It’s a common problem that Student Media groups face: no matter how much Student Leaders enjoy their positions, inevitably, they’ll have to graduate.
It’s great when you’re able to promote talented individuals already involved with your student organization. Still, sometimes, it’s necessary–or even helpful–to bring in new talent and perspectives from outside the team. While there are many ways to go about this, one of the fastest and most effective methods is canvassing.
You may have heard of door-to-door political canvassing, where people knock on doors to raise awareness of a candidate or an issue. But, did you know canvassing is an effective tactic for recruitment, especially for Student Media Groups? Going to classrooms to raise awareness of your group’s opportunities can be surprisingly effective; Instead of waiting for people to come to you, you go directly to them. Unlike other forms of recruitment, canvassing is interpersonal. Canvassing reaches students who might not otherwise learn about your group’s opportunities through social media or on-campus fliers, plus you can directly address any questions students have about applying.
Sounds helpful, right? Specifically, canvassing has the following advantages:
- Greater possibility of interpersonal connection
- Can be done much faster
- Can be easily adapted to many different audiences
- Is low-cost or free
Interpersonal connection is by far canvassing’s most obvious advantage. Compared to a flier or social media post, canvassing is an active, two-way conversation that typically happens face-to-face. When you canvass a potential recruit, they interact with you and your message. This gives your organization a human face, which can be a compelling reason for students to want to get involved.
Canvassing can also be done much faster. Advertising campaigns and fliers take time to design, produce, and distribute, but a canvassing campaign can be launched within hours of being planned. Additionally, a successful campaign will yield interested applicants immediately, instead of waiting for inquiries to trickle in.
Most importantly, canvassing can be adapted to many different audiences, allowing recruiters to communicate their message to people with diverse needs, desires, and backgrounds. Because canvassing is conversational, you can respond to students on a case-by-case basis. Traditional fliers and ads are static, one-way communications that can unintentionally exclude students, but with canvassing, you can tailor your speech to various lived experiences and needs, responding directly to questions as they arise.
Lastly, canvassing is almost free, as it requires little to no printing or design costs. The only expense that student organizations must spend with canvassing is their time.
Planning a canvassing campaign
Now that it’s clear what classroom canvassing is, and why a Student Media group would do it, it’s time to take a look at how to plan a successful campaign. At first glance, the prospect of planning a canvassing strategy can be daunting. With hundreds of classes, and dozens of ways to describe the benefits of your organization, the choices can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, the process of classroom canvassing can be simplified into three basic steps:
- Deciding where to canvass
- Crafting a speech
- Turning interest into action
Deciding where to canvass
Portland State University offers hundreds of courses every quarter, but some of them are more likely to have people who would be interested in your group. Take a moment to think about who would be interested in what your organization has to offer. Ask yourself:
- What majors are they likely pursuing?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- What classes are they likely to take?
When deciding where to canvas, think about the people currently in your group, , but also consider students who might be interested but aren’t currently involved or aware of your group. Once you feel that you have a good grasp of who might be interested and where to find them, take the time to browse through the PSU Class Schedule. Systematically search classes by subjects that potential recruits would take, and document them in a spreadsheet. You’re welcome to create your own, or copy our template by clicking “File>Make a Copy.”. It can be helpful to have one spreadsheet for the entire organization, so that everyone knows which classes other people are interested in canvassing.
After you feel like you’ve found enough classes to get yourself started, you can begin reaching out to professors via email for permission to canvas in their classrooms. Be sure to update your spreadsheet as you do so, to ensure you know who you’ve contacted.
Planning your speech
You’ve reached out to several professors, and some have agreed to let you talk to their students! It’s great news, but you’re not done planning the campaign just yet.
Now that canvassing visits are planned, you’ll have to craft a speech to present.. Before you begin writing, however, it’s important to understand what a successful speech does.
Your canvassing speech is more than just an informational presentation about what your Student Media group does – it’s a persuasive appeal designed to educate your audience on why joining your group will improve their lives. So, how does a successful speech do this?
First, you’ll have to identify your audience’s needs and wants. Ask yourself:
- Social connection?
- Part-time income in a fun environment?
- Professional advancement?
- Career skills?
- Something else?
Then, ask how your organization can provide for those needs and wants.
- Create a sense of community? Do you provide a good place to meet new people?
- Do you have flexible hours or jobs? Could it fit into a busy college schedule? Be specific
- Prepare people for future jobs/careers? What hard skills will applicants learn?
Each of these wants/needs should be specific enough to matter to your audience, but not so specific that it potentially alienates certain groups. For example the need for a flexible schedule could apply just as easily to students with busy extracurricular schedules and to potentially overlooked groups, such as student parents. Likewise, a need for community/camaraderie could apply to international students just as much as local students. By keeping your appeals relatively general and goal-based, you can reach a wider audience, while still acknowledging their goals and interests.
Once you have thought of two or three examples, begin outlining your speech. It should have a strong introduction that hooks people’s attention and draws them in. That should then be followed by two-to-three body paragraphs that illustrate how your organization fulfills people’s wants and needs. Lastly, you should wrap it all up with a strong conclusion that will invite your audience to make the possibility of working with your group a reality by signing up with their name and email.
How much or how little you write after you put together your outline is up to you. Some people deliver their speeches using only an outline to guide their structure, while others develop a detailed script. Find a solution that works best for your presentation style and stick to it.
Besides your speech, bring a basic sign-up sheet with entries for both people’s names and their email addresses. At the end of the presentation, pass the sheet around and gather contact information, while you open up a Q & A Session.
Q&A Sessions: Recruitment through dialogue
Your recruitment speech isn’t meant to be a comprehensive rundown of everything your audience should know—it should give them enough information to get them interested and curious about the opportunity you’ve presented to them. Having a Q&A Session at the end of your speech is an opportunity for your audience to follow up that curiosity, and ask specific questions about how working with your group will impact them.
Addressing specific questions in this way has several benefits. First, it allows you to talk with your audience rather than at them. Instead of passively listening to your speech, they are engaged in a dialogue with you and your message. Second, it allows you to address the concerns of individual people, rather than your audience as a whole. This is extremely important for reaching as many students as possible in the audience, since needs may vary from person to person. For example, a student parent may be interested in learning more about work-from-home or hybrid work opportunities, which is a detail that might otherwise get left out of the main recruitment speech or job fliers. With a Q&A Session, however, you can create a conversational space where people can comfortably seek information relevant to their needs. Because of this, offering a Q&A Session isn’t just a strategy for improving engagement—it’s a way to promote equity and inclusion as well.
Turning interest into action
With luck, you’ll have left your first few canvassing visits with a list of names and email addresses. Now what? Without further action, those names and contact details will only be ink on paper. The key to transforming them into applications is in following up.
Immediately after you’ve finished canvassing for the day, take the time to transfer all the contact information to a spreadsheet where you can document everyone’s name, email address and contact status. Once all addresses for the day have been transferred to the template, send out an email to everyone by copying their addresses and sending out a mass email using “BCC.” BCC will make it so that recipients won’t be able to see the addresses of everyone else the email was sent to, and more importantly, it will open up a private thread if they respond with questions. Your mass email should be friendly, brief, and should illustrate the next steps to joining your organization. Once you have sent someone a copy of this email, also be sure to mark that you’ve done so on the spreadsheet so you know you’ve contacted them.
That’s it! We’ve covered the basics of the canvassing process, from planning and finding classes, to presenting and follow-through. While there are many finer points to consider within each of these stages, the steps presented represent the fundamentals of classroom canvassing. As you begin your own campaign, feel free to make copies of the templates provided. Good luck, and happy canvassing!