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Can Tech Giants Save Elections?

17 Sep


There’s a unique quality of the technology sector that sets it apart from other industries, a push and pull that’s as distinct as it is complex. The tech industry’s specialists, CEOs, innovation gurus, and everyday workers all play key roles in two oppositional forces: the perpetration of, and resistance to abuse of technological power. 

It’s widely recognized that for every hero, there’s a villain. But it often appears that corporate tech is both. Large corporations like Facebook and Google are both causing and solving abuses by their technology, making it quite difficult to highlight their roles as strictly and wholly beneficial or harmful. One needn’t be so cynical as to imagine these companies are creating problems that they then solve, but it can often seem that way. 

The grand narrative claims that technology will liberate humanity. But in 1985, before a meaningful internet — and when “big data” was more science fiction than fact — the Association of American Colleges declared: “We have become a people unable to comprehend the technology we invent.” What seems even more true is that technology leaders can functionally comprehend their own technology, but have an interest in keeping the rest of us from comprehending it. 

In 2016 (and frequently since), technology and social media giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter have allowed themselves to be heavily used by less-than-scrupulous political advertisers through the use of techniques like microtargeting, the use of fake political ads, and the frequency with which such fakery occurs. The object of these disruptive ads has been, in many instances, to simply convince voters not to vote at all, rather than getting them to vote for a different candidate. The use of bots to disrupt and influence social media discussions and the presence of fake “followers” to boost the perception of particular politicians’ followings has influenced elections. Because some of the “meddling” was foreign, this implicated various federal laws; what would have otherwise been a problem of disproportionate influence became, in some instances, a law enforcement problem. 

Needless to say, this left Facebook, Google and Twitter with a lot of egg on their faces, especially in the context of an extremely divided and divisive election. It is no surprise, therefore, that as the country moves into full 2020 election mode, these companies met with federal officials “to discuss how they’re monitoring their platforms for foreign interference and preparing for the Republican and Democratic national conventions.” According to the New York Times, “The group met on Wednesday with representatives from agencies like the F.B.I., the Office of the director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security to share insights about disinformation campaigns and emerging deceptive behavior across their services.”

The first thing the companies did after emerging from these talks was to announce efforts to increase voter registration and facilitate voter participation. This seems easy enough for social media companies to do: run ads and place public service announcements in key cyberspaces while also linking to voter registration and education sites. Or, they could take the lead of data append companies — like Accurate Append — who have been using their resources to better connect campaigns with voters in order to get out the vote. Of course, these proactive “positive” measures are not going to fully compensate for the disruptive and deceptive effects of unscrupulous advertising and bot-based political messaging. In fact, even without microtargeting, the use of data dumps to drop false information, deliberately confusing messages, and misleading media can still undermine democracy. 

Last year, The Atlantic ran an article that foreshadowed the growth we’ve seen in 2020 of QAnon. The article described how QAnon operates: anonymous sources release thousands of images and videos that make all kinds of wacky and unsupported arguments; initially, these arguments and their accompanying graphics don’t tell a coherent story, but “clusters” of them emerge that start to shape particular plot lines: “Donald Trump and some loyal followers in the military and government are engaged in a clandestine, existential struggle against an international cabal . . . prominent Democrats were running an international child-sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington . . . Robert Mueller is actually working with Trump to expose the Democrats; Angela Merkel is the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler; and the Queen of England is part of the cabal.” And so on. What QAnon ultimately facilitates is a perpetual chaotic theater with the entire world as its stage, facilitated by social media platforms too overwhelmed and compromised by political pressure to adequately stop or even regulate the flow of false or misleading information. 

The stories all affect people differently. They motivate some on the far right (and sometimes people with no coherent political ideology) to action, ranging from some nominal amount of political organizing to doing concretely irrational things like threatening pizza parlors or committing child custody violations. These acts not only signal-boost QAnon, but also make other political extremists seem entitled to political power or look reasonable in comparison. For many people raised over decades of corrupt politicians and the failure of society to deliver on the promises in its social contract, there may be lingering doubt on whether the conspiracies are true. That doubt, in turn, creates cognitive dissonance under which authoritarian or other simplistic political forces have increased influence.  

