How to Design Smart Route Plans for Canvassing, Campaigns and Non-Profits

4 mins read

How do you stretch limited time, money and workers to reach the most people? The problem comes in different forms: canvassing, delivering campaign supplies or giving voters rides to the polls. It’s a logistical problem: make sure that volunteers are as productive as possible and minimize travel time.

Fortunately this is a problem that has been analyzed and resolved in the business sector. FedEx, UPS, Uber and GrubHub all use route planning software to improve their efficiency by minimizing travel time, fuel and labor costs. The same technology works just as well for campaigns and non-profits.


Planning the most efficient route to make multiple stops is a complex problem, especially when the locations are spread out. A few of the considerations to take into account include:
– How will canvassers be traveling? On foot, by car or public transport?
– How much time will they need to spend at each spot?
– Where will the canvassers start from and finsh
– How many hours will each canvasser work?
– What are the traffic patterns in the area when the canvassing will take place?
– Are there natural obstacles like hills and freeways to consider if the canvassers are walking?
– How do you account for residents not being present when the canvasser visits them?
Fortunately software takes the guesswork out of planning the optimal canvassing route and to determine how many workers will be needed to canvass a given area.

Plan the best route with logistic software to reach the most people in the least time at the lowest cost.

Case study

Businesses use logistical apps to plan routes for thousands of locations with hundreds of drivers. Campaigns use the same apps for a few hundred locations and a small number of canvassers. This example shows fifteen polling locations in Buncombe County, South Carolina. We want to find the best route to visit all the locations with four canvassers starting and ending from Asheville. The locations are widely dispersed and we want to take into account traffic patterns in the area.

I first entered details on when and where the canvassing would take place, how many canvassers were available, how they’d be traveling, how long they’d work and the amount of time each stop would take. The app then produced a detailed routing map for each canvasser that shows the route and the estimated time they should be at each stop.

How to develop the optimal plan to visit all the locations efficiently.
Example of how ArcGIS can be used to develop a route planning map.

esri Non-Profit program

I used ArcGIS Online from esri for this project which has a wonderful offering for non-profit groups. The Nonprofit Program provides eligible nonprofit organizations – those holding 501c3 status in the US – with access to deeply discounted software and training offerings. An ArcGIS Named User is available for $100/year through the program. You can apply to get started at

Take Away

Make the best use of your resources. Use logistical planning software sure as ArcGIS to be more productive. It may be the best $100 you spend!


Image credit: The Noun Project
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Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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