The Citizens Handbook

Door-knocking is the most effective way of making face-to-face community contact, but it has become a lost art. With our market-oriented emphasis on privacy, door-knocking seems like an intrusion into other people's lives. But those who try it for the first time are usually surprised by the pleasant reception they receive. Here are some pointers that will help when you go door-knocking.


Begin with a door-hanger
If you can afford it, leave a door-hanger two days before you go door-knocking. It will prepare people for a visit, and it can introduce an unusual project. The door-hanger should briefly describe the project and say that someone will be around in person. Make the door-hanger with light cardstock, cut about 5.5 by 8.5 inches, with a 1.5 inch hole cut in the top and a slit on the side of the hole. A less expensive but less effective alternative is a notice put through the letter-slot.

Wear an official name tag
Door-knockers should wear name tags with the logo of their organization. The logo should match the logo on any door-hanger. The best name tags will also include a color photo and the name of the canvasser. Name tags are especially important in neighborhoods where people might be suspicious of someone knocking on the door.

Have people knock their own blocks
The easiest way to do door-knocking is to do your own block. This allows door-knockers to introduce themselves with something like: "My name is Jill Smith and I live in the green house three doors down from you." Being a neighbor creates an immediate bond with the person answering the door; after that, everything else is easy. Arranging for people to knock their own block is the basis of a lot of grassroots organizing.

A survey is a good excuse to door-knock
If you simply want to connect to people, consider preparing a short survey about local concerns, a current project, or your group's goals.
Figure out responses for various situations. What if no one is home? What if the person who answers the door cannot speak English? What if a child answers the door? Figuring out responses ahead of time will make door-knocking easier.


When to go and what to do first
The best times to knock are usually Saturdays, and other days between dinner and darkness. When someone answers the door, smile and introduce yourself; say you are a volunteer and, if it helps, tell where you live. Give the name of your organization and, briefly, the reason for the visit. Ask if the person might have a minute to talk. If the answer is yes, state the reason for your visit in more detail. For additional suggestions on door-knocking, see the comprehensive Community Toolbox created by the University of Kansas and available on-line at

Bring out commonalities between yourself and the other person
Mention where you live, if you live on the same block. Otherwise, bring up something that links the two of you to your project. For instance, a person knocking to obtain support for better child protection might begin:
"Do you remember when they found a small boy who had been left alone for four days . . . ?

State what action the other person should take
Ideally this is an action they can take on the spot.

State the benefits of taking the action.
Tell the person how their actions will benefit themselves and others.
If a person hesitates . . . Emphasize benefits you've already mentioned and then, if necessary, add further benefits. If the person continues to hesitate, offer a more limited form of action. Lee Staples recommends this approach for door-to-door fundraising in his book on grassroots organizing, Roots to Power. He says start off asking for a lot, then step back to something more modest.
If a person agrees, follow up immediately. If possible, get a donation, a signature, a pledge. For actions that take place at a later date, you should to follow up with a phone call reminder. You could also ask about time commitments and resources or expertise a person might be able to contribute to a project.

Record contact information on the spot
Record names, addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and responses to questions on the spot. You won't remember them later.

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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.