How to Knock 10,000+ Doors Without Breaking a Sweat


If you are running for state legislature, county or city council, or school board, you will need to personally talk to a lot of voters. These races for lower levels of government are not big, impersonal machines like presidential or congressional campaigns are. Down ballot races are won and lost by the outreach their candidates personally do.

The science is clear that the best way to persuade voters is to talk to them in person, especially by knocking on voters’ doors.

I know what you’re thinking: knocking on doors takes so much time. And that’s true. But there’s an easy way and a hard way to do door knocking.

The hard way to do canvassing

Let’s start with the way that most campaigns for down ballot offices approach canvassing. These campaigns start knocking doors about 8 weeks before Election Day. The candidate will spend a few hours each weekend afternoon knocking on doors and roughly 10 volunteers come out over the course of the weekend. We’ll assume that each person averages 20 doors an hour.

Over the course of 8 weeks, the campaign will knock on 3,840 doors in total.

That’s not a bad showing for a small operation. In fact, it may very well be more doors than your opponent knocks. But think about how much effort goes into this operation. To have 10 volunteers show up to canvass, you have to recruit 20 volunteers a week. (A 50% no show rate is considered standard for any type of campaign activity.) Twenty volunteers a week…every week…for 8 weeks. That’s 160 volunteer shifts!

Moreover, the last 8 weeks of a campaign may not be the optimal time to reach voters. They are likely being inundated with information from your race and other races on the ballot. Think about how many pieces of direct mail you receive in the last few weeks of a race. Now combine that with all of the digital ads, emails, phone calls, and text messages being sent by all of the campaigns. It’s hard to cut through all that clutter, even with a personal method like door knocking.


The better way to do canvassing

Now, here’s the easier and more effective way to canvass: start 6 months before Election Day and have a dedicated weekly schedule for when the candidate and other key members of the campaign will knock doors.

Before you write this off as a huge time commitment that you couldn’t possibly do, take a look at the math.

Over the course of 6 months (26 weeks), your campaign can knock 10,400 doors. To achieve this, your campaign would need to knock a total of 20 hours per week, which is fewer hours per week than the first option we explored. You can split this 20 hours up amongst the candidate and volunteers however you like. For instance:

  • The candidate knocks Saturday and Sunday afternoons plus two weekday evenings.
  • Ask your spouse/fiance/partner to volunteer for one afternoon each weekend.
  • Ask two other people to commit to knocking for 2 hours a week every week.

I know what most candidates are thinking: 10-12 hours a week is a lot of time to spend door knocking, especially when I have a hundred other things to do. But remember the golden rule for political campaigns: a candidate should spend their time talking to voters and raising money. There is no better way to talk to voters than knocking on doors.

Other advantages:

  1. This schedule has the advantage of not needing to recruit massive numbers of volunteer shifts.  It’s just three people, plus the candidate.

  2. By starting early, you’ll be reaching voters at a time when there isn’t competition from other campaigns. And research shows that knocking sticks with a voter for months afterward, unlike direct mail or digital ads.

  3. Your campaign will likely be the only one in the field for months, so your visit will stick out in voters’ minds.

  4. You can test out campaign messaging long before you send the first piece of direct mail.

  5. You’ll get practice answering every possible question a voter can throw at you, so you’ll be ready for candidate debates.

Make your campaign easier and more effective by starting early and making a schedule to canvass.  By sticking with this plan, you’ll be on a winning path for your election!

Upcoming Webinars

We're holding two webinars in March.  Join us for these free events.

Webinar: Jump Start Your Political Campaign

MARCH 6, 2018


If you are running for office this year or considering it for a future election cycle, this webinar is for you. Learn how to get your political campaign off on the right start and find out the five biggest mistakes candidates make.

Webinar: Best Practices in Voter Outreach

MARCH 14, 2018


Learn the best ways to persuade voters and to get them out to the polls. This webinar will cover the efficacy of various methods of outreach by campaigns and will provide guidance on how to target voters.

Free Training for Democratic Political Candidates


Whether it’s your first time running for office or you are an experienced candidate, it can be helpful to brush up your skills on how to run an effective campaign. Luckily, there are plenty of options available for progressive and left-leaning candidates, many of which are free.

For All Democrats

Wellstone has been the major player in this space for years. Camp Wellstone teaches practical skills to candidates and campaign workers. (Note: this program charges a fee to participate.)

The National Democratic Training Committee offers free online training for any Democrat running for any office in the U.S. They cover everything from calculating your win number to writing a fundraising plan to organizing get out the voter operations.

