Canvass for a Cause

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Canvass for a Cause
Canvass for a cause blue.jpg
The CFAC wave logo
symbolizing progress and change.
Motto Strictly progressive, occasionally queer.
Formation 2009
Type Non-profit 501(c)4
Headquarters San Diego, California
Canvass Director
LC Carmack

Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) is a California-based non-profit organization that focuses its efforts on building support for the progressive movement, with an emphasis on LGBT Rights.[1][2] The organization was founded in the wake of Proposition 8, the California law that eliminated the right of LGBT persons to marry, and is the largest gay rights field program in San Diego.

CFAC is modeled on the idea of “one heart, one mind, one person at a time,” with most of its efforts devoted to face-to-face conversation in public spaces. Activists and volunteers educate voters, identify supporters, and recruit volunteers, as per the CFAC mission statement: "to turn nonsupporters or undecided voters into supportive voters."[3] The organization is funded almost entirely by face-to-face fund-raising efforts of its grassroots organizers.[3] Its campaigns and community work have been built on a variety of progressive concerns, including LGBT marriage equality, youth bullying, women's rights, immigration, human trafficking, patient's rights & cannabis law reform, and international disaster relief efforts.


Canvass for a Cause Campaign Headquarters in San Diego, California

Canvass for a Cause was founded in 2009, by a group of activists specializing in political organizing who were seeking grassroots tools to help fight back on progressive issues.[4]

According to their founding Executive Director Tres Watson: “Canvass For A Cause was founded by a group of pissed-off activists who wanted to make a difference. One week after Prop. 8 passed, 25,000 people were willing to march down the streets of San Diego to demand their rights back, yet only a fraction of that were willing to spend the time actually volunteering for the campaign. We were committed to changing that … starting off as a bootstrap organization who two full time volunteers working out of an old, moldy building that was donated space. We had $20 on a card, and the passion to make a difference.”[2]

Originally focused exclusively on marriage equality, Canvass for a Cause has expanded to work on the fight against Don't Ask Don't Tell, No on Question 1 in Maine, cannabis law reform, as well as partnering with the American Red Cross to help with disaster relief in Haiti.[5] Canvass for a Cause has grown from two organizers in San Diego, to over forty activists working from San Diego to projects across the country.[6]



Canvass for a Cause consists of two separate non-profit organizations and a political action committee: the Canvass for a Cause Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on public education projects, PSAs, and social advocacy work; Canvass for a Cause, a 501(c)(4) organization that focuses on grassroots voter persuasion and education efforts to build public support for important human rights issues; and the Canvass for a Cause PAC, which works directly on progressive legislation and campaigns to mobilize voters to voice support or opposition to various progressive issues.[3]


Canvass for a Cause is run by its team of leadership staff, along with a support team of more than 40 organizers working out of their San Diego office. Their work is supported by three boards: the Canvass for a Cause Institute board, which manages the institute’s finances and establishes official policies governing the foundation; the Canvass for a Cause board, which manages the organization’s 501c(4); and the Canvass for a Cause PAC board which governs and operates the lobbying wing of the organization.[7]


Canvass for a Cause field organizers, building support at malls in San Diego

Canvass for a Cause is entirely individual donor funded, with their average donor giving $30.[8] Some of these donors are part of a monthly giving program and are called Love Warriors.[9] These donors are contacted through the face-to-face fundraising efforts of its team of grassroots organizers (canvassers). Using techniques pioneered by organizations such as Green Peace in the 1960s, Canvass for a Cause solicits direct public support for their organization while simultaneously educating the public, recruiting volunteers, and building support for various progressive causes.


LGBT Marriage Equality[edit]

The largest and most active campaign within Canvass for a Cause is advocacy work for LGBT marriage equality. Canvass for a Cause has two ongoing projects, Knock for Equality and the Canvassing Project, which both include voter persuasion, supporter identification, and volunteer recruitment. According to statistics on their website, in 2010 Canvass for a Cause staff and volunteers have identified 12,500 voters in support of the issue, and persuaded 2249 voters to support the cause, and vote for marriage equality.[10]

Canvass Project[edit]

The bulk of CFAC's efforts are devoted to face-to-face education, fundraising, persuasion, and recruitment. Volunteers and staff focus on busy, publicly accessible areas such as malls, shopping centers, colleges, events, and busy streets.[2] Each staff member or volunteer typically engages at least 20 voter contacts, identifies 15 supporters, and recruits 3 volunteers per day. To date Canvass for a Cause has engaged in 209,618 face to face voter contacts, logged over 14,817 field hours on the issue of gay marriage.