The Atlantic article points out that “the flow-oriented structure of social media also fosters conspiracism. You can’t tell a coherent story in a 280-character tweet, but you can provide a tantalizing assertion or allude to shared story fragments, especially if you use code words and acronyms (such as QAnon’s WWG1WGA) or iconic images (such as the alt-right’s Pepe the Frog).” The article points out that Trump is “a consummate flow politician” who can share and make suggestive comments about the conspiranoia. 

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms can push back against fake stories by labeling them fake stories, but the review process takes far longer than spreading the falsehoods does, and lets many stories through the cracks. Here, we find a theme — the proliferation of misinformation — that cuts across all of the reasons why the lies and confusing messages overtake the search for truth. It’s fashionable to attribute Americans’ vulnerability to this messaging as a sign of our lack of intelligence, as if people had some kind of essential, embedded deficit of cognitive ability. Our experiences with people suggest otherwise: in everyday life, we are typically competent and have a good command of the everyday things around us. We are capable of problem solving and information management in reasonable contexts. 

But this kind of online manipulation takes advantage of our scarcity of time and inaccessibility to the resources needed to route through mass-generated information. At a minimum, one thing these companies could do is actually educate their users about the ways that political entities set out to manipulate them. What if it was baked into the user experience–a constant “flow” of reminders that the very content on the site should be subject to enhanced skepticism, and that there are sure signs that would discredit particular ads, videos, or other shares? What if this were to happen in addition to removing and flagging deceptive content, and actually taught and invited users to be part of that process? 

This would cut into the companies’ bottom lines by eliminating some advertisers, but the advertisers that stayed behind would be honest ones. And critics would be right in saying this would not completely eliminate deceptive posts or completely police them. But, it would make all of these tech giants much better stewards of the informational collective than they are now.

Philosophical Musings on the Demise of Landline Phones in Political Surveys

1 Jul

Every time you cringe about the use of landlines in political surveys, an angel gets its virtual wings.  

The stakes are huge in the political consultation business because the claims are huge. Practitioners promise to provide insight into human nature on a large enough scale to shape electoral strategy. That’s big considering how infinite and unpredictable humans actually are. In order to make those claims, consultants rely on technology, which, as Marshall McLuhan and others have long told us, is an extension of ourselves, our bodies. In this case, consultation technology promises: “hey buddy, you can’t think through that infinitude of human nature just using that brain mass inside your head. You need help.” 

This is a simple enough concept and I’ll get back to it momentarily in reference to McLuhan’s work: tech helps us do what we can’t do with just our bodies and brains alone. But before we dive down that hole, I also need to mention the context for having discussions like this: Communication technology seems hardwired for philosophical alarmism. What I mean by that is we have this propensity to interpret our physical and mental interactions with technology as somehow unique and negative, indicative of an existential doom just around the corner. So we’re constantly balancing an optimistic and pragmatic view of tech with a darker, kind of dystopian expectation that exponential advances, especially in communications and media, will make us weaker and more alienated from each other. 

Writing for New Statesman a few years ago, Barbara Speed explored the phenomena of us thinking cell phones were vibrating in our pockets when they really weren’t. Speed cited Larry Rosen’s description of the impact of technology on psychology as “iDisorders,” which adds to my feeling that these are more reflections of researchers wanting to trend-spot than an understanding of the historically perennial way technology shapes us as we shape it. Speed even resurrected the old 2008 “Is Google making us stupid” article Nicolas Carr wrote in the Atlantic. In that piece, the old arguments against television were transposed onto criticism of the internet. With TV it was “yes, we receive information, but we process it differently than reading,” an explanation made only slightly weird by comparing the counterfactual where humanity never learns to read. Now, the argument is “thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.” That sense is based on “immediacy” and “efficiency” and makes us decode rather than co-create meaning. 

