They’re everywhere.. waiting for you when you exit the subway… waiting for you with eager faces on the sidewalks. If you live in a city, you probably know what I’m talking about. And no, it’s not some sort of strange city critter. It’s someone trying to get your attention by waving a flyer in your face or standing with a clipboard ready to present you with information you need to hear. What do they want? Well, they could be trying to let you know of a great sale going on, a new product or it could even be someone wanting to tell you about an important cause that needs your help.
As you can imagine, handing out flyers and getting me to notice a great sale is very different than stopping to talk to me about an issue that needs my help. Yet, I view them the same. I avoid eye contact when I see someone with a clipboard trying to get my attention about the problems our environment is facing. I say I’m sorry when I can’t speak to someone who is planted in from of my subway stop and wants to talk to me about kids who need adopting because quite frankly at that moment, I just want to go home. And, those are actually issues I care about and yes, I feel terrible after avoiding those enthusiastic smiles but I have to wonder how effective is this tactic? Why would a nonprofit hire people to do this when we have Facebook and numerous other social media platforms to help spread the word?
Well, for starters, it puts a human touch with a real live voice to the cause. By speaking with a passionate person who wants to make a difference, it can certainly be contagious. (It worked for the Obama campaign, right?) Instead of keeping my negative tone about canvassing (that’s what they call it, not stalking, as I initially believed), I looked a little further and actually found a website called Canvassing Works. Granted it looks like it hasn’t been updated in awhile but I found a few reasons on the site why groups canvas:
– Raise money to fund campaigns and build grassroots organizations.
– Sign up members for the partner organization.
– Educate the public about problems and solutions.
– Build name recognition for the organization and the campaign.
– Influence decision-makers.
This all seems pretty obvious on why nonprofits would send out the troops to spread the word. But, what I really want to know, does this actually work? And, that’s where I ran into difficulty. Unfortunately, what I did find was blogs and articles cursing these folks and telling them how they didn’t appreciate being pestered on the street.
But then I came across a recent article on the “Art of Canvassing” where a reporter became one of the troops for a day. She experienced the hesitant nature that I could only imagine with having to tell someone pertinent information about an issue so they can give you money to help said issue. This is all done while people walk hastily to their next destination. Needless to say the reporter didn’t fare well (no pun intended.. okay, maybe just a little intended) but the most telling thing I found in the article and probably the most important is that those out there canvassing love it. They find unique ways to get someone’s attention that isn’t too imposing and they’re able to seal the deal. They recognize that it’s a hard job but what makes them a right fit is their passion for their issue, and as I said earlier, that can be contagious and offer the results needed. And, the organizations that are on the streets like Greenpeace, have been doing it for years and find it works for their goals. Why else would they do it?
One thing I would suggest to organizations out there is to target where you are going to speak to people. Not just where you know lots of people will be. If you’re canvassing on environmental issues, speak with people visiting parks. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a tough sell no matter how important the issue may be.
For me, I think I’ll stick with reading up on issues on my own time but I’ll definitely be a little more open when approached on the street. Except for that one guy near my subway stop who is trying to hand me a flyer about cell phone deals.
Does your organization canvas? Has it helped your organization’s goals?