query: canvassing

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Mar 29 03:53:55 CST 2001

[ed:  thanks to Fran for responding to David's query.]
 From: "Francis X. Tobin" <fxtobin at juno.com>
 I've had experience with canvasses in several a different contexts and
 from different angles. I've run, worked for and argued against
 canvasses.  It's a mixed bag that can be a very useful tool, a royal pain

 in the ass or a cancer that will eat away your organization, depending
 First and foremost, don't go into it thinking it's going to be a
 fundraising bonanza; it won't be.  And make sure you have someone that
 knows how they work and is willing/able to "do the doors" to start and
 run it.
 As a tool to get out information on a focused, "canvassable" campaign,
 identify supporters/donors and (possibly) generate lobbying pressure, a
 canvass can be powerful.  That assumes you have canvassable turf and
 issues -- meaning you have to be able to reach people easily, people that

 will give enough money on your issues to pay the staff, trainers,
 directors, etc.  Whether people that are not themselves low wage workers
 will contribute to a canvasser on their doorstep talking about living
 wage is an open question -- test it out before diving in.  Most canvasses

 run on consumer-oriented campaigns like utility rates, issues for which
 middle class households have at least some direct self interest.  If
 you're doorknocking people that ARE low-wage workers, you might want some

 structure for reaching them other than canvass, since this is the
 constituency you want to organize.
 Canvasses are very labor intensive.  Generally what you end up with is
 enough money to pay for the canvass -- which is good if the canvassers
 are generating interest, post cards, petitions, calls or whatever else
 fits in to your core organizing strategy.  A canvass is NOT an organizing

 strategy, which groups sometimes forget, partly because a serious canvass

 is a large operation.	Canvassing can be a good entry for people that
 will evolve as activists or organizers, but it can also burn them out and

 make them cynical so they'll give up on social change forever ;-)
 As for the cancer, there can be a temptation to allow the canvass to be
 the tail that wags the dog.  You build this infrastructure and it's
 useful to this campaign and you want to keep it going and so have to be
 able to cut your issues to the single family suburban households and next

 thing you know you start thinking that "the doors" are your constituents
 and you end up a "middle class consumer populist" kind of group when your

 membership was low wage workers ...
 So look to your overall strategy.  If you have a component, like leaning
 on a legislator in whose district you don't have a base, or want to do a
 referendum, canvassing can help.  But consider other ways you might meet
 your needs first (for example, you might want to do a smaller scale,
 volunteer canvass with more effort put into following up on supporters to

 bring them into the campaign).
 Fran Tobin

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