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Building the Sustainability Initiative

Establishing Financial Stability from the Ground Up

The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) believes that advancing this affirmative agenda at the federal level requires a strong, scalable base of engaged leaders—as well as a source of income to make these organizing efforts possible and sustainable. The CPD network currently runs a number of successful canvassing programs, including two street canvasses and five door-to-door canvassing programs that combine mass face-to-face outreach with deep organizing to move primarily low- and moderate-income people to get involved in critically important local and state-based issue campaigns.

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The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) believes that advancing this affirmative agenda at the federal level requires a strong, scalable base of engaged leaders—as well as a source of income to make these organizing efforts possible and sustainable. The CPD network currently runs a number of successful canvassing programs, including two street canvasses and five door-to-door canvassing programs that combine mass face-to-face outreach with deep organizing to move primarily low- and moderate-income people to get involved in critically important local and state-based issue campaigns.

Recent Accomplishments

Whereas most traditional canvassing operations target upper-middle-class neighborhoods, our door canvassing model engages communities of color and low-income families, who are our key constituencies, and prioritizes these individuals’ engagement in long-term activism. Using sophisticated technology developed over the last three years in close partnership with Membership Drive, CPD's teams conduct sustained and in-depth follow-up with new supporters and members to strengthen our network and maximize member retention.

From January 2017 through December 2018, our canvass programs collectively generated almost recurring monthly memberships to help us fund our work. As a result of our experience and expertise, we are now positioned to implement a major new canvassing initiative, which could focus on a range of municipal, state, or federal issues.

Strategy and Goals for 2019–2020

In 2019, CPD will launch Canvass for Power, a national street canvassing program designed to build a massive base of deeply engaged community leaders, while simultaneously creating a dues-paying membership cohort. Based on successful pilot programs developed in close collaboration with affiliates in New York City and Seattle, the Canvass for Power model achieves self-sufficiency after just two years, and after two years this model will create members and donors that make the program sustainable.

CPD’s national Canvass for Power program will launch in New York City in 2019 and achieve self-sustainability in just over two years. New York will then serve as a flagship office for expanding national canvassing programs to other major cities over the next 5 years—including Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston—with the organization-wide goal of attracting and engaging one million supporters and 120,000 dues-paying members by 2024.

facts & figures

Our interviews pointed to some best practices in the field.

  • The most effective canvasses build organizational power by engaging community members to:
    • Identify issues and offer feedback
      • Become new members and develop into leaders
      • Participate in building power through the organizations
      • Raise money
    • Successful base-building and fundraising operations require:
      • Talented, engaged canvassing staff
      • Ongoing training
    ...

Our interviews pointed to some best practices in the field.

  • The most effective canvasses build organizational power by engaging community members to:
    • Identify issues and offer feedback
      • Become new members and develop into leaders
      • Participate in building power through the organizations
      • Raise money
    • Successful base-building and fundraising operations require:
      • Talented, engaged canvassing staff
      • Ongoing training
  • Effective data management, targeting and turf management Our experiments in the field deepened our analysis of best practices for canvasses. We worked to:
    • Ensure that field directors are experienced, with strong data management and training skills.
    • Integrate canvass training with general organizing operations for best results.
    • Include goals for member retention and development in canvass targets.
    • Focus on generating “sustaining” members who give regularly and automatically.
  • Invest in a long-term strategy for the canvass in order to achieve self-sufficiency. As we prepare for the second phase of the Sustainability Initiative, we are implementing some of the lessons learned. These efforts include:
    • CPD is developing internal infrastructure and a strategic partnership in order to better support partners.
      • Hiring a Director of Sustainability Initiatives to work directly with and develop tools for partner organizations’ canvasses.
      • Partnering with Membership Drive to conduct site visits, analyze canvass operations, provide resources and training, and conduct financial analysis.
      • Creating a comprehensive Canvass Toolkit, including a training manual, canvass needs checklist, recruitment tools, tracking tools and templates for canvass materials.
    • CPD has worked with partner organizations to identify key needs for phase 2.
      • Development of data technology infrastructure to cut turf, track contacts, and eliminate pre-debit attrition.
      • Strategies to minimize the rate of member attrition and maximize the value of life-time membership