But I think McLuhan problematizes this whole notion of comm tech somehow strangling our own mental strengths or wrapping itself around us. I think he problematizes the “either comm tech frees us or it entrenches the things which bind us” dichotomy. It’s a false one. All of the things around us both free and constrain us. Our bodies are constantly in physical interaction with things, our senses are always being augmented or limited, and the purpose of virtually all human interaction with the material world seems to be some sort of extension. It’s never not been that way. It was that way the first time our ancestors made tools, and long before that. 

Communication technology matters to McLuhan, but not because it exists in some special metaphysical category. Just as a club is an extension of the arm, communication technology is an extension of our thinking-and-speaking apparati . . .”human modes of thinking are altered by our predominant media of communication.” The oral world transitions into the written world which in turn transitions into the digital world—each era “characterized by its principle means of communication.” He was at times pessimistic about these advances, and other times optimistic, but he never treated social evil as some sort of inevitable enslavement to tech. 

What does any of this have to do with cell phones and landlines? Well, if the phone is an extension of the interactive human body, we should ask ourselves what kind of human-phone-cyborgs we want to be. In the case of using phones to collect political data, I’m concerned that survey researchers may be clinging to landlines unwarrantedly. Over 106 million adults (44% of the adult population) live in wireless-only households; in millions more households, landlines take a sharp back seat to residents’ mobiles. Another 40 million children live in houses with no landlines. Perhaps this is because landlines still attach to directories, while cell phone numbers require skillful work with the voter file and mobile phone and demographic append vendors like Accurate Append (client).

Mark Mellman, a king in the world of political consulting (having helped elect countless governors, senators, and house members all over the country) cites Pew Research finding that landline phone response rates dropped from 36 percent in 1997 (already dismally low) to 9 percent in 2017. He cites this while explaining why his firms combine cell phone calls with texting in their polls. “Low response rates affect accuracy, only if the people who do participate are different from those who don’t,” he reminds us, while explaining the need to adopt different techniques of outreach. While it’s important to remember that “that different kinds of people prefer different modes of interviewing and, more importantly, they answer key questions quite differently,” the important thing is to make sure a representative variety of respondents get to answer the questions—because they will often hear and respond to them in very different ways. 

But why continue landlines at all? A line from the Pew Report is a little alarming on this point. The report says that, while cell phones are even better than dual-frame (cell plus landline) interviews in some cases, the phone survey industry is not “poised to immediately drop landline samples,” at least in the near future, and the main reason for this appears to be that “[l]andline interviewing is roughly 30%-50% less expensive on a per-interview basis than cellphone interviewing. As a result, landlines remain an attractive option for achieving a fixed total sample size (e.g., n=1,000), even though the effective sample size after weighting is lower than would typically be achieved dialing only cell phones.” 

It’s true that the Pew Report also mentions the ability of landlines to reach older voters when it is important to do so (more for qualitative research or special subgroup polling, no doubt). But otherwise, this sounds dangerously and discouragingly like surveyors are allowing resource considerations to limit their methodologies—in ways that could produce distorted results. This may even explain why polling seemed off for certain presidential candidates in the primaries. The wiser thing to do would be to go where the technology leads you, full McLuhan, rather than staying in the horse-and-buggy because you don’t want to pay more for the car.

Good Data Helps Find Good Volunteers for Your Campaign

3 Dec

Writing for Brookings, Michael J. Malbin reports that this year’s enthusiastic midterm elections found candidates raising record levels of money:

Democrats running in the general election against incumbent Republican House members in 2018 have shattered all previous records for challenger fundraising, more than doubling the previous high set by Republicans in 2010. We know from the work of Gary Jacobson and other political scientists that challenger fundraising is probably the single strongest signpost of a competitive election campaign. In 2010, Republican challengers had raised 43 percent as much as the Democratic incumbents they were facing by the end of September, and 52 Democrat incumbents were defeated in the general election. In 2018, the shoe was more than just barely on the other foot. By the end of September, Democratic challengers had raised 69 percent as much as the incumbents they faced. We should emphasize that this includes all challengers and not only the ones in competitive races. All Democratic challengers, including the sure losers, raised almost as much by September 30, on average, as the average winner spent over the course of the entire two-year cycle in 2016.

