DSA logo

Organizing Guide

Table of Contents

Leading a Successful Event

This guide is to show leaders how to run a successful event from creating the event on action network, preparing for the day of the canvass, making sure people come back to future canvasses, and training at the canvass. It also goes over retaining the data necessary for making sure that Bernie wins!

These is no one way to run an event, but it is very important that you are prepared for the day and make the canvass experience both pleasant for everyone involved and effective towards our goals - both winning the campaign and building DSA across the country.

Some important things to keep in mind during a canvass event:

  • Make sure that it is fun and enjoyable - welcome people as they come.
  • Be prepared for anything and everything!
  • Start on time! If the event starts at 5 pm, training should start at 5:10 and people should be out the door canvassing by 5:30.
  • Make sure your training isn’t too long. 10-15 minutes is usually perfect.
  • Always be clear on what people are expected to do and make sure you sign them up to come back.
  • HAVE FUN!!!!

1. Action Network

  • Use this guide to get your DSA for Bernie event on the Events Map! For help contact: orgtools@dsausa.org
  • Use Action Network event link when advertising the event — an Action Network RSVP is better than a Facebook Event RSVP because it will automatically send them a reminder email 24 hours before the event, and you’ll get the volunteer’s email address to use for follow ups

2. Preparing for the Canvass

To make sure people feel like their time is valued and the event is well planned it’s important to be prepared. This can take time but it gets easier every time you do it. This guide will help you prepare for your canvass.

Canvass Roles

  • Canvas Organizer: Responsible for location scouting, day-of logistics, and coordinating with everyone below.
  • Canvas Leads: Responsible for supporting with the training at the beginning of the canvass and going out canvassing with 2 to 4 newer canvassers.
  • Data Manager: Responsible for post-canvass data entry and management.

Optional, but very helpful roles (if these are not designated it’s important that these responsibilities are carried out by the canvass organizer or canvas leads):

  • Materials Coordinator: Responsible for preparing canvasser clipboards.
  • Turf Coordinator: Responsible for establishing the required number of turfs and cutting/printing them.
  • Food/Water Coordinator: Responsible for arranging food/water the day of the canvass.
  • Communications Coordinator: Responsible for phonebanking and media/social media hype.


Below is a list of materials you should prepare and a suggested timeline for the day of the event.

Canvasses will sometimes happen in a campaign office where materials are, but many events will happen remotely so you’ll need a plan to get everything to the event before it starts. Not having the materials there on time will delay the canvass.

Many of these materials can be found on our organizing resources page!

This is what you need:

  • Flyers/Literature
  • Copies of the script
  • Copies of any FAQ
  • Tally sheets (if you are using these)
  • Pens
  • Clipboards or folders
  • Attendee list
  • Sign-in sheet for anyone who isn’t on the attendee list
  • Folder for tally sheets
  • Buttons
  • Petitions (if you are petitioning)
  • List of turfs or turfs
  • Voter registration cards (if that applies)
  • Table for sign in if it is a large event
  • Table if you are doing a street event (like street petitioning or voter registration)


Several days before the event starts

  • Advertise as much as possible!
    • List Action Network event link on chapter website and share action network event link on social media
    • At DSA meetings
    • Anywhere and everywhere you can think of
  • Make sure you are shared on data entry sheets
  • If there is anything on the inventory list that you don’t have access to, make sure to arrange to get it before the night before!
  • If you’re going to have canvas leads (people who have canvassed before and can help new canvassers) make sure you know who they are and have confirmed that they are planning to attend and know what their role will be

A few days before event

  • Download RSVP list from Action Network
  • Send reminder emails to everyone who has RSVP'd
  • If people can’t be on time, have them meet you where you will be canvassing

The day before the event

  • Send reminder texts if possible
  • Inventory check
  • Review training agenda
  • Touch base with your Field Coordinator to discuss your plan for tomorrow if you are unsure
  • If you are not leading the event alone, make sure to communicate with other leads that you are working with and have them show up to the even early with you
    • For smaller events, you will be doing most of this yourself including canvassing with your team
    • For larger events, you will want leads to help get people out the door while you wait for stragglers before canvassing
  • Confirm with your canvas leads!

