If you’ve been involved in an election campaign or have talked to people about running for office, chances are that someone has suggested that you set up Nationbuilder for your campaign. There’s a lot of emphasis today on having a good social media/digital game. If you’re planning on running for municipal office this year in Ontario, it’s important to start thinking about how technology will fit in to your campaign. The campaign period starts May 1 this time, will you be ready to hit the ground running?
There’s a lot of choices to make. You know that you need a website and social media profiles. You also know that you’re going to need to keep track of lists of people to be able to gauge your support, identify potential volunteers, and keep track of who you’ve talked to already. Lastly, you’re going to want to do mass emailing to your supporters to let them know about upcoming events and to appeal for volunteers and donations.
Jumping into this without a plan can raise your stress levels, create unnecessary friction within your campaign team, and leave you thrashing around at the last minute getting that hastily put together website up, throwing copies upon copies of lists around without knowing who has been contacted and who hasn’t, or sitting around feeling like you’re not doing enough because you have no idea how well things are going or if your volunteers are actually doing the things they said they would do.
This is where a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) can help by bringing all of the pieces together.
Traditionally the domain of commerce, CRMs were originally created to help salespeople market their products better by tracking interactions and being a central repository of information that the company collectively “knows” about its customers. When a business has multiple people from multiple areas dealing with many customers, it’s helpful to every member of the team to be aware of other interactions a customer might have had with another area of the business. The business CRM market is presently dominated by Salesforce.
There’s many analogues between this scenario and an election campaign. You might have several volunteers handling different aspects of direct outreach: some knocking on doors, some delivering flyers, some making phone calls. Then there’s mass communication methods such as social media, email, and voice broadcasts. A CRM can keep track of these interactions, ensuring you’re using your team effectively.
Winning an election campaign comes down to getting your message out to as many voters as possible as early as possible. Once your interactions are tracked in a central place, you can plan out where your next canvassing group should go, which neighbourhoods would most benefit from a flyer drop, or where gaps are in the coverage of your campaign. Nationbuilder is probably the most popular example of a cause-oriented CRM, but it’s not the only option.
- NationbuilderProbably the contender for the most popular product in this category, Nationbuilder is an “All-in-one” digital platform for nonprofits, election campaigns, and non-governmental organizations. Bringing a CRM, CMS (Website building/hosting), and social media aggregation platforms together in one box, it’s easy to see why they have such a large market share.
Nationbuilder has a loyal following of fans and manages its customers effectively by one-on-one interactions with its team of Customer Engagement Managers. Many candidates from across the political spectrum have successfully leveraged Nationbuilder in their campaigns, a popular recent example being Donald Trump.
You get a lot, but it comes at a cost. Pricing starts at $24 (USD) per month with a limited feature set and 5,000 people in the database. 5,000 people sounds like a lot, but when you receive the voter registration lists, you’re going to want to load them into your database, and once you go over that limit, the price doubles. If you want any of the advanced features like text messaging or custom permissions, that’s going to set you back at least $160 (USD) per month.
All of this still doesn’t include the help to build out the website and plan out the processes your team will use. As a result, unless they have outside help, newcomers to NationBuilder often don’t use it as effectively as they could, typically not going beyond using it for its website hosting, email signup, and donation capabilities.
While not as popular as Nationbuilder, CiviCRM has been around for longer (since 2005) and is trusted by lots of large organizations, such as Amnesty International and the Wikimedia Foundation (who are responsible for Wikipedia).CiviCRM is open source. That means it’s free, and the source code behind it is open to the public for scrutiny, just like the popular operating system Linux. That doesn’t mean that you can run it for $0 – you still need to run it on a server. It also doesn’t come with a CMS like Nationbuilder does, so you need to integrate it with one to be able to receive signups and donations on your website. WordPress is a popular one, but it also supports Joomla and Drupal.
Because of CiviCRM’s flexibility and ability to be adapted to interoperate with many different technologies, it may be preferred in some circumstances. It’s not quite as turn-key as Nationbuilder, but with the help of a professional, it is certainly capable of much more.
- Blue State Digital
While maybe not as well known as the other two, Blue State Digital certainly has some notable successes under its belt. It was the platform that Barack Obama’s team used to manage their campaign for both elections, and it’s also used in Canada by the NDP. It’s also the oldest of the three, being founded in 2004.While the back end is visually a bit more rough around the edges than Nationbuilder, it’s just as capable. The biggest downside is the price tag. Starting at $595 USD per month for the basic package (with 50,000 email addresses) places it well outside the budget of most city councillor or school trustee campaigns – although if you’re running a mayoral campaign it may still be in the running.
Whatever choice you end up making, adding a CRM to your campaign toolbox will enable you to do more with less and greatly reduce your stress levels. We can help you to choose and implement a CRM for your campaign, including customizing the public facing website and helping to develop processes around the CRM so that you are utilizing your team effectively. Contact us at (226) 456-0741 or firstname.lastname@example.org today for a free initial consultation.