Hitting the Doors: NGP VAN’s Tips for Canvassing

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There are many reasons to canvas but, perhaps the most obvious and simple reason to canvass is that it works. There is very little else that you can do within your campaign that is as effective of spending face-to-face time with your constituents.

When your volunteers meet someone in person, they are able to build a connection that is stronger than phone banking, television advertisements, and social media efforts combined.

Speaking one-on-one with a constituent is the most effective way to persuade someone to take action, to register to vote, to get them to go to the polls.

Face to face interaction provides you and your volunteer’s direct access to voters. To be able to encourage them to be knowledgeable on the issues, vote for Democratic candidates, and connect on a level that has the potential to retain their vote for years to come.

Why Canvass? The Case for More of It!

It’s never too early to start canvassing efforts. Even if you’re in an uncontested primary, canvassing early and often can benefit your campaign tremendously.

While the immediate focus is undoubtedly the upcoming Midterm elections, it’s important to think about the longevity of engaging people during every election. Interacting with potential voters early on will secure voting habits within communities that will turn out more voters through election cycles on local and national levels.

It’s Effective

Voting is habit building, and it’s about being a good civic steward for your community. By canvassing you help to create an understanding with your voting public about the importance of voting in every election. Your candidate and volunteers can connect to voters regarding the topics that are important in the community.

Canvassing Can Provide More Insight

Canvassing helps your candidate and campaign to test out what is important to your constituents. Going door to door allows you access to the minds of your voters. By truly understanding the issues, and be able to use that knowledge to build scripts, missions, and plans of action for your candidate, you are able to build a sense of community.

Furthermore, by giving your candidate direct access to your community, you inherently build trust with your voting public, either by physically sending your candidate out to knock on doors or by sending volunteers who are prepared and ready to deliver your candidate’s mission.

Canvassing allows you to have a two-way conversation with someone. It’s not merely broadcasting your mission or your message. Because it’s important to gauge reactions and to reflect on what voters already think about candidates or hot topic issues like health care, and education reform.

Canvassing is the Foundation of a Strong Ground Game

Canvassing is a perfect opportunity to hear the rumors and the beliefs that have been spread through negative campaigning efforts and how these rumors may be penetrating the electorate. Often volunteers will encounter a constituent who believes a smear campaign, and it gives them an opportunity to correct the record.

Let’s dig into NGP VAN’s tips for maximizing your canvassing efforts, and building an effective campaign.

Tip #1 Quality over Quantity

It may be cliche, but it’s true: When you put garbage in, it usually equals garbage coming out.

The same is true for engaging with voters. If you’re mass producing content that is not specific to constituents, you won’t not be able to connect with your voters individually. By creating quality engagement, you’ll have a more significant impact that could lead to an overall successful campaign.

While it’s tempting to try and hit specific numbers when it comes to targeting the electorate, it’s important to find a balance between connecting one-on-one in a quality way and targeting a large number of potential voters. By canvassing, you are able to reach this balance more succinctly and effectively.

This is another reason why it’s important to start early with canvassing efforts so that you can build upon the time available until the election. Allowing your voters to make connections with volunteers over time secures more authentic engagement with a campaign.

It’s important to think about how many doors you can knock on and the actual conversations you have with the people who answer them. By building early, you can scale the efforts to have maximum impact and with NGP VAN tools you can streamline these efforts.

Tip # 2: Writing Smarter Scripts

Unfortunately, some campaigns consider the script to be a bit of an afterthought. It shouldn’t be this way, and there’s a reason it’s our number 2 tip on NGP VAN’s list. Writing a scrip that showcases a candidate’s platform in plain language is important for your canvass team to be successful. By making your script a priority, you are revisiting the issues your campaign cares about and thinking about how those issues affect your constituents.

Additionally, it’s useful to help your volunteers connect to the script in a personal way, using their own opinions and beliefs about the candidate, paired with the language you’ve created, that allow for productive conversations. Giving them access early and often to the scripts helps them practice how they will engage with voters. (More on role-playing in a bit!)