But raising money isn’t enough. Otherwise, the candidate who raises the most money would always win, and that’s not the case. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 points out that the mere fact that the candidate who spends more often wins more often isn’t a “causal link.” It doesn’t mean spending the money caused the win. And there are plenty of counterexamples to the assumption that money always wins, such as billionaire Tom Steyer donating a collective total of $50 million to candidates in 2014 and fewer than half of those recipients getting elected.

Winning campaigns requires engagement, and that means recruiting enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers. More importantly, winners turn supporters into volunteers. That takes a certain kind of “conversion process” where a smart campaign, upon learning they have enthusiastic supporters, will contact those supporters and provide easy-entry volunteer opportunities for them.  As Kelly Dietrich wrote earlier this year, “Engaging with voters goes beyond simply knocking on doors. It’s about giving voters ownership of your campaign’s success and making sure they know they are a crucial part of your campaign. By doing this, you change the ‘I’ of your candidacy to a ‘we.’ You get them to volunteer.”

Writing for Vox, here’s what David Broockman and Joshua Kalla have to say about campaign volunteers: “Mountains of rigorous research show that campaigns should be having personal conversations with voters at their doors. But, campaigns spend almost all their money on TV ads — and, every year, most voters say they’ve never had a conversation about the election at their door.” In fact, Broockman and Kalla write, one set of research “found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).”

A 20-percent boost in turnout just from canvassing? Holy cow! Why doesn’t every candidate do this? Well, it’s hard. It requires a lot of data to recruit and retain volunteers. Many campaigns just keep throwing money at advertising on the theory that they’ll reach a larger number of people overall. That prioritizes quantity over quality, and doesn’t get people to the polls with any certainty.

Appending and data aggregation services can help recruit and enthuse volunteers. One organization I work with, Accurate Append, has been lauded by Call Hub for having “billions of data points on U.S voters and consumers,” guaranteeing that its clients’ “campaigns have the right contact information to rely upon through their email append, phone append, and lead validation features.”

But Accurate Append also maintains an industry-leading demographic database. This allows campaigns to access quality demographic attributes of voters on their lists, including their ages, income levels, and political interests. That information can be appended to their lists, allowing quick searching and analysis from which campaigns can identify ideal volunteers.

The processes involved in building a greater understanding of your support base includes verifying contact data, turning partial collections of contact information (like just having an email address or phone number) into full lists (a voter’s name, address, phone number and email). But it also means knowing what neighborhood a voter lives in and the local issues most likely to affect them. Append services can help you do that too. What I also like about append services is that they take seriously the fact that time is of the essence in campaigns. You upload a file to your secure folder and we return the results in that same folder.

The better you can manage that data, the easier it is to do the other essential things you need to do to manage volunteers–laid out nicely in this recent post by campaign tech company NGP Van–including respecting volunteers’ time, making the volunteer experience fun, and building ladders of volunteer engagement. Having good data means you can keep recruiting, and treating volunteers well so they work even harder.

It’s all part of an effort to use technology to re-humanize politics. This may seem ironic since technology has been part of the reason campaigns have de-humanized constituents. But the solution lies in a more intelligent and humanistic approach to collecting and interpreting that data. And that interpretation, in turns, requires more accurate and more frequently-updated data.

Accurate Appending Your Data

13 Oct

Guest post by Massimiliano Caron

The key to winning your campaign will always be direct voter contact. From the 2008 Obama campaign, Bernie Sander’s 2016 primary race and the recent victories of the Labour Party in the UK, we have seen the success of robust direct voter contact programs. Your campaign needs to be at their door, on their phone and in their inbox. Thus, you need accurate and current data on your voters.

With a basic voter file and Accurate Append you can get that valuable data. Accurate Append can get you the emails and phone numbers of your soon to be supporters. Voter files are not the only source of contacts you can append. What about that awesome Facebook page you have with thousands of followers? This is the audience you built and is the best group to target because they follow you. Now, not only can you get their email, but get their phone numbers. Utilizing these contacts, you will be talking directly to your audience converting them into volunteers and donors. There are plenty of places where these lists can be built; from your voter file, social media accounts and other publicly available data. Feel free to get creative, knowing that any data gaps can now be filled. No matter how you get it, coupling this contact data with powerful messages will lead you to build a winning campaign.