The Progressive Candidate Campaign Committee will be holding a free four-day training program in Washington, DC in April 2018 that will train 500 progressive candidates to run for local, state, and federal offices. In addition to presenting helpful information, the resource fair will include headshots and consultations with compliance experts.

The free online training from the National Progressive Campaign Resource Center focuses on developing a winning message that resonates with voters.

Democracy for America offers in person trainings for candidates and campaign staff. Their Night School provides online training.

For Female Candidates

Emerge America provides an in-depth, six-month long training to women who are interested in running for office or pursuing a political appointment. Emerge operates in 24 states.

The She Should Run incubator helps women who are considering running for office. The program helps women to envision themselves in elected office.

Vote Run Lead offers both in person trainings and online resources to help female candidates.

Emily’s List offers online and in person to women running for offices up and down the ballot. Although the group has long assisted women running for higher offices, they are now working on building out a farm team of female candidates.

Ready to Run helps women of all political affiliations.

Women’s Campaign Fund is a non-partisan PAC that helps women to get elected.

For Candidates of Color

Higher Heights partners with other organizations to train black women who are running for office.

New American Leaders aims to get more first and second generation Americans elected into office.

For Young Candidates

The Arena PAC Fellowship helps first-time candidates with personalized training on communications and campaign organization.

New Leaders Council trains millennial candidates during a six-month long program.

Run for Something aims to get more progressive millennials into office. They offer each candidate a mentor who has campaign experience.

Ignite is building a pipeline of young women who will pursue leadership opportunities in their communities.

Rise to Run trains young, progressive women who are in their teens or early twenties.

Other Groups

Victory Institute is assisting LBGTQ leaders who are running for office.

Veterans Campaign prepares veterans to serve the country again through public service.

New Politics focuses on helping public servants get elected.

Understanding Campaign Finance Laws


Campaigns need to thoroughly know and understand the laws regarding campaign finance. Nothing can get a campaign into trouble like running afoul of campaign finance laws. The candidate, campaign treasurer, campaign manager, and anyone else who is helping with raising money or involved with spending money needs to know these rules.

Campaign finance laws differ in every jurisdiction. Even two candidates in the same state may have different sets of rules. For instance, a candidate for city council may adhere to the rules created by the city government, whereas a candidate for state legislature follows state laws.

Before we go any further, a general word of caution: consult your local board of elections for the applicable laws in your race.

Find a treasurer

Most campaigns are required to have a treasurer. This is the person who is officially responsible for the campaign’s money and who prepares and files the required campaign finance reports to disclose donors and spending. Your treasurer doesn’t necessarily need to be a bookkeeper or account, but the ideal pick will be someone who is detail oriented and very organized. They are going to need to track every dollar your campaign receives and every cent that the campaign spends.

Many places have requirements that a treasurer is a registered voter from your state who is not a candidate themselves for any office. They may or may not need to be registered to vote in the same city or county where you are running.

Typically all contributions need to pass through the hands of your treasurer, not the candidate. In some jurisdictions, the candidate may not be able to have access to the campaign bank account.

Open a campaign bank account

You’ll need to decide on a name for your political campaign. Some common names include “Friends of Sandra Johnson” or “Citizens for Jake Varshney.”

To open a bank account, you will likely need an Employer Identification Number, which can be obtained online from the IRS. You’ll need this identification number regardless of whether or not the campaign will employ anyone.

All campaign expenses should be paid from the campaign’s bank account. Local laws may include provisions to allow for reimbursement for expenses after the fact. Alternately, a purchase that is made on behalf of the campaign but not with campaign funds needs to be reported as an “in kind contribution.” For instance, if your neighbor hosts a meet and greet party at their house and spends $40 on coffee and cookies, that spending has to be disclosed on the campaign finance report.

Create your campaign committee

Part of the process for filing to get your name on the ballot will include officially creating your campaign committee. Depending on the jurisdiction, this could be a one or two step process.

  • In some places, you need to file all of your paperwork at one time, including forms and voter signatures to get on the ballot, as well as information about your campaign committee (name of the committee, what bank you’re using, and who is your treasurer).
  • In other places, you need to register your campaign committee before you can file to get on the ballot.
  • Some jurisdictions allow exploratory committees to spend up to a certain amount of money before registering as a committee.

Be aware that you may be required to file a financial disclosure statement that would identify any potential conflicts of interest.

Know the rules about contributions

Here’s a few key points to be aware of in your local code:

  • What is the individual donor limit? Is that per year or per election cycle?

  • Is there a limit on how much a candidate or their spouse can contribute?