Event Agenda

Most events that you will be leading alone will start small and increase as the campaign gets bigger. Unless you are participating in a large kick-off event, 30 minutes is more than enough time to get there early - this may change closer to the election.

1 hour to 15 minutes before event (depending on the size - 15 minutes if you are meeting a small group of canvassers, an hour if you are leading a large event)

  • The best way to demonstrate respect for volunteers’ time is to be at the event, on time, and fully prepared to set them up for success!
  • Arrive at event location, review attendee list, prepare materials
  • Make sure you have a way to sign people in:
    • If this is a small event, you can just have a clipboard or laptop
    • If this is a large event, you may want to have multiple people signing folks in as they arrive
    • All sign in information is going to go into the turf tracker so it doesn’t matter where they sign in as long as they are in the turf tracker
  • This means clipboards set up (if necessary,) and the days plan ready to go!

0 - 10 minutes before event

  • Greet volunteers and sign them in
  • Break volunteers into teams, each with a lead, ensuring a spread of experience Often at the start of the campaign, there will only be one lead, but this will change as we get closer to election day
  • Have everyone introduce themselves in their small groups
  • Give leads the materials they need for their team (this can happen before the event starts with large groups) and make sure they get everyone’s name and phone number and that each person has their phone number
  • Pair people up if they are canvassing for the first time or want a partner

Training: 10 - 20 minutes before event (we will go into this in more depth later in the guide)

  • Go over goals
  • Set expectations
  • Run through logistics
  • Run through structure
  • Run through the RAP
  • For big events, have people pair up and practice one time
    • Practice on the way to turf and have more experienced canvassers do a few doors with newer people.

Go canvass and show new folks how it is done! We want to make sure people are comfortable. So they can canvass with a partner, but we want to encourage them to learn alone so, after you do a few doors, share turf and have them do some doors while you do other ones.

After the Canvass

  • Ask people to share their best story from the day
  • Call stragglers to make sure that they finish on time
  • Encourage people who particularly enjoyed this event to talk to you about running their own event and come to a training
  • Sign people up for the next canvass!!! We want people to come to weekly canvases but that doesn’t always work for them. Confirm them for your weekly canvass or the next one they are available for
  • If there is an upcoming meeting, invite people to that, always be on the lookout for people who are looking to get more involved but aren’t sure how yet. Often it just takes an invitation
  • Solicit feedback from people who took part: what can we do better? Are there better locations? Is there a better time?
  • Make sure all forms are returned to you and that you have it all in one place
  • If there is a social, make sure people know where and how to get there
  • Thank them for coming!

Later that day/The day after

  • Enter/send share any data you have.
  • Send a follow-up email thanking them for coming
  • Call and schedule anyone who didn’t come
  • Contact your Field Coordinator to discuss how the event went
  • Take a moment to celebrate the great work you just did! You’re amazing!

Before your next canvass:

  • Reconfirm your team and repeat!

3. Retention & Leadership Development:

Often, organizations worry too much about getting new members through the door, and not enough about growing their current activists group. The secret to great organizing is activist retention and development. This section is going to help you think about what you can do to make sure people are coming back and growing as organizers in the campaign.

We set up canvases to have special roles that help facilitate retention and leadership development. These roles allow people to go from canvasser, to a canvas lead, to canvas organizer. To read more about leadership development check out the Organizing and Leadership Development chapter from the Medicare for All Organizing Guide.

We have three goals for leadership development at each canvass:

  1. Ask first time canvassers to come to another canvass
  2. Ask repeat canvassers if they would like to be a canvas lead at the next canvas. We want to have enough leads that there’s always someone for every 2-4 people and that those leads will go out canvassing with first timers for even a short amount of time
  3. Ask reliable canvas leads if you could support them to become a canvas organizer

Retention and motivation go hand in hand. This guide looks at three ways to motivate people. These ‘buckets’ of motivation do not work for everyone so it is important to use tactics from each bucket to make sure you are motivating and retaining as many people as possible.

The first bucket is appreciation.

From your own experience, what has made you feel appreciated as an activist?

  • Remembering people’s names
  • Congratulating activists on their successes
  • Arriving on time (you are appreciating their time)
  • Having materials ready to go
  • Giving clear instructions on where and when to meet
  • Ask people to come to other meetings and events
  • When you see someone several times or they have a certain skill/interest, ask them to take on more responsibility

The second bucket is comfort.

