Canvassing is defined as door to door (and face to face) voter contact. It is not the same as "blitzing" or a "literature drop". Hanging a bag of campaign material on a doorknob is far less effective than a real conversation. To be an effective precinct committeeman, you must meet your voters. It's important to listen as well as talk.
If your precinct is partly or mostly un-walkable, you can make phone calls and send postcards. Talk to your District Chair for help.
Rarely, you will encounter a voter who does not appreciate your visit. Don't argue, just apologize and leave quickly. Door slams are not the end of the world. You are not soliciting, and you don't need a license to canvass.
What are the goals of canvassing?
- Voter ID
- Party preference (can't always trust primary voting history)
- How likely to vote
- Elevator speech
- Hand out literature
- Yard sign placement
- Volunteer recruitment
- Get canvass results into VoteBuilder
How to canvass
- Introduce yourself – who are you?
- Hand out literature during intro
- Verify who you are talking to
- Deliver Message
- Be concise, be quick
- Hook the voter
- DO NOT engage in debate with voter
- Disengage – Can I Count On Your Vote?
- 90 seconds at the door
- Goal – 20 doors an hour (that's a really fast pace, even assuming 50% of doors knocked get no answer)
- Follow up
- Contact the "not home" voters with a return visit, postcard or phone call
- Forward voter questions to the candidate(s)
- VoteBuilder data entry (if you didn't use MiniVAN).
Planning your canvassing activities
- When do I start canvassing?
- As early as possible!
- Need time to follow up with voters who were not home
- Set a goal of talking to every voter in your precinct twice during an election cycle
- What are the best times to canvass?
- Try to find the times that people are more likely to be home. It varies a bit depending on time of year and the weather, but these guidelines are a good place to start.
- Monday – Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- Scheduling and logistics
- Work backward from start of early voting to determine how many available hours you have to canvass
- Be realistic with your pace and availability
- Plan for "rainouts" and other missed opportunities
- Create walk lists in advance and load them to MiniVAN and/or print them
- Make sure you have all necessary supplies (pens, clipboards and literature, etc.)
- Teamwork with a candidate
- Teams of 3 are the most efficient, using the "ping-pong" method to maximize the candidate's face time with voters.
- Plan canvassing routes to minimize backtracking
- Take short breaks every 60-90 minutes; stay hydrated
- Share feedback with candidate and adjust technique or message if necessary
Direct mail printing
Walk cards and canvassing supplies
Visit the NationBuilder website and pick the topics you'd like to learn more about.
- If you feel guilty asking for money you should not be running.
- You never get what you don’t ask for.
- The most powerful ask is face-to-face.
- Phone calls by the candidate are also essential.
- Personalized letters with follow-up phone calls work extremely well.
- Surrogates with a relationship to the potential donor are powerful.
- You need a finance committee. Give each member a fundraising goal.
- Devote at least some time every day during the campaign to fundraising.
- Call time
- Budget review
- You must have a reason for the ask:
- Meeting a concrete, measurable need for your campaign.
- Fulfilling an emotional, transactional or ideological need for the donor.
- Your best prospects are people who have already given you money or volunteered for your campaign.
- Always ask for more than you think the donor is willing/able to give. It's not insulting; it's flattering.
- Special events are only a small part of your fundraising toolbox.
- Special interest groups are going to be your most important donors.
- Labor unions
- PACs and advocacy organizations
- Party members
- Business owners
- Political organization members
- Raising money is really hard for first-time candidates.
- Loan yourself as much as you can afford, to show you are serious.
- Ask your strongest supporters for loans as well as donations.
- Report everything, including in-kind donations, to prove you have support.
- Don't spend on frivolous things. It will piss off your donors.
- Thank your donors in writing. Every time.
- First, make a budget. For County Board, here are some targets:
- High: $25,000
- Middle: $15,000
- Low: $7,500
- Write a plan with goals, and how to reach them.