Accurate Append has a basic implementation of the Open Support Data Interface, which means other adopters of that data standard can easily add Accurate Append data to their voter outreach tools and CRMs. Along with easy integration like this, you will get access to billions of data points with hundreds of millions emails and phone numbers. This makes building your campaign’s database for voters, volunteers and donors much easier and you get up to 500 API calls for testing for free when using developer tools.

People are yearning for change and motivation in times like this, and your campaign’s message can be what sparks them into action. Do not let not having enough data get in the way of you activating your community and creating the change desperately needed. Add Accurate Append API to your campaign’s toolbox today!

Growing a Civic Tech Ecosystem

30 Mar

Over the past year, I’ve been building a consulting group with a focus on growth strategies and services for civic tech companies (tools to do politics, government or nonprofit work better) and digital projects for nonprofits and progressive political campaigns.

Here are a few of the companies I’m working with:

Ecanvasser: This Ireland-based startup builds mobile and desktop constituent outreach and issue management tools for campaigns and government officials. They have Android and iOS apps for mobile canvassing and some of the best pricing on the market.

iConstituent: With a CRM solution as well as e-newsletters and website building products, iConstituent is solely focused on enabling great government-constituent communications and streamlining issue tracking and response from Congress to City Hall.

Accurate Append: An outreach strategy is only as good as the contact data backing it up, and with one of the largest resources of opt-in contact data available, Accurate Append can help with email verification, email append and phone append, including sussing out line type for phone contacts.

League of California Cities Emerges as Chief Opponent of Open Data Bill

25 Jun

The League of California Cities has emerged as the chief opponent of an open data bill I helped propose. California Sen. Leland Yee’s SB 1002 would create a new open data standard in the California Public Records Act.

How is NationBuilder Different from Salsa (DemocracyInAction)?

15 Jan

NationBuilder is the community organizing system (COS) for a new generation of leaders and creators. Texting, email, social media and CMS and supporter database all in one easy-to-use package.

Salsa has action tools that can be integrated with other tools and a website, but it doesn’t have the voter outreach tools built into NationBuilder, or the complex social media integrations. With NationBuilder, you don’t get a list of contacts, you get a system designed around people and leadership online.

See what Liberal Art has to say about NationBuilder and Salsa/DemocracyInAction: “Liberal Art now builds fully custom Nations for less than half the cost of our Drupal + BSD/Salsa/Convio projects. NationBuilder’s tool suite is competitive with competing platforms, but its tools are fully integrated into the CMS.  This means less setup and easier management of your messaging and action campaigns. What’s more, social sharing functions are baked into every page, tool, and action taken by your supporters.”

How is NationBuilder Different from Blue State Digital?

15 Jan

Blue State Digital, the firm famous for its work on the Obama campaign in 2008, has been acquired by advertising conglomerate WPP.

NationBuilder is the community organizing system (COS) for a new generation of leaders and creators. It brings together email blasting, customizable websites, advocacy and community pages, and social media management into a single platform that you don’t need a tech team to manage.

Read what Liberal Art has to say about the ease and efficiency of NationBuilder implementations for nonprofits and campaigns.

Join Adriel Hampton’s Adriel Nation. Technologies for Democracy. Social Media for Social Good.

11 Oct
Adriel Nation - Wired to Share

Adriel Hampton's Adriel Nation

How is NationBuilder Different from Other Web Action Toolkits?

23 Aug

How is NationBuilder different?

A: NationBuilder is a unique nonpartisan platform for organizing, bringing together a comprehensive suite of tools that today’s leaders and creators need to gather their tribes.

