm.
All Lists are Not Created Equal
Early in my campaign, one of our consultants eagerly worked out a deal to obtain a huge list from a local activist with a blog presence. What a mess! The list was massive — over 60,000 contacts — but many records contained bad our outdated info, many people were uninterested in politics, were staunch Republicans, or were dead — and virtually none wanted to be on any kind of list. The result was that we wasted a lot of time and alienated a lot of people.
Moral: A list of 250 quality prospects is infinitely more valuable than a list of 60,000 poorly-researched unknowns.
A Good List at a Reasonable Cost
Say you hire a firm for $5,000 per month. You’ll start each subsequent month knowing that the first $5,000 you raise will go straight to the consultant. That’s fine if the consultant is top-notch and your cash flow keeps up. But what if you bust your butt each month and still raise only $6,000? You’ll soon feel like you’re working for the consultant rather than them working for you. You might say to yourself: “Y’know, if I fired the consultant, did less call time and raised just $2,000 a month, I’d be way ahead.”
Don’t kid yourself. Modern campaigns run on money; you can’t settle for the cheap solution just because it’s easy. You need a list — a good one. Just don’t overpay for it.
Where to Find a List
I don’t know many people in the fundraising business, but one I do know and respect is Jonas Courey of Donor Connection. Donor Connection provides candidates with a targeted donor list, refreshes it every month, and combines it with an efficient calling system. He offers four tiers of service to fit campaigns of all sizes, starting at $999 per month. Jonas did an excellent job for my campaign and is now a sponsor of the Democratic Candidates Conference. He’s offering attendees 25% off their first month’s service, which is a fantastic deal considering it completely offsets the cost of conference registration.
Dialing the phone is slow and leaves too much room for procrastination. The following tools can greatly improve your call time efficiency. Each consists of a web-based platform that controls your phone and displays the contact’s information during calls.
The Preview Dialer
A preview dialer is one step ahead of regular phone calling. The dialer application displays the target’s record in your web browser, but it doesn’t dial the phone until you tell it to by clicking the appropriate button. Immediately following the call, the next record pops up allowing you take a quick look before initiating the next call.
I’m not a fan of this system. Yes, it allows you to read about your target before calling, but the information may be of little use considering that most calls go unanswered. And you have to initiate each call, which leaves too many opportunities to slow the process down.
The Power Dialer
With a power dialer, the system dials for you. And it does it fast: as soon as one call ends, the next one starts ringing and the target’s record appears on your screen. This is the kind of system I used. I found that I usually had time to do a quick read of my target before they picked up — that is, if they picked up, which again is less than half the time. If you reach voicemail, just click another button to leave a pre-recorded message in the background while the system immediately initiates the next call.
A predictive dialer makes the most of your time — but at a cost. The system dials, say, three calls — all at the same time. If one gets answered, the dialer drops the other attempts, connects you with the target and displays that person’s record. What’s more, it doesn’t even wait for you to hang up before it calls the next batch of three. That’s the predictive part: over time the system learns how long you’re likely to stay on a call. It then times its next set of dials to get you talking to another person as quickly as possible.
Some experienced campaigners swear by the predictive dialer because of its efficiency. The drawback is that it can be impersonal. We’ve all been on the receiving end of telemarketer calls: those few seconds of silence before getting connected to a breathless, slightly confused agent on the other end who’s probably trying to read your name while attempting to be as natural as possible. It can make the target feel irritable and disrespected. The way I look at it, if I’m going to ask someone to give money to me — a perfect stranger — the least I can do is be waiting for them when they answer the phone.
Try All Three
If you’re not sure which kind of dialer you’d prefer, maybe you should try them all. CallHub, another DemCanCon sponsor, has an impressive system that includes a preview dialer, power dialer and predictive dialer. CallHub has no minimum fee: you pay only for the time you’re actually connected on a call. The rate is 1.4¢ for every 30 seconds of calling, which translates to about $50 for 29 hours of actual phone time. There’s no charge for no-answers or voicemail pickups.
Like Donor Connection, CallHub also has a special offer for DemCanCon registrants: when you register for the conference you’ll receive 1,700 minutes of free calling on the system using any or all of the dialer systems discussed above.
The Bottom Line
For more information, check out these two episodes of the Democratic Candidates Podcast:
Episode 7 - Powerful Phone Calling Tool for Campaigns on a Budget - With Augustus Franklin of CallHub.io
Episode 9 - Call Time Tips with Jonas Courey of MyDonorConnect.com
You can listen to the podcast and register for the Democratic Candidates Conference at DemCanCon.org. The sponsor-related offers above will be presented to you when you register through the site.
Andy Millard is the conference organizer for the Democratic candidates conference. His eclectic background includes roles as an educator, small business owner, financial planner, author, event planner and congressional candidate.