- Who are you getting the money from? Identify your targets and how best to reach each kind of target.
- Start raising money today.
- EMILY'S List has it right: Early Money Is Like Yeast. It raises the dough.
- Try to raise at least half of your money before June 1.
- You are competing with other candidates for money. Be first and be persistent.
- You should not be raising money in October. That’s too late.
- Fundraising channels: use them all.
- Direct appeal
- Social media (including digital ads)
- Direct mail
- Don’t buy a list. You will lose money on the deal.
- You can ask the party to publicize your events using their list. That’s free.
- Build your own list of high, medium and low dollar donor prospects.
Sample donor plan
|Donor type||Number of donors||Amount of donation||Total amount raised|
Personal relationships give first and don't require a lot of money or effort to cultivate. Ask them now.
- Friends and family
- Colleagues, vendors and customers
- Community groups you belong to
Small affinity donors are getting lots of asks. They want to give a little to everyone who’s “on their side.”
- Party members
- Elected officials
Your opponent’s enemies are worth seeking out. Some of them may become your donors.
- Special interests threatened by your opponent (especially if an incumbent)
- Personal enemies
Big donors have long decision cycles and require lots of effort to cultivate.
- Labor unions
- Lobbying organizations
- Database can be anything from Excel to NGP, NationBuilder, etc.
- All prospects, donors and activities should be tracked.
- Once you get a donation, that donor should be on the list for a second and third ask.
- Thank all donors in writing. Every time.
You don't need an army. But you do need some troops.
Every candidate is responsible for their own campaign. The party can help you connect with volunteers and promote your candidacy and fundraising activities, but we are not running your campaign for you.
Canvassing will be your most important activity for the next nine months. You can't physically cover your universe by yourself, so you need at least two or three steady volunteers who can work with you nearly every week. More is obviously better.
Prospecting for volunteers
- Central Committee meetings and District meetings
- Precinct Committeeman list
- Friends and neighbors
- Affinity groups
- Other candidates
- Friends/family who can commit to at least 4 hours per week.
- Precinct Committeemen should commit to canvassing their precinct for you at least once.
- Always work with your District Chair to coordinate canvass activities.
- Use your first fundraiser or campaign kickoff event to recruit volunteers. People who give you money are much more likely to volunteer. They have invested in your success.
- Make sure your volunteers know your 30-second elevator pitch. They don't need to know every detail of your platform, just the basics.
- By far the most important activity for your volunteers will be canvassing.
- Volunteers who can’t or won’t walk can often be enlisted to phone bank.
- You will also need help with yard sign placement (including retrieval after the election).
- Envelope stuffing and other clerical tasks are a waste of time for most volunteers.
- Your best volunteers will be personal friends. Two or three good, steady volunteers can be enough.
- Precinct Committeemen are highly variable in ability and availability. They are getting asks from many candidates.
- Treat your volunteers like royalty. Reward them after each activity. Thank them at least three times for each activity.
Getting a commitment
- Setting your canvassing calendar is step one. Work backward from the beginning of early voting for the general election, and determine how many hours of canvassing it will take to cover your universe of voters (more on universes later).
- Ask your volunteers for a weekly commitment. It should be a minimum of four hours per event. Four hours every other week is far better than two hours every week.
- Don't expect your volunteers to work harder than you do. Lead by example.
- Once you have a commitment, send reminders by email or phone on a regular schedule to ensure follow-through.
- Make it a priority to get your activity calendar filled up as soon as possible.
- Don't waste volunteers’ time. Be ready to start as soon as the volunteers show up. Have a plan and goals for each volunteer.
- Inspire confidence in your volunteers by giving them clear instructions.
- Make sure you have all the canvassing supplies you need, including literature, walk sheets, pens, and water.
- Know the precinct before you start canvassing with your volunteers.
- Volunteers do talk. If they enjoy working with you, they will recruit their friends to help.
- This is hard work, but it doesn't have to be drudgery.