- User friendly
- Very scalable
- You lose control and functionality when using this type of solution
- More costly than building your own solution
- The problem being solved isn’t entirely clear
NationBuilder is a powerful platform for promoting campaigns and causes, whether your target audience is a small town or an entire state. NationBuilder is a mix between a content management system, data management system, and customer relationship management platform. It is one of the most powerful and well-developed platforms on the market, backed by top talent and startup investors.
CMS & Contact Management
When NationBuilder came to market out more than five years ago, it focused heavily on content management and contact relationship management. These are the strongest features of the NationBuilder platform.
It’s relationship management tools are quite robust and offer many ways to engage contacts. It makes it easy to track supporters across behaviors, including opening emails and attending events. It does this by tagging visitors when they take certain actions, just like a CRM; once you have an email address, it fetches other information about visitors including social profiles. All of this integration makes it easier for your contacts to convert on high-effort CTAs, such as donating. Creating personalized messaging and cohorting contacts is quite easy in NationBuilder.
NationBuilder comes with a ready to-go content management system. It is super easy to spin up a new website that looks well-designed. If you have the right level of account, NationBuilder allows you to create more than one website — this makes it easy to develop dedicated websites about specific issues.
NationBuilder receives high marks with lots of built-in tools and data management. If you are just getting off the ground, NationBuilder has low startup costs, monetarily and in terms of human capital.
What it is not:
When a product is built to be an integrated jack-of-all trades, you have to force users to utilize all of your tools. To use NationBuilder means you must do it the NationBuilder way. It is full of well-designed plug-ins, such as donation management and event planning. These have limited customization options (this doesn’t apply to the content management system which is fully-customizable). If you’re using something else, such as Eventbrite and MailChimp, you will have to convert over to NationBuilder tools to support the interconnectivity between tools. This comes with a learning curve.
Though content management is a NationBuilder strength, it does fall short on ease-of-use on the administration side when compared to tools like WordPress. NationBuilder is missing some of the robustness on content editing roles, content data architecture, and asset management. The editor interface itself can be difficult and cumbersome compared to NationBuilder’s competition.
NationBuilder will still require you to build out some other things common to a campaign or cause, like call logistics, credit card processing, and a resource for high-level voter modeling and data analysis.
An organization can use NationBuilder for an individual feature (ex. only for CMS or volunteer management); however, this robs a user of one of the main benefits of NationBuilder: deep integration and seamless data tracking across engagements.
As the saying goes, “being an expert means choosing ignorance.” NationBuilder’s in-house plug-ins aren’t as good as the competition because of its broad product strategy. For example, Eventbrite’s event management is better than NationBuilder’s tool because Eventbrite’s sole focus is events. The low-startup costs and broad platform is the key selling point for NationBuilder. In the process, you do lose functionality compared to rivals.
NationBuilder starts out at a reasonable price of $24 a month and goes all the way up to $5,000 a month for a “network” account.” They offer a 14-day free trial that allows access to all key features, except email blasting and text messaging. Most causes and campaigns will need to upgrade to the mid-tier plans: a $160 a month “organization” plan or a $999 a month “enterprise” plan. The “organization” plan will deliver most of what an organization needs but it is missing advanced website features like SSL and single-sign on. If you have access to custom development resources, the “enterprise” plan is the best plan.
If this pricing is too steep, they offer discounts if you move from monthly to an annual billing plan.
Who uses it?
In the 2016 cycle, NationBuilder had a strong year with many state-wide candidates and state-wide issue advocacy organizations using the platform for the first time. Previously, NationBuilder was used more widely in the US for local issues and races. While a non-partisan shop, NationBuilder has become widely used among center-right organizations rather than left-leaning organizations.
Though NationBuilder is advertised as a platform for all civic engagement, most of its features are tailored to political candidates – such as integration into the voter file and voter registration systems. For non-profits and issue advocacy organizations, many of these vote-getting features aren’t relevant.
It’s a bit like what Volusion or Shopify are for ecommerce sites, except for campaigns and causes. When you chose a platform like NationBuilder, you give up some level of control and customization that you get when you build out a system on your own; however if you can afford it, you can’t really go wrong with NationBuilder. It does what a lot of a campaigns and causes need fairly well.
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