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Meet Voters Where They Are

It’s essential that you are prepared to meet a potential voter where they are in their journey to deciding to vote for the Democratic candidate. Just because a voter may be a registered Democrat doesn’t mean they’re vote is guaranteed.

By preparing yourself and your volunteers for different variations of the conversations that may occur (both positive and negative) you can help your canvassing efforts tremendously.

When you understand what issues people care about, you are learning about their hopes and fears for the future, and what directly impacts communities.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/why-president-obama-cant-get-enough-of-this-small-indiana-town
NGP VAN helped with both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Highlighting how a candidate plans to address a voter’s particular concern shows a willingness to representing the electorate rather than pushing an agenda that is disconnected from the population. As representatives for a candidate, volunteers should present a sense of compassion when interacting with voters.

The challenge is to engage regular voters in making sure they keep coming back to the polls or recruiting more volunteers or funders. At the same time, your canvassing efforts must be able to inform and impress sporadic voters to make their way to the polls, all without alienating a potential voter.

It’s a tricky balance to be sure, but with the right training, and the right kind of script, it can be highly effective.

GOTV Scripts (Making a Plan with Voters)

All the scripts, and training, and canvassing in the world will do no good if your intended constituents don’t actually make it to the polls.

We’ve found that by helping voters make a specific plan, their odds of acting on it are far more successful. This includes assisting voters to know their polling location, planning the best time of day that is convenient for work or school, Whether or not to take public transportation, drive, walk, whatever it may be.

NGP VAN has many helpful resources and best practices to help you tailor your Get Out to Vote (GOTV) scripts to your community. Ultimately, when you help a voter visualize and go through the process of getting to the polls, they’re far more likely to do it.

Tip #3: Go Mobile with MiniVAN

MiniVAN is an automated system that makes the canvassing process so much easier, efficient, and effective than procedures of the past.

MiniVAN is an app for your smartphone that tracks your canvassing efforts in real time, imports data collected during a volunteer’s shift, and streamlines the entire data collecting process.

Mobile canvassing makes the entire process so much easier and efficient. It’s also extraordinarily cost efficient in that you no longer need to print hard copies of data received by your volunteers. Gone are the days of recruiting a data entry person, or compiling packets late into the night.

MobileVAN allows you to scale your time in such a way that you can focus more on outreach, and less on data entry. You can spend more time recruiting volunteers and training them to have quality conversations. Getting out the vote is a campaign’s priority; cutting turf by hand and spending hours doing data entry are now things of the past.

Tip #4: Stop Cutting Turf

Smart canvassing is distributed through MiniVAN and automates turf cutting. It’s so simple; volunteers can search an area by address, and immediately pull the closest doors for them to canvas.  Alternatively, as a customer, you can designate the area you’d like to target and assign that area to your volunteers, and they then select where they’d like to focus their efforts.

The volunteer has instant access to all of the necessary information on their phone, including scripts, GOTV scripts, voter information, and more. Easy. Peasy.

NGP VAN MiniVAN also eliminates the need for your volunteers to drive all over to pick up specific documents. Volunteers don’t have to return with handwritten notes or additional data to enter after a long day of canvassing.

It’s all sustainable, automated, and far more streamlined with NGP VAN’s MiniVAN app.

Distributing canvassing saves time and cuts out the middleman (the office). It even allows your volunteers to feel more comfortable by canvassing in an area that they are familiar with (and in some cases, even with their own neighbors)!

For more information about MiniVAN, please check out this link here.  When you become a member, you will have a detailed rundown of all the wonderful things MiniVAN can do for your campaign. It indeed is a game changer in the turf game.

MiniVAN allows you to modernize and speed up the process of getting your volunteers to knock doors.

Tip #5: Automate Everything

By automating canvassing efforts through MiniVAN, volunteers can enter the data immediately into their phone after having spoken with a constituent. You can even see the real-time how effective your volunteer efforts were throughout the day as volunteers are working through their respective regions.