Deeply social. We don’t bolt on some share buttons and call it social media – we interweave Twitter mentions of both your broadcaster IDs and your website into the administrative dashboard and activity stream. Likewise, Facebook page activities and Facebook and Meetup events are tightly tied into your nation, helping you to create a database that reflects the true scope of your nation’s support across the social web. You can interact with your Facebook and Twitter supporters and prospects right from your NationBuilder control panel and collect event RSVPs and market ticketed events. NationBuilder profiles aren’t some sterile and contextless lists of names and email address, but rather rich social profiles with pictures and bios linked to people’s social media profiles. We also help new members of your nations find and follow their friends from Facebook and Twitter right in your nation.

Real-time activity stream. Instead of running reports once a week, NationBuilder shows recent updates from your site, Twitter, Facebook pages, events, donations, any activity happening that you should care about. This activity stream is highly filterable, and provides field organizers, finance directors, social media managers and other parts of your organization a “now time” view of activity in you nation. This real-time newsfeed is similar to a Facebook activity stream, tailored to help you track and guide the health of your nation. It’s very addictive.

Runs your whole site. NationBuilder empowers you to run your entire site, supporter and prospect database and donor recruitment and finance tracking from one site. You don’t need an extra content management system (CMS) with NationBuilder – it is one, with rich customizable themes that make it like a WordPress for organizing. NationBuilder allows you to quickly build a slick public-facing website complete with blog pages, calendars with Google maps, petition pages, customizable surveys and much, much more. Its social customer relationship management (CRM) tool is bleeding edge tech for organizing. And yes, we use NationBuilder the platform to run NationBuilder the software company.

No tech team required. NationBuilder is highly customizable without a line of code. If you have a designer, you can create anything you like with HTML/CSS and SCSS customization of our themes. We can refer you to great designers and consultants if you don’t have one, and have free screencasts for web play or download on how you can do it yourself. NationBuilder is not for coders who love to play around with plug-ins and integrating various tools – you’ll probably be happier with WordPress, Drupal, Django, or Ruby on Rails.

Campaign aware. We provide access to the voter file for political causes and campaigns, with tight database integration and easy to use call and walk lists, including a turf cutter to narrow down target voters on an interactive map. You can email and text your supporters using NationBuilder, whether yours is a nation for 100 or 1 million.

How is NationBuilder different from ActionKit?

A: ActionKit is a great solution for huge organizations with in-house tech teams, whereas NationBuilder is meant for organizations that can’t afford or don’t want to deal with a tech team. ActionKit supports email, events and donations and can be customized and integrated with your current website. It is very expensive, and available only to progressive organizations. NationBuilder is available to anyone and far less expensive.

How is NationBuilder different from Salsa?

A: Salsa (also known as Democracy in Action and Wired for Change) products are a cheaper alternative to ActionKit for groups that have an in-house tech team and want to do a lot of custom coding and work with plug-ins. It is frequently used with Drupal or WordPress for a CMS and Ning for a social network, and requires a lot of integration work as a result. They have an email-your-legislator “spank and thank” tool at the federal level, and if that is important to you, you may want to consider it. Salsa’s products are only for progressives, and they don’t have NationBuilder’s voter outreach tools and data such as the voter file, call and walk lists and turf cutter. For voter outreach, people will generally use NGP VAN with Salsa. Adding up all the additional tools needed and custom integration, it ends up being quite expensive.

How is NationBuilder different from Blue State Digital?

A: If you don’t want to get your hands dirty running an online campaign and have the money to spend, look at Blue State Digital. This progressives-only web shop will create custom solutions using their own toolkit and will even write your emails for you. It does lack the voter outreach tools, texting solutions and voicemail that NationBuilder customers enjoy, but BSD will integrate with other providers for those services at a substantial cost. They are famous for running the technology operation for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

How is NationBuilder different from NGP VAN?

A: NGP VAN excels at generating district-specific campaign finance reports and integrating with official Democratic party voter file enrichment efforts. However, most of its grassroots organizing tools are relics, and allowing the finance compliance part of your campaign to drive a decision to use NGP VAN’s full toolkit is a mistake. NGP will try to sell you a Drupal integration, and its own tools are inefficient and clunky (think Windows 3.1).
If your finance team wants NGP for compliance purposes, use NationBuilder and export your data to run quarterly reports. If you have access to the VAN through your local or state party organization, you can still use NationBuilder by importing your voter file and using our action tools. We would like to integrate with the voter file and compliance in NGP VAN more directly, but they have blocked us due to our nonpartisan political philosophy (or maybe they are just scared). NGP VAN is only available to Democrats in the U.S. and who they deem worthy in other countries.