  • What information do you need to track about your donors? Typical requirements include name, address, employer, occupation, contribution amount, contribution date.

  • Are you required to provide a receipt to each donor?

  • Are anonymous contributions allowed?

  • Is there a cap on cash donations? Many jurisdictions limit cash contributions to small amounts (i.e. $10 or $20).

Campaign finance reporting

Campaigns are required to periodically report the contributions they are received and how they spent the money. The finance report deadlines will vary by jurisdiction.

As long as your campaign committee is still registered--even if you are no longer asking for money or spending it--you’ll need to keep filing reports. So if you aren’t running for office again, it’s a good idea to terminate your campaign committee.

Authorization line

One of the most important and publicly visible parts of your compliance with campaign finance laws is the authorization line that you have to include on all campaign materials. For instance, “Authorized by Monica Brown, Treasurer.” Your website, campaign literature, and even campaign social media accounts should include the authority line. It’s the way that the public can discern what messaging is a result of political spending.

Art made by freepik at and Stella at
Modified from original by Brian Carr

Technology for Political Campaigns and Movements


The 2018 election cycle presents new opportunities to engage voters through online and digital means. Whether you're trying to help inform voters about candidates or ballot measures, mobilize political volunteers, or make your canvassing operations even more efficient, new technologies can help your campaign or grassroots organization achieve its political goals.

We're hosting a free webinar on February 22 to discuss the changing political tech landscape. Learn about the cutting edge technologies that are available to help progressives during 2018 elections and beyond.


  • Shola Farber is Chief Operating Officer for Tuesday Company, which is bridging the gap between digital and field organizing. She previously worked with the Obama Administration’s National Economic Council, POLITICO, and was a Regional Director for the Clinton Campaign in Michigan.

  • Alfred Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of MobilizeAmerica, a platform that allows progressive organizations, volunteers, and Democratic campaigns to connect and win. Alfred previously worked on President Obama's '08 campaign, in the Treasury Department, the White House, and in technology and finance.

  • Alex Niemczewski is CEO and co-founder of BallotReady, an award-winning voter guide to every race and referendum on the ballot. She was recognized in Crain’s Chicago Business “20 in their 20’s” list, Techweek100, and as a Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellow.

  • Julie Palakovich Carr is CEO and co-founder of Victory Guide, a digital campaign manager for down ballot candidates. Julie is the youngest woman ever elected to the Rockville City Council in Maryland and is currently serving her second term. She is also a candidate for the Maryland State House.

Register for this free event:

15 Questions All New Candidates Should Ask

You’ve decided to run for office. Congratulations! But now what do you?

One of the first steps you should take is to research the rules, regulations, and laws that govern elections in your jurisdiction. The best place to start is with the Board of Elections or City Clerk, County Clerk, or State (depending on what level of government you are running for). Take a look at their website or give them a call. They likely have a resource packet for candidates.

Some questions you should ask:

  • When is the filing deadline?
  • What paperwork do I need to complete to officially file as a candidate?
  • Do I need to collect signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot?
  • What campaign roles do I need to fill before filing? (Typically, you’ll need to have a treasurer, but you may also need a campaign manager/committee chairperson.)
  • Are there any restrictions on who can serve as my treasurer or campaign chair?
  • Is there a filing fee? If ‘yes,’ does it need to be paid from your campaign account? (That means you’ll need to open a campaign bank account before you file.)
  • Is public financing an option?
  • How much money can I spend before I need to register a campaign finance committee?
  • What is the individual donor limit? Is that per year or per election cycle?
  • When are the campaign finance reporting deadlines?
  • What legal disclaimers do I need to include on my campaign materials? For instance, “Authorized by Jessica Brown, Treasurer.”
  • What information do I need to track about my donors? (Typical requirements include name, address, employer, occupation, contribution amount, contribution date.)
  • Who can I contact with questions about campaign finance rules?
  • Who else has filed their candidacy?
  • Can they provide a copy of the voter file? (There are other options to the voter registry maintained by your Board of Elections, including access through your county or state Democratic Party, a free file from NationBuilder, or data from a commercial vendor. For non-partisan municipal offices, the Board of Elections data is likely your best bet.)

Basics of Running a Good Campaign

There’s both an art and a science to running a good political campaign. Although many aspects of your campaign will depend upon your particular race and your district, there are many core concepts that apply to all campaigns. These recommendations are based on industry best practices, many of which are backed by evidence-based research.

Rule #1: Use a candidate’s time effectively

A candidate should spend their time talking to voters or raising money. Anything and everything else can and should be delegated to other people. If the campaign can’t afford to hire staff, find volunteers to take on some tasks.

