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NationBuilder does everything but make coffee: but is it right for your campaign?

Submitted by Kate on May 11, 2011 - 11:13am

For many advocacy organizations and campaigns, creating an online presence is a daunting task. Now there is a solution that gives non-profits, politicians, and organizers the ability to create quickly a professional-looking site with "a complete set of tools for managing contacts, social media accounts, finances and more."[1]

NationBuilder is the novel combination of a CMS and CRM system created with the mission to bridge the gaps between a website, its leaders/organizers and its supports. The NationBuilder toolkit gives users the ability to create and manage a website (like Drupal or WordPress); to manage supporters and create donation pages, petitions, and more (like Salsa); and to engage visitors and supporters through integrated social media and contact tools.

NationBuilder's integration of content management system (CRM), constituent relationship manager (CRM), and social media tools—such as Facebook and Twitter—sets the project apart from the traditional methods of site setup, which require paying for multiple accounts, knowledge of different CRMs and CMSs, and coordination of a site with social media outlets. Many organizers simply do not have the time, money, or person-power to do everything, and so the online presence of a campaign is overlooked in favor of other efforts.

Here at Richir Outreach, we strive to tailor our services to the needs of our clients. With the recent premier of NationBuilder, we are able to provide a cost-effective solution for nonprofits and community outreach organizations. However, it is very important that potential users of NationBuilder understand the tools and functionality the service provides.

NationBuilder's CMS Capabilities

NationBuilder is a similar to the CMS WordPress. Both systems are user-friendly and allow users to get a site quickly up and running. However, much like WordPress, NationBuilder is not as expandable or customizable as CMS solutions such as Drupal or Joomla.

NationBuilder does not seek to compete with these more established systems. Instead, it is establishing a market for itself as a cost-effective and accessible alternative; while the average nonprofit would need to hire a web developer to set up a Drupal website that works well with Democracy in Action, Twitter, and Facebook, NationBuilder lets "non-techies…create a branded website, blog as well as import contact lists and send email blasts directly from the site." [2]

Organizations who want the integration of NationBuilder, but do not want to sacrifice their branded web design would do well to consult with a web designer or developer before making the switch. NationBuilder affords the designer functional and simple themes, but customizations beyond the basics require templating and coding experience.

We hope that, in the future, NationBuilder will allow designers and developers to share their custom templates online, which would give more depth to the choices they currently offer.

One area of customization that we at Richir Outreach have already tackled is the sidebar. NationBuilder's original templates include a static sidebar with little options for the "non-techie" user. The needs of our client required us to create custom sidebars for some of the site's pages. Luckily, we took the opportunity to learn more about NationBuilder and create some tutorials.

Certainly one of the interesting and exciting things about NationBuilder is its use of Liquid markup language. This simple yet powerful language is easy to get the hang of and could mean additional customization and expansion opportunities in the future.

Overall, NationBuilder delivers what it promises - simple and functional tools to help an organization build its online presence. NationBuilder provides helpful screencasts, and as more people and more organizations use the system, the community of people working with NationBuilder will grow, providing more documentation and opportunity for customization and expansion.

NationBuilder's CRM and Social media Capabilities

NationBuilder provides immediate functionality of the social networks on every single page in your website, making it easy to stay on top of communications with supporters, organizers, and allies. Integration with social media also encourages visitors to take their ownership of a cause to the next level by sharing it with their own social networks and engaging in discussion.

One of the few problems we have encountered with NationBuilder is with the supporter query tool, which doesn't seem to allow for the use of logic. This is a small problem—and might even be changed if the community shows strong support for a logic-based search tool—but it is something that an organization with a large and diverse supporter database should consider.

Support

Although the screencasts and official documentation do not cover some of the more advanced aspects of the system, we have had wonderful support from NationBuilder via email. Every question has been answered promptly and professionally by the NationBuilder team.

Creating a strong online presence for your organization or cause depends on what kind of site you want, how much money you have, and how much time you want to spend on your website. The founders of NationBuilder understand these limiting factors and have developed an effective solution that will likely meet the needs of many organizations.

[1] Useful Tools' Review: http://www.usefultools.com/2011/04/take-action/
[2] TechCrunch Review: http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/06/nationbuilder-is-a-one-stop-shop-for-cr...