Going door-to-door to talk with your neighbors about an important issue or candidate
Canvassing is going door-to-door to talk with your neighbors about an important issue or candidate. You can do this by yourself or with a couple friends. Or, better yet, get a larger group together and cover a whole neighborhood in one day.
Usually canvassing has one of two main goals:
- Identify community members who already support your candidate or issue and ask them to take an action like signing a petition, making a phone call, or contributing financially.
- Identify people who are undecided on supporting your candidate or issue and try to persuade them to become a supporter.
1. Pick an area and time to canvass
- If you're trying to affect your representatives' votes, it's a good idea to figure out where they live and canvass that neighborhood. Just think of the representative coming home to find all his or her neighbors saying that they were canvassed to support an issue! Another good spot to canvass is your own neighborhood—where you'll be talking to your own neighbors.
- Canvassing typically works best between 5 and 8 p.m. on weekdays or during the day on weekends when more people are home.
- Pick a meeting spot where everyone can gather before setting off to go door-to-door. This could be a coffee shop, a parking lot, or just a convenient corner.
- It's more fun and effective when you can get a team of canvassers to go at one time. You'll be able to cover more turf (knock on more doors) and have fun doing it all together. So ask Council members or supporters to commit to a two or three-hour block of time to canvass—and let them know you'll provide a quick training and all the materials they'll need.
- Figure out what you want to say at the door and write out a quick script. Remember these are personal conversations so you don't have to memorize numbers or facts, just a 30-second "rap" about why you're there, why your issue is so important, and what you'd like them to do.
- If the goal of your canvassing is to mobilize current supporters, you'll want to figure out an "ask" in advance for how supporters can take action. For example, bring a cell phone and your member of Congress's phone number so that supporters can instantly place a call to his/her office in support of your issue. And, because some folks won't be home, be sure to have a flyer or some information you can leave with them so they can read up a bit afterwards.
- If the goal is to persuade people to support your issue or candidate, you will want to have one or two key points prepared to emphasize as well as a flyer or factsheet to leave behind.
- Be sure to have a "walk-sheet," or a simple list of addresses to help you keep track of all the doors you've already knocked on. Not only will it make you feel good to know how many people you've talked to and what they said, but keeping track is important so you can avoid talking to the same people twice.
- Print out copies of each of these materials (and bring pens and clipboards) for all the people who said they would come.
- Gather everyone at your meeting spot about 30 minutes before your canvass start time to do a quick training.
- Thank everyone for coming and explain how important neighbor-to-neighbor communication is to winning on the issue. Then, go over the script, flyers, and any materials people are bringing door to door. (If it's hot outside, be sure to provide folks with plenty of water!)
- Then have people pair up and spend ten minutes practicing canvassing each other; this will get everyone energized and prepared to go door to door.
- Everyone should have his or her own sheet of addresses to visit so that only one person is knocking on a door at a time.
- Stay aware of your surroundings and be safe. Don't knock on a house if there are dangerous pets or other obstacles in your way. And never go inside a house or do anything that may endanger your safety.
- Plan to meet back at the starting spot at a set time.
- Gather everyone for a quick five-minute debrief. Go over how your team did and how many doors you knocked on. Have people share one or two good stories about their experiences.
- Pat yourselves on the back—you've just canvassed!
- Smile and make eye contact while you're speaking.
- Introduce yourself and your organization at the beginning.
- If the person you're speaking to is very busy or is strongly not with us, it's best to move on quickly.
- Move quickly between houses and cover as much ground as you can.
- If there's a doorbell, push hard and listen for the sound of the bell. If there isn't a doorbell or you don't hear it ringing, don't be afraid to knock. And be sure you knock loudly enough so that they can hear you!
- Canvassing can be pretty scary for people who haven't done it before. So if you're leading a group, be sure to give everyone lots of encouragement and support. Make sure that brand new canvassers canvass with a "buddy" for at least the first 20-30 minutes to get them off on the right foot.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Always end the conversation on a positive note.