Knock for Equality[edit]

Canvass for a Cause sponsors a monthly, door to door effort called Knock for Equality, to persuade voters to support the issue of LGBT marriage equality, as well as collect data about why some voters don’t support the cause. CFAC volunteers are given strategically targeted voter lists generated from public voter files, so that they can speak specifically with people in non-supportive areas.[11] Non-supportive voters are then asked a series of questions to identify their core issue, which is usually children, religion, or the word marriage. That information is recorded on a 1 - 5 scale of support to non-support. The campaign estimates an average of 22% persuasion rate, meaning nearly one out of every four people who do not support marriage equality become a supporter by the end of the conversation. CFAC's most successful persuasion effort to date was in November 2010, where they targeted Republican-registered women over the age of 45 in Coronado Island and achieved a 27% persuasion rate.[12]

Maryland Marriage Equality Bill[edit]

Canvass for a Cause field organizer on the ground in Maryland, asking a voter to stop and dial their legislature to voice support for the LGBT civil marriage act.

On March 2011, a marriage equality bill passed the committee of the Maryland legislature, headed for a floor vote. At the request of the campaign on the ground in Maryland, Canvass for a Cause sent a team of their most trained, seasoned activists to help with the grassroots effort already underway. The team of activists worked is on the ground in Baltimore, as well as in Prince George, asking voters to take a moment out of their days to call their legislator voicing support for this bill. The CFAC team was able to persuade 386 voters to phone their legislature, causing one non-supportive legislator to remark that, " all of a sudden I have been receiving 10-1 calls in support of this bill... I might have to rethink my vote."[6]

Target Lawsuit[edit]

In 2011, Canvass for a Cause voter outreach efforts resulted in the organization being sued by targeted by Target Corp., who wanted to bar CFAC from talking about gay marriage in the publicly accessible areas in front of their stores.[13] The lawsuit came after highly publicized negotiations between Lady Gaga, Target, and the gay community, where Target stores were seeking to sell her albums. In the wake of the Target v CFAC lawsuit, Lady Gaga made the decision to cancel her contract with Target.[14]

Cannabis Law Reform[edit]

Canvass for a Cause's sister organization, Canvass for a Cause PAC, has been active in the fight to end cannabis prohibition and protects patients in California. CFAC has sponsored or partnered with a variety of organizations and inititaives, such as Americans for Safe Access, to bring its grassroots organizing model to aid in the fight for Cannabis Law Reform, including the Stop the Ban campaign and Yes on Proposition 19.

Stop the Ban Campaign[edit]

In March 2011, the San Diego City Council were set to vote on an ordinance which, if passed, would result in a de facto ban on medical cannabis in the entire city. In response Canvass for a Cause partnered with the San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group to launch the “Stop the Ban” campaign Aimed at protecting medical cannabis patients and preserving safe access to medical cannabis in the city of San Diego.[15]


In January 2011, the San Diego Planning Commission – over testimony of opposition from dozens of attorneys, former law enforcement, land use experts, directors of non-profits, patients, and concerned citizens who argued the ordinance was too restrictive – recommended the ordinance be made even more restrictive before being voted on by city council.[16] In response, Canvass for a Cause partnered with the San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group to launch the “Stop the Ban” campaign aimed at protecting medical cannabis patients and preserving safe access to medical cannabis in the city of San Diego by connecting the city council to the widespread public support that medical cannabis enjoys in San Diego.[15]

Campaign to amend and approve[edit]

Canvass for a Cause and ASA organizers built a large coalition of endorsing organizations, educated the public about the upcoming ordinance, undertook a focused media campaign, and mobilized a massive grassroots letter writing effort urging the city council to amend the proposed ordinance using Canvass for a Cause’s proven grassroots organizing models in conjunction with an organized patient outreach and a traditional volunteer based campaign.