How is NationBuilder different from Capwiz?

A: Capwiz from CQ allows lobbyists and interest groups to activate their supporters and point them towards a legislative goal. NationBuilder is designed to spur grassroots action through social networks and organizing around common goals. We’re also a heck of a lot less expensive.

How is NationBuilder different from WordPress?

A: NationBuilder is a fully hosted CMS. We manage servers and scaling so you can worry about activating your supporters. We don’t have plug-ins and instead have dozens of page types designed for action. We integrate email, texting and online donations along with our social CRM, things which have to be bolted on to WordPress, which can be quite painful.
WordPress is a great platform for blogging, and it also has a much more mature ecosystem of designers than NationBuilder – we have a lot of catching up to do in the custom theme department (if you want to build and market custom themes for NationBuilder, we want to hear from you!). If you want to run your own server and play around with plug-ins, WordPress might be right. But to get the native functions of NationBuilder for your nonprofit, for example, you’ll have to integrate with other tools like DonorTools, MailChimp, Eventbrite and Salsa.

How is NationBuilder different from CiviCRM plus Drupal?

A: Building a highly customized CMS plus CRM using these open source tools can be quite appealing. However, it is time consuming and costly as it requires a skilled in-house or contract tech team. The code is free, but making it work the way you want it to can be a frustrating and lengthly process. In contrast, NationBuilder just works. With us, you get the benefits of the improvements for any of our customers rolling out to all at no additional cost. One of our early beta customers spent a year trying to get such a custom system working to their satisfaction, and 3 months away from their election they found NationBuilder, scrapped all their existing efforts, and were up and running with a custom theme in 2 weeks.

How is NationBuilder different than Convio, Kintera and Blackbaud?

A: If you’ve got money to burn and you’ve already learned how to use these tools, you might not want to switch. Otherwise, NationBuilder is an elegant replacement for these outdated donor management software suites. Our social CRM is designed to help you conduct donor outreach, interaction and contact logging from social media to phone and in-person contact, with rich analytics. You can print call sheets and download lists or your entire donor database easily.

How is NationBuilder different than Kickstarter?

A: We’re big fans of Kickstarter and have built similar crowdfunding tools into NationBuilder. It’s a great place to go to raise funds fast, but first you need a base of supporters. NationBuilder helps you recruit and organize the base of support you’ll need for a successful crowdfunding effort, even if you want to do it on Kickstarter.

How is NationBuilder different than Eventbrite?

A: We have great calendar and events tools, including ticketed events and flexible email tools. Eventbrite is great if you want to do an event or two, but NationBuilder supports events as part of a richer organizing infrastructure. We also have better integration with Facebook and a robust tagging system, helping you create a true events database of your supporters and prospects. Events professionals can also use NationBuilder’s social media databasing and Klout and Topsy integration and search functions to target influential supporters in key geographical areas.

How is NationBuilder different than Ning?

A: Ning allows you to create an affordable custom social network and can be a great platform for your fans and supporters to hang out and chat. NationBuilder does many of the things that Ning does, plus gives you a highly customizable public website, a social CRM and email and texting features. A key differentiator is that while Ning is a community platform, NationBuilder is designed to help a leader or leaders move volunteers and loosely aligned supporters towards a common goal. Ning is more about hanging out, and NationBuilder is more about action.

How is NationBuilder different from SalesForce?

A: SalesForce can look attractive to nonprofits due to its initial 10 free licenses. However, it is a CRM designed for sales teams focused on one-way communication and its complexity can be daunting. NationBuilder is highly social and designed for advocacy and effective community building. SalesForce quickly grows expensive due to consulting requirements and once your organization expands beyond those initial licenses. NationBuilder has no limit on broadcasters for nonprofits.