Rule #2: Target the right voters

The most efficient way to get votes are:

  1. Persuade people who are regular voters to support you. These may be easy votes to get, as the voter may just need to hear about your campaign. This is especially true in low information, down ballot races and open seat contests. Voters often don’t know much about a candidate, so it could take as few as one contact with the voter to get their vote.
  2. Get people who are likely to support you, but not habitual voters, out to the polls. These are voters that don’t vote in every election, but do vote solidly for Democrats. You will likely need to contact them 6-8 times in order to get them to the polls.

You may be thinking that this system leaves out other groups of voters who may vote for you. That’s true. There may be other people who will support you, but it will take a lot of time, money, and resources to identify those voters, persuade them to vote for you, and to turn them out on Election Day. It’s simply easier to persuade a frequent voter to vote for you than to turnout less frequent voters. Since resources are finite on a campaign, you have to focus your efforts where they will pay the most dividends.

Rule #3: Personal outreach is key

The more personal the outreach to a voter is, the more effective it is. For instance, knocking on a voter’s door is better than a phone call, which is better than an ad or recorded call. Moreover, an enthusiastic volunteer who has a genuine conversation with the voter is much more effective than a heavily scripted interaction.

Here’s the hierarchy of voter outreach:

First tier:

  • The gold standard is for the candidate to speak to a voter in person. This could happen through door knocking or at an event. In addition to being the the most effective method, it’s also the cheapest way to persuade a voter to vote for you.

Second tier:

  • Canvassing by a family member, friend, or other enthusiastic volunteer
  • Calls by the candidate
  • Calls by a family member, friend, or other enthusiastic volunteer
  • Peer to peer digital outreach (e.g. text messaging)

Third tier:

  • Paid canvassers/callers
  • Literature drops
  • Direct mail
  • Digital advertising
  • Yard signs
  • Email blasts
  • Robo calls

In person outreach is not always possible, for instance if the voter lives in an apartment building that has a locked entry or in areas that are sparsely populated. In those cases, phone calls will be the best option.

Ultimately, your campaign will need to use a mix of the above methods to reach voters the recommended 6-8 times.

Jump Start Your Political Campaign

If you are considering running for office this year or in a future election cycle, this webinar is for you. Learn the 12 questions all candidates should ask themselves before entering a race. Get tips and advice on how to jump start your political campaign and find out the five biggest mistakes candidates make.

Congratulations on making the decision to run for office! Politics is a difficult—but rewarding—endeavor. With these seven steps, you can get your campaign off to a successful start.

  1. Are you ready to run? Before you throw your hat into the ring, think hard about your decision to run. Talk to your spouse, family, friends, and key people in your community about whether or not to run. Be sure that you have their support and their commitment to help with your campaign. Make sure that you can take time off from work for your campaign; at the minimum you may need time off for debates and Election Day.

  2. Fill key roles. Determine who will play a central role in your campaign. You need to line up a campaign manager, a treasurer, and a "kitchen cabinet" of advisers. You’ll work most closely with your campaign manager to develop your campaign strategy and to execute this plan. (A word to the wise: Your spouse will most likely NOT make for a good campaign manager.) Your treasurer will handle the financial parts of your campaign. Although a background in accounting could be helpful, it’s not necessary. A good attention to detail will suffice. Your kitchen cabinet will be the backbone of your campaign and will provide you with advice, funds, and volunteer efforts.

  3. Clean up. Take care of any potential problems or worries that could hinder your campaign.  Get your resume in order. Pay back taxes. Remove any potentially embarrassing content from social media accounts.

  4. Why are you running? This may be the hardest question you’ll face in your campaign. The answer to this question sets the tone for the rest of your campaign messaging. Take the time to develop a cohesive answer and practice delivering it.

  5. Write your campaign plan. This document will guide the rest of your campaign. You’ll need to decide what method(s) you’ll use to reach voters, your campaign budget, volunteers needs, and other strategic decisions. Your campaign plan can and should change during the course of the campaign, but it’s best to start out with a strong vision.

  6. Research election laws and campaign finance rules in your jurisdiction. Make sure you know the law before you spend or solicit any money. Nothing can torpedo a political campaign like breaking the law.

  7. Prepare a list of potential supporters. Start with the contacts saved in your phone and email accounts. Include friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, colleagues from recreational activities, parents of your children’s friends, businesses you shop at, and people on your holiday card list. Include potential donors, local politicians and former office holders, civic activists, and union leaders.