Coalition Partners[edit]

The Stop the Ban campaign united LGBT groups, medical cannabis patient advocates, physician groups, drug policy groups, veteran groups, student groups, renters advocates, business groups, and others behind the effort to protect medical cannabis patients in San Diego in what was the largest effort on behalf of medical cannabis in San Diego’s history.[17]

Proposition 19[edit]

Canvass for a Cause Field Team working on the Proposition 19 Project

During the 2010 election, Canvass for a Cause worked closely with the Proposition 19 campaign in an effort to legalize cannabis in the State of California. In preparation for the upcoming election, Canvass for a Cause sent college campus organizers to colleges all over Southern California to help drive the youth vote to supplement the progressive vote.[18][19][20] The campaign estimates that Canvass for a Cause and their voter mobilization efforts were responsible for producing 50,000 unlikely voters, resulting in the San Diego vote on this issue garnering 47.5% support an entire percentage point higher than the overall state at 46%.[21]

International Relief[edit]

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Canvass for a Cause partnered with the American Red Cross in their efforts to respond to the disaster, spearheading a coalition of LGBT groups that worked to fund raise money for the disaster survivors.[5] The unprecedented coalition effort, named Gay Groups Give Back, was unusual in that it was endorsed by nearly every LGBT group working in San Diego, including Canvass for a Cause, Equality California, Courage Campaign, Empowering Spirits Foundation, San Diego Equality Campaign, as well as Marriage Equality USA.[22] The coalition recruited and trained volunteers, teaching them how to canvass their community in public spaces for funding on behalf of the Red Cross.

Prisoners' Rights[edit]


On August 19, 2010, two couples went to purchase marriage licenses after Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The San Diego County Clerk’s Office denied these couples access to the marriage licenses, and one couple stayed in the County Clerk’s Office with seven of their friends to peacefully protest the denial of their legal rights. These nine activists were then arrested in the midst of their sit-in by more than 50 police officers in full riot gear. Canvass for a Cause responded on the Equality 9’s first court date by co-hosting a demonstration on August 19, 2011 outside the San Diego County Courthouse, As the largest public organizing force on this issue, Canvass for a Cause accumulated more than 1,200 signatures to drop the charges against the Equality 9. While the judge did not drop the charges at the August 19, 2011 court date, he did state that there was virtually no chance that anyone would serve jail time for peacefully protesting.

Storefront Services[edit]

San Diego’s only emergency shelter for homeless, runaway and “street” youth, Storefront, was recently plagued by budget cuts that resulted in a loss of staff and services. As 10-15% of Storefront youth identify as LGBTQ, and as Storefront is the only youth shelter in San Diego to house transgender youth and youth with a past or current drug problem, Canvass for a Cause took a particularized interest in this organization. Canvass for a Cause recognized the importance of having an emergency shelter for at-risk youth here in San Diego, and took action to save Storefront from at least some of the pains accompanying budget cuts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Watch Canvass For A Cause Video". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  2. ^ a b c "Who is Canvass For A Cause?". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  3. ^ a b c "About". Canvass for a Cause. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Strictly Radical, Always Queer". Canvass for a Cause. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  5. ^ a b "Local LGBT Groups Collaborate to Aid Haiti Relief",GLT News Now. Archived November 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b Watson, Tres. "Countdown to Victory: LGBT Marriage in Maryland". Canvass for a Cause Email. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "CFAC Leadership". Canvass for a Cause. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  8. ^ [1] Archived March 2, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ [2][dead link]
  10. ^ [3] Archived July 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "Reports from the Field: Knock 4 Equality – The Official Blog of Canvass for a Cause". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  12. ^ 12/17/2010 at 2:59 am (2010-12-17). "Upcoming "Knock 4 Equality" Event – The Official Blog of Canvass for a Cause". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  13. ^ Ken Williams - SDGLN Editor in Chief. "BREAKING NEWS: Target Corp. sues grass-roots Canvass For A Cause to stop petition signing, especially those for gay marriage". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  14. ^ Ken Williams - SDGLN Editor in Chief. "BREAKING NEWS: Lady Gaga "divorces" Target". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  15. ^ a b Lamb, John R. (2011-03-09). "San Diego medical marijuana debate". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  16. ^ "Webcasting | City of San Diego". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  17. ^ "San Diegans Join Together to "Stop The Ban" on Medical Cannabis". Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  18. ^ "Multimedia : Election 2010: Canvass for a Cause campaigns on campus". The Daily Bruin. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  19. ^ "Yes on 19 San Diego". Facebook. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  20. ^ "Canvass for a Cause and Yes on 19 San Diego "Yes We Cannabis Rally"". Yes on 19 San Diego. Facebook. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Proposition 19 loses in California |". 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  22. ^ "Gay Groups Give Back". 

External links[edit]