This is a game changer for organizing efforts and quality data collection.

Tip #6: Create Branched Scripts

Having a script that shows the trajectory of answers and responses can be extremely useful. However, it can be a specific challenge for script creators, and campaigns to break down those scripts in a way that helps your canvass team feel prepared and be effective. By having branched scripts, such as the ones provided through MiniVAN, conversations can be far more intuitive.

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This doesn’t mean that your volunteers stand at the door with their phone and click, read, repeat. Instead, it is a way to help establish interactive training with them and to prepare them for the choices of answers and responses available to them.

Take the time to practice the tools in your mobile NGP VAN program, to establish which ones work best for you. If you have questions be sure to reach out to your point of contact at NGP VAN to build out your branched scripts effectively.

Tip #7: Training Matters

By utilizing several of the mobile and automated functions that NGP VAN provides, you may find yourself with a bunch of free time. Use this “free time” to focus efforts on training your volunteers to have compelling, personal, authentic,, engaging, and impactful conversations. The more adept your volunteers are with interpersonal communication, the more effective every canvass mission will be.

A Quick Note About Training

Training shouldn’t take long: perhaps 15 -20 minutes to go through all of your tools and points. The goal is to get your volunteers to feel confident and then get them on the road. Because time is essential, you’ll want to build out a particular training agenda hitting the significant points and highlighting the essentials to help your team feel prepared.

By building out a training agenda that you can quickly utilize when you meet your volunteers in person, you’ll streamline the time it takes to get your volunteers out on the pavement knocking doors.

But don’t forget to roleplay!

NGP VAN recommends that this training should always be combined with a few minutes of role-playing. Role play is a significant factor in training your volunteers. By giving them a chance to work out their initial canvassing jitters, and practice some of the scripts, you’ll help your volunteers feel more confident, and ultimately be more effective.

Train your volunteers to create a personal story.

Why do I believe in our candidate?

What is my connection to this campaign?

Teach your volunteers to make a hard ask when going door-to-door.

Will you donate a small contribution of $30 today or sign up to participate in a phone bank?

Tip #8: Incentivize Honesty

It’s rare, but there are some volunteers may fib some of their findings and data. We believe that there’s no point in canvassing if the data collected isn’t real. The ultimate goal is to win the campaign, and with fake data, that’s never going to happen.  This is why accountability is important, and where MiniVAN can give you accurate real-time accounts of where and what your team is doing.

Mobile canvassing with NGP VAN’s apps allows your volunteers to report their findings quickly and effectively and for you to be able to verify that their results make sense to their physical movement on the app. Most volunteers are ethical and are there because they believe in your candidate. MiniVAN Manager allows you to trust, but verify your team’s progress.

Tip #9: Candidate to Canvass

Voters love meeting the candidate. Sending your candidate to knock on doors is extraordinarily useful in getting support. That being said, we know that a candidate’s time is extremely important, so it’s essential to be methodical in planning a candidate’s canvassing efforts.

For example, you could balance a canvassing effort with a fundraising one. That is to say, if a candidate has a house party planned, you could have them canvas for a few hours in the neighborhood near the house party to maximize their time and physical presence.

However, this is all extremely specific to your candidate. If you’re running a campaign for a statewide race, it’s hard to have them knock on every single door. If the campaign is local with a smaller demographic, you can actually make significant inroads and enormous progress by having them knock on as many doors as possible.

It’s also important to put yourself in their shoes. NGP VAN knows that it’s hard to be making fundraising calls day in and day out. Sometimes connecting with the voters can be incredibly informative, providing real anecdotes and stories that they can use on different platforms.

There is nothing that speaks more to a candidate’s commitment to win a race, than getting out and knocking doors. Attending debates, town halls, and going door-to-door is the most effective way to connect with voters. Putting out the physical effort means something, and signals to voters a real commitment to representation and democracy.

NGP VAN has offices in Washington, District of Columbia and Somerville, Massachusetts. 

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