Oxfam America had a successful outreach effort at Bonnaroo. Andrew, an Oxfam Action Corps organizer in Columbus, OH, helped collect petition signatures for food aid reform. He wrote the following account about his experiences, which has lots of great tips and tricks for outreach.
Submitted by Andrew Rodarme
When canvassing at a large event such as Bonnaroo, where over 90,000 people congregate, it is important to bear in mind that you will encounter numerous festival goers with wildly diverse backgrounds. Communicating with varying tactics based on any given individual’s knowledge of the subject and level of engagement in the conversation, can make all the difference in gaining their support. It is also a good idea to alter your pitch based on where you are speaking with them. Just by making some slight changes to your delivery based on these very basic concepts you can more easily gain their signatures, and leave a lasting and positive impression of Oxfam with them.
Some individuals will see a petition, and will start signing it, without knowing the first thing about it. Instead of leaving it at that, I always found it to be very useful to still explain to them the importance of the bill, and of Oxfam’s work. These groups of people will often be the most excited about our work, and will often ask about volunteering. So never just collect their info on the petition, there is so much more to be gained from them.
The majority of our canvassing took place in long lines for food, restrooms, or other amenities. In these situations you must take note of how fast the line is moving. You can often start your pitch to people at the back of the line, and before you know it you can find yourself at the front of the line before you have even collected their signatures. If the pace of the line is slower, it provides you with much more flexibility in terms of how long you can speak and how detailed you can get. If you ever find yourself in a fast moving line, the best tactic is to give a very brief intro into Oxfam, and to quickly elucidate the main points of the Peace For Food reform act. Once people realize we can feed millions of more people, without adding anything to the budget, they almost immediately sign the petition.
There are of course the doubters. Unlike lobbying Congress, we did not hear concerns about labor. The main resistance came in the form of not buying food in the United States. In these cases, it is best to explain that the bill simply makes food aid more flexible, and that some food will still be bought in our country. It is also a good idea to point out that surpluses of certain commodities will still be purchased by other industries, such as corn for ethanol use. Another strategy, is to pull buttons and stickers out of your pocket in the presence of resisters. Of course you do not want to make it a quid pro quo exchange. You would be surprised at how many groups would change their tune with the mere prospect of free swag.
We also approached people who were sitting down under trees trying to avoid the torrid Tennessean sun. In these circumstances we often had five to ten minute discussions. This is where more in depth concepts like monetization can come up. Many people will also want to talk about themselves and the non-profits they either support or volunteer with. It is important to be respectful and to allow them to express those views. Often you can tie it back quite nicely to Oxfam by informing them that we are often looking for allies to work with. These were some of the more fun conversations, because you no longer had to repeat a quick pitch to keep up with a moving line.