For months, you’ve been planning the perfect in-person canvassing programs. You’ve figured out who you want to contact, who you are going to hire, and how many volunteers you will need to recruit. Everything is going well, when suddenly coronavirus hits, and all your plans must change.

You still have to get the job done, but what can you do? How do you make connections with the people you need to reach without meeting them face-to-face? How do you achieve a higher impact than phone banking or peer-to-peer texting can provide?

Community Mapping to the Rescue

An approach to consider is “warm” contact through relational or friend-to-friend outreach. However, how do you do that if you don’t have a strong base of connected community leaders and your staff consists of paid canvassers with only a few local relationships? The solution is not software or technology, but a thoughtfully planned and executed program that starts with community mapping.

Identify Who You Want to Reach

The first step in community mapping is identifying the key connectors in your community: Both people and institutions. Have each member of your team make a list of every key leader and institution in your community. After your list is ready, have a brainstorming session to see if you missed anyone.

When I was fundraising for a congressional race, I focused on meeting lawyers, bankers, and accountants since they were more likely to know executives that had the means to support the campaign. And when I was running for local office, I focused on churches, after-school sports, and the PTA of every school in the area.

As you map your community, consider reaching out to the following: Schools (public, private, charter), civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions), senior groups, youth sports, churches, current and former elected officials, environmental organizations, resistance groups, minority groups, labor unions, and advocacy organizations.

Community Mapping and Finding “Connectors”

Cold calling is frustrating, generally ineffective, and extremely time-consuming. The alternative is to find a connection that can make a warm introduction. The key is to figure out how your organization is connected to your target list of community leaders/groups.

Who do you or your staffers know personally who knows the “connector?” The goal here is to flesh out your list of connectors with name, email addresses, phone numbers and information on how you are connected to the connector.

Training and Planning

Once you’ve built your target list of connectors, you’ll need to train your team to reach out to them. Write call scripts that are meant for community leaders instead of strangers. The tone of the conversation should be adjusted accordingly. Make sure the script includes an appropriate call-to-action. It could be an ask to volunteer, donate, or become a digital volunteer. Lastly, make sure the call ends with a request for names of other connected people in the community they will reach out to. Don’t forget to have the team practice calling each other-and then friendly supporters before scaling your program.

Time to Mobilize!

The last step is to start making calls! The goal here is to evangelize community leaders. Converting connectors to supporters of your cause will often be 100x more impactful than getting a stranger’s support. Accordingly, you should allocate more time per call. Getting the right community member excited is significantly more important than the quantity of calls you make.

Once you have developed your plan, make sure to leverage technology to streamline and scale your efforts. As you ramp your program, adjust and adapt based on your successes and failures. For example, you may find that a certain team member excels at reaching out to a certain segment of your community, or that texting before calling yields better results.

While community mapping takes work, if you start early and are diligent, you will find it will ultimately save you an immense amount of time and will produce amazing results. I expect that even after the coronavirus is a distant memory, community mapping will be an important tool in your arsenal!

Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of OutreachCircle, a supporter management, relational organizing and P2P texting platform that makes it easy for volunteers, activists and donors to support their favorite cause, campaign or organization. Formerly president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, he serves on the boards of Orenda Education, Think Together and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. In his spare time, he is a fitness fanatic and competed on American Ninja Warrior 6 (check out his video here).

Originally published at on May 20, 2020.