Canvassing gets the word out about your campaign in your community, fast. A well-run canvassing campaign allows your canvassers to make personal connections with supporters on behalf of your organization, while also fundraising for future campaign efforts.
Advocacy technology and canvassing best practices have rapidly evolved over the past year and a half. There are now more ways to conduct canvassing, including virtual methods. Both virtual and face-to-face canvassing have unique benefits. Some advocacy groups may find that virtual alone is the best fit for their strategies, while others might decide to switch entirely to a face-to-face approach. Finally, there are also advocacy groups who may employ both methods when relevant.
To help your organization determine which approach best fits your needs, this article will discuss the fundamentals of both virtual and face-to-face canvassing before diving into the pros and cons of each.
As you compare face-to-face and virtual canvassing, remember that canvassing, like most advocacy methods, is ultimately a tool. This means that while one approach may play more to an advocacy group’s strengths than the other, whether or not their canvassing efforts will find success is ultimately up to the organization’s staff and canvassers.
Your canvassing method will shape how you gather support. But ultimately, you’ll also need to consider canvassing best practices, your overall campaign structure, and your canvassing efforts’ goal.
Face-to-face canvassing is primarily conducted through door-to-door campaigns, street canvassing, or a mix of both. This method of canvassing has been around for hundreds of years and is seen as the more traditional, standard approach.
However, modern face-to-face canvassing benefits from advances in advocacy software. Instead of relying solely on clipboards and pens, advocacy campaigns can upgrade their tools to provide their canvassers and supporters with a streamlined, paperless canvassing experience without losing the face-to-face component.
These advances in software have made face-to-face canvassing a more varied method of advocacy. Subsequently, different advocacy groups will experience the following pros and cons to different degrees based on their software setup.
When most people imagine canvassing, they usually envision face-to-face canvassing. The popularity of face-to-face canvassing has made it the go-to canvassing method. However, as the default option, some of the unique pros of this method might be taken for granted, such as:
Additionally, nonprofits conducting advocacy campaigns have another pro to consider: canvasser grants. As Double the Donation’s guide to canvasser grant basics explains, canvasser grants are donations made by your canvassers’ employers after they have contributed a certain number of hours to your cause. While you can still count virtual canvassing canvasser hours, many organizations might find it easier to track hours for in-person canvassers.
While face-to-face canvassing has the potential to earn your campaign more attention and donations, street and door-to-door canvassing are ultimately hard work. This method can have significant drawbacks, including:
It’s easy to consider the best possible versions of both face-to-face and virtual canvassing when comparing the two options, but it’s important to also take common mistakes into account. With in-person canvassing, canvassers might forget to ask about preferred communication methods, go off script, or write something down wrong. These things happen, and your canvassing method should allow you to create contingency plans for these errors.
Grassroots Unwired explains that virtual canvassing software evolved rapidly during 2020 out of a necessity to campaign during the presidential election without putting canvassers’ health at risk. Fortunately, this shift to online canvassing has been a success. Virtual canvassing has proven that it can accomplish many of the same tasks as face-to-face canvassing, all while allowing canvassers to connect with supporters through virtual conferencing software, texting, and other remote communication methods.
An advocacy group’s experiences with virtual canvassing will depend on the software they use, but most groups will still likely encounter most of the pros and cons discussed here as they continue to advocate in 2021 and into the 2022 election cycle.
As mentioned, many advocacy groups had to shift to online canvassing methods quickly last year. While this transition may have initially been difficult, the new widespread use and interest in virtual canvassing also shed light on many of the unique positives, such as:
Additionally, when weighing virtual and face-to-face canvassing, consider the scale of your campaign. While small, local grassroots organizations may be satisfied with in-person canvasing only, virtual canvassing may be a necessity for large-scale, state spanning campaigns that need to coordinate hundreds of canvassers and deal with rural areas that are not easily walkable.
After the rush to invest in virtual canvassing, some advocacy groups are also interested in returning to face-to-face canvassing. They do have a few justifiable reasons as virtual canvassing has its drawbacks, including:
Fortunately, many cons of virtual canvassing can be overcome with the right management and foresight. For example, to avoid long-training times for future campaigns, your advocacy group might ask experienced canvassers to mentor new canvassers, giving them a resource they can go to if they have a question about operating your canvassing software.
Both face-to-face and virtual canvassing have positives and negatives, ranging from major benefits such as the ability to make personal connections and get in touch with supporters around the world to drawbacks including safety hazards and lengthy tech onboarding times.
The best option for your advocacy group will ultimately be based on your current needs. The approach that makes the most sense now might change in the future. Research your options carefully, test out solutions, and don’t feel pressured to commit entirely to one method or the other. After all, many advocacy groups have found success by using a mix of virtual and face-to-face canvassing, enjoying the pros and avoiding the cons of both methods.