The best way to really people behind an idea that you stand for, is to get out and let them know you are there. One of the biggest hurdles in any campaign (political, economic, social, etc) is to let people know they are not alone, and that there are others out there who also believe in what they do.
Following the simple steps below you will have all the tools necessary to gain peoples trust, attention, and support. You know that your cause is worthy, so stand up and do something about it.
Step 1: Preparation
The first step that you will need to run a successful campaign will be to read up on the issues that you support. Go online and read debates, make sure that you have a reasonable answer to any question you may be asked.
Get a notebook, and a binder. The notebook will be great for writing down names and addresses of people who are strong supporters or people that want you to follow up with them.
Keep a sheet of statistics, facts, and figures that you will not be able to remember, so that when you are asked a detailed question you can show that you know what you are talking about, and you will have sources and information to back it up.
Find some happy music, and listen to it while you are in your car (or on your way to canvass), and while you are getting your statistics together. You are about to be ignored, yelled at, debated, criticized, put down, and many other bad things, and you need to have a cool head, be able to smile, and thank the person for their time.
Find a friend!! This is the most important step of all -- Having one person is not only dangerous to you, but can also hurt your cause if someone claims that you have done something to them, and you have no witnesses to back you up.
Form a plan of action, you can just go willynilly wherever and find people, but its best to target locations that people like you would hang out. If I am petitioning to have the ten commandments removed from city hall, I am not going to start canvassing near a church. If I am canvassing for saving the trees, I would go by a coffee shop, because hippies love chai tea.
Finally, go find some cloths. Some groups will supply shirts, or have shirts that have their name printed on them. This is a great option, however, if you cannot afford the shirt, or your cause does not have a brand behind it... just wear something nice: Collared shirt, slacks, and a tie for guys. Mid-length skirts and blouse for the girls.
Step 2: Getting Out There
When you are planning to get to your meetup location to begin canvassing, remember to keep in mind your attire. Many public buses will not allow you on if you are wearing a shirt that says "ABC Canvasser" because they will see it as loitering (also so will companies, so keep that in mind for lunch). If you are going to take a bus, make sure to have another shirt to wear over your organizations shirt.
After everyone has gathered, and they know where they are going to be (keeping in mind that at least two people should always be within eye shot of each other, at any given time). Start on your houses (or your street corner depending on if you are going door to door, or canvassing sidewalks).
Remember that this first door bell you ring, or first person you approach will be the most difficult, just pump yourself up... and know that you are doing a good thing. SMILE (write that down in your binder if you have a tendency to let things get you down), a person will be MUCH more willing to talk to you if you have a friendly smile. This game is 2 parts sales, 1 part emotion.
Step 3: Gaining Positive Attention
Okay, so you are ready to stop your first person or ring that first door bell, your first few seconds are going to be the deciding factor between quick rejection, or giving you a few extra seconds to explain yourself.
On the street, you want to make eye contact within 10 feet of the person (this way you do not force the situation, you want them to not feel trapped) and stop the person with a question that either:
1) They will have to answer yes to.
2) They will think is so weird, that they will have to stop.
However, when asking never use "Do you have a minute for ...." because they don't. However if your cause is saving trees, an awesome question could be "Do you enjoy breathing oxygen?".
After you have got the person to stop, you go with the introduction -- "My name is Travis McCrea, I am here on behalf of Happy Hippies and Whale Lovers", whats your name?" Make sure you get their name and that you use it constantly throughout the conversation, it builds great rapport and they feel like you are talking with them, not to them.
Now hit them with a fact (no "did you know?" questions because they didn't know, and you only want them to answer with positive answers -- you always want them to say "yes") back to saving trees "Jim, Old growth trees produce 80% of our breathable oxygen, and if you replant one it takes 7 years for that tree to be produce that much oxygen again. Pretty long time for that tree to not produce oxygen, and you just said you enjoy breathing right Jim?"
Now go on to your victories, what has your organization done to help your cause, or what have you done personally if you are going out as an individual. "Jim, I have tied myself to 50 trees in my lifetime, and not yet has (bad company) been able to move forward while I was around..." now use the inherent problem "... but Jim they have control of government and now I need your help to battle the corruption."
And now with a summary of what you talked about and an array of questions that all will end with them answering yes:
"So Jim, you like to breath air, currently Evil Corp is trying to take away that air, and I know that you want to do something about it. You want children to be able to have a planet with oxygen when they get older right? You want to feel empowered instead of apathetic right? Then you want to help me in my cause right?"
If they say no, cycle back through, use another fact, talk about how the trees are the habitat for such and such endangered species or whatever. Then loop through the questions again. If they still say that they don't want to, ask them why. They have been talking to you this entire time, they clearly care. Until the word "no" is actually said, you should not stop. This goes with stopping the person too, if you ask if they like to breath, and they say yes... but keep walking, walk with them, until they say no. If they say "well I am walking to work" say "I will walk with you" if they say no to that, say something cleaver like "I will write you a late pass".
Home canvassing is much simpler, Knock on the door, when they come to the door introduce yourself, and get their name. Now pitch just like you would on the street:
When you are at someones door step, just remember to keep it more like a conversation, being at someones home is highly personal, so if you preach at them, they will just shut the door feeling offended. Just have a conversation with them, and just stick with the pattern.
Again, I will stress again -- You are to NEVER EVER lose that smile. If someone is trying to provoke you into a fight just walk away. If you throw a first punch, you just hurt your cause... If you throw a punch at all you hurt your cause... just try and get away from anyone who is aggressive to you.
Step 4: Finishing
First, meet up with everyone else who was canvassing too, discuss the reactions you got, and how you can improve next time. Make sure to keep this a positive meeting, everyone just had a long day, or long few hours, and the last thing you guys should do is complain about it. Make the meeting fun, give high fives to everyone! Let them all know they did an awesome job, and if they did not meet their goal for the day, that we will have no problem doubling it the next day.
Create a map of all the houses you went to (or streets that you covered), and note where the supporters were, that way if you ever need you can go back to them. This will also allow you to not hit up the same houses again, and use your resources in new locations. For street canvassing this is a great way of knowing where high traffic flow areas are, and sending people to hit those areas more frequently.
Step 5: Tips, Tricks, and Points of Interest
This guide is in no way complete. You will never find an entire complete guide to canvassing and I will always be adding new things to this instructable with my experiences and such.
However, here is a little list of things that either need to be re-addressed, or things that i could not find a place for.
* Always Always Always canvass in pairs (at least)
* Always stay optimistic, and light hearted, as soon as it feels like work, or you are getting frustrated, take a break.
* Always end a conversation, no matter how bad it went, with "Thank you for your time, have a great day/night". Even if the person was mean to you, you do not know what they went through; maybe a sibling was in an accident, or their child is at home sick. If you genuinely wish them a good day, they might just cheer up, and talk to you another day.
* Make sure that you present yourself in a professional manner at ALL times, you are not representing yourself (more than likely) you are supporting something bigger than you, and people look to you to represent the ideals of the whole. If you look silly, so does your cause.