What I Learned My First Time Deep Canvassing

by Esperanza Peral

If you are new to Down Home NC, like me, you’ve probably seen the phrase ‘deep canvass’ on blog posts or newsletters. You may have heard it at a county chapter meeting or been at the receiving end of a deep canvass conversation yourself. But what is deep canvassing? And why is it so essential to Down Home’s outreach efforts?

The concept of canvassing in itself was new to me. I had never gone door to door for a political campaign, nor had someone come to my door to speak to me. Before I joined Down Home, I had never even heard the term ‘deep canvass’. 

Deep canvassing, in simplest terms, is just a conversation with a neighbor. When you deep canvass, however, it is usually a neighbor you haven’t met yet.

Deep canvassing builds real, meaningful conversations centered on people’s stories- including our own stories. The idea is to emotionally connect those in the community with issues impacting them. In Down Home’s Deep Canvassing training, the team continually uses a phrase that brought so much clarity to the concept: compassionate curiosity.

Down Home’s Deep Canvassing team was so helpful as they walked me through my first deep canvassing phone banking experience. They gave me a script to refer to, a walk-through of the phone service website, and a few practice rounds with the team before I started making my own calls. The Zoom training provided an in-depth explanation of what deep canvassing is, why we do it, and what that looks like for Down Home.

Above: Esperanza Peral is an intern at Down Home North Carolina. 

Top: Deep canvass volunteers all support each other on Zoom while they make calls! 

Now, after two deep canvass phone banking experiences with the team, I am by no means an expert, but here is a bit of what I’ve learned for any fellow new deep canvassers.

DO Smile While You Dial

Niko Schmidt, Down Home’s Deep Canvass Lead Trainer, told me this tip before my first call, and I’ll be honest, I did not initially heed his advice. I was in the comfort of my home and calling people on the phone. I was sure smiling as I started the call wouldn’t do much. Wrong. My first few calls did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. After my fifth hang-up, I tried the ‘smile while you dial’ tip and instantly received a warmer reception. Sorry Niko!

DON’T Take Rejection Personally

While on the topic of hang-ups, let’s address my biggest fear going into deep canvassing. Initially, the thought of rejection from calls unanswered or dropped was almost enough to keep me away from deep canvassing entirely. Luckily Lucy Jones, Deep Canvass Team Lead, put it into perspective for me during training. It was inevitable, it was normal, and it wasn’t about me at all. After the first few hang-ups, the fear began to fade, and I was just hopeful to talk to someone. 

DO Ask Follow-Up Questions

As you move through the script, people may open up about what issues matter to them and hopefully highlight where its importance stems from. This is the perfect time to implement that compassionate curiosity. Ask why, who, what, and where, and invest in learning more about them and their stories.

DON’T Be Afraid to Admit What You Don’t Know

In my first in-depth deep canvass conversation, I got to hear from someone working in environmental studies. She expressed her concerns about how a lack of local environmental policy negatively affected her community. I quickly admitted that she was much more knowledgeable on the subject than I was, and she was more than happy to tell me more about the issue. I left the conversation feeling excited about what I had learned.

DO Lean Into the Silence

Given the nature of these conversations, there will be needed moments of silence to reflect on the discussion. As a constant chatterbox, I felt the immediate urge to fill the moment of silence with another question or anecdote. The silence in these conversations can be an opportunity for the person to open up and express more of their story. It can also be an opportunity to feel the depths of these issues. So I have to consciously let the silence sit for a few seconds before I interject again.

DON’T Forget to Charge Your Phone and Laptop

I learned this tip the hard way. Towards the end of our phone banking session, my phone died and didn’t charge back in time to make more calls before our team debrief. Luckily, I wasn’t on a call, but I was still embarrassed that I came to a phone banking session without looking at my phone battery. So just something to keep in mind!