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Effective Relational Organizing with Volunteers TBD

Posted on October 29, 2021

What a difference a year makes! When Jeff Lobo first signed up to volunteer with Swing Blue Alliance back in 2020, phone banking felt pretty daunting to this self-described “off-the-charts introvert.” But within months, Lobo was making calls twice a week and leading phone banking efforts for SBA (then known as Swing Left Greater Boston), focusing on Florida’s Broward and Duval counties — five in Spanish, five in English, and four in Haitian Creole.

In February 2021, Lobo joined the SBA interim leadership group. He began to phone bank weekly again in April as part of a SBA partnership with Common Cause to urge voter support for the For the People Act. While continuing to phone bank as part of that campaign, Lobo’s main focus these days is our Volunteers TBD Calling Corps program to re-engage former SBA volunteers. 

Swing Blue’s Volunteers TBD Program

What does the “TBD” in Volunteers TBD stand for? Actually, two things: Take Back Democracy and To Be Determined. The goal of the program is to develop a community of SBA recruiters with expertise in engaging volunteers in a relational way. Once we’ve got a proficient team, SBA plans to offer this as a service other organizations can use to build up their own volunteer ranks.

As Lobo explained, “One of the most important things the Democratic Party must do in swing states is expand their local organizations. Re-engaging past volunteers, bringing on new volunteers, both can really help advance Democratic ideas and elect candidates, especially in the redder parts of these purple states. We think the TBD phone banking program can be instrumental in those efforts,” he said.

After brainstorming the concept over the summer, SBA leadership launched the TBD program in September. Every Friday for the past four weeks, Lobo has led a group of five to 10 SBA phone banking volunteers. So far, 12 different people have participated — but more are always welcome to join! 

Each 90-minute session starts with some training based on motivational interviewing techniques, like affirmation and asking open-ended questions to generate more relational conversations. Together, the participants experiment and try out different approaches to see what works and what doesn’t. Then they practice and hone their new skills by calling former SBA volunteers to see how they’re doing and talk about actions volunteers can engage in right now — like calling voters in Virginia and canvassing in Fredericksburg, VA, and New Hampshire to build a base of Democratic voters for the 2022 midterm elections.

What’s Next?

“A great thing about this phone banking program is that grassroots and local Democratic organizations can do it year-round, whether it’s an election year or not,” said Lobo. “Before we started Volunteers TBD, we polled a number of smaller organizations and found consensus that recruiting more volunteers was difficult but essential. January is our target date for rolling it out,” he said.

Interested in organizing volunteers with Swing Blue Alliance? Learn more  

Marilyn Hirsch is a freelance copy and editorial writer based in MetroWest Boston.