From your own experiences, what has made you feel comfortable as an activist?

  • Introductions!
  • Clear instructions and trainings
  • Allowing people to partner-up if they want to
  • Make sure that people know how to contact you if there is a problem - give your number out or assign yourself to a central and visible location
  • If groups are spread out, check in regularly
  • Give a clear event end time and meeting location
  • Considering skill-levels: if someone is brand new, maybe don’t ask them to take the high-traffic section by themselves
  • When canvassing, consider the neighborhood and the confidence of those canvassing
  • Consider people’s blood sugar and the weather
  • Have a tabling position open for those not able to walk/stand for long periods

The third bucket is success.

From your own experiences, what has made you feel successful as an activist?

  • Set realistic expectations for activists - people like goals! people who haven’t done this before don’t know what success looks like - break it down with numbers
  • Celebrate and lift up those activists who meet or exceed their goals
  • Highlight and share best practice and funny stories from the day, giving credit where it’s due
  • During the debrief huddle, ask people to share their best story of the day
  • Communicating clearly the benefits to DSA of their work

There is no perfect way to run an event, each of you will develop your own approach as canvas organizer. What’s important is that you’re attentive to the activists at your event and working to make sure that they each feel comfortable, appreciated, and successful and that they are growing as organizers in the campaign!

4. Training

Training is key to make sure people feel comfortable canvassing! Scripts are different depending on what kind of campaign you are working on, but always make sure that trainings include:

  • Goals
  • Expectations
  • Logistics
  • Structure of the script
  • Time to practice the script

The overall training should be about 15-20 minutes:

Start with introductions and goals. Ask people why they came out today and why they want to canvas with the DSA for Bernie campaign. Then have a short conversation about the goals of the campaign. This helps inspire people and position their work within the larger framework.

Then set expectations. These will depend on your event, but here are some examples:

  • During a door canvass you may only talk to a few people and that’s still great; give tips to get into buildings and do’s/don'ts of leaving literature
  • During a street tabling event, it’s important that people know a little bit about what it’s like to approach someone - give them some tips on successful opening lines and body language.

After you’ve set some expectations, review the logistics. Tell people how the canvas will work. Who will be staying back. What turf you will be covering. What time people should head out and come back and and then explain each document on their clipboard and how they should be used.

Go over the structure of the script. It’s important that people understand that it’s a structure but that they don’t need to read it word for word.

Now, practicing the script! This can happen in one of the following ways, depending on how many people are in each team:

  • One lead for every 2-4 canvassers- break them up in their teams and have each canvasser give their RAP and get feedback from their group
  • More than 4 canvassers to lead, have everyone break up in pairs to practice and have the leads listen in and give feedback as a group

Helpful tips for canvassing and leading others in a canvass:

  • Some people feel like they need to know everything to canvass- reassure them that it is okay to say “I don’t know” and refer them to the FAQ
  • The structure of the RAP is very important because it ensure that folks are not missing any points, but it is important to remember to be yourself and speak from the heart!
  • Confident body language is key to making sure everyone is comfortable and effective
  • Strong asks are important to have good data
  • Always give more positive feedback than constructive feedback so that people feel confident
  • Always end positive on a positive note.

5. Data

Keeping good data is a very important part of any campaign. If we go out and canvas but don’t have a good way to keep and collect our data than our interactions will be littler more than a good conversations. Good data allows us to follow up with people and get them involved, in order to meet our goals of electing Bernie and growing DSA, this is very important. To keep good data we do a few things.

First, when you’re canvassing make sure that you double check all the information that people put on the pledge sheet. Someone will need to fill this information in later so be sure that you can read the persons hand writing and confirm with them any questions you have before they leave.

Second, after you’ve talked to them take the information from the pledge sheet and put it into the tally sheet. It’s important that you do this right away because the tally sheet asks for some information that you don’t want to forget.

Finally, make sure you get all the pledge and tally sheets to your Data Manager after the canvas. Do this as soon as you can so we can follow up with people right away and invite them to future DSA for Bernie events. Your Data Manager can use the data templates on the resource page to help keep track of your data!