The Big Day: A Comprehensive Strategy to Launching a Campaign with NationBuilder

 

Hi, thanks for taking the time to review my NationBuilder Expert re-certification. I am modeling this scenario on a state-level political campaign rollout, but the same principles can be applied to advocacy or nonprofit fundraising. The goal is to kick off the campaign and use that momentum to meet pre-planned goals, growing and using whatever resources we may acquire. I will be using this sandbox site: https://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com, to demonstrate. At each step, my overall strategy is to get my client excited to use NationBuilder to the best of their ability.

 

Step 1: Preparation

Establish Goals

Goals are always the first topic I bring up with potential clients, and most seek my guidance in setting them. To do so, I first prepare an analysis of their universe utilizing whatever data is available. Most of the time, it’s a voter file and demographic data from the state board of elections. I do a lot of work in Maryland, and luckily their BOE website, http://www.elections.state.md.us, is chock full of timely and historic data. With the help of Excel and some statistical software, I calculate the predicted voter turnout, our win number, our vote deficit, age and gender subsets of voters likely to determine the election, and key precincts for field. Once we have those numbers, we delve into the voter file, determining who specifically we’ll need to target and then dividing them into priority tiers. If possible, I will also incorporate census data and commercially-available information to refine these models. After uploading the voter file to NationBuilder and enriching it, I tag accounts according to their tier and use map view for a bird’s eye snapshot of where voters live in the district. We then calculate the amount of hours each day it would take the campaign to canvass, call or lit drop our win number, and figure out the total number of attempts we can manage before election day. After a few more calculations, we have a goal for the number of volunteers we’d need to mobilize for each attempt. We then calculate costs for advertising, direct mail, paid staff, and other campaign expenses, and the results become our fundraising goals. I plug these raw Goals into NationBuilder and brainstorm the Paths we’ll need to take to hit them.

Plot Strategy

Now that we have our supporter, volunteer and donor goals set out, we will need a way to get people’s attention and a platform to begin processing them. In this scenario, we are going to hold a big launch event and get everyone we can to attend.

Choose a Venue

The first step of planning an event is choosing a venue, and this is an area where NationBuilder can help. I would advise the campaign to use its mapping features to find a spot in the community that is accessible to the greatest number of people. That’s our venue.

Prepare a Program

When we uploaded the voter file, we also uploaded a contactable list of people the candidate or campaign know personally or have some pre-existing relationship with. These are our First Supporters, and they should be closely involved in the event-planning process. I would advise the campaign email or call and conduct a basic survey, asking about issues that matter most to them, including when/where to hold the event, etc. They may not all be registered voters in the area, and they may only be a handful, but that’s okay. We know they have opted in early and they will be critical to growing the campaign. If we know where they live, we should also factor that into our choice of venue 

Organize a Kitchen Cabinet 

Most campaigns have a ‘Kitchen Cabinet,’ a group of informal advisors who are close to the candidate, willing to take on responsibilities in its early stages, and worthy of being trusted with strategic information. In the runup to planning this event, I would encourage the campaign to develop and expand its Kitchen Cabinet.

Identify and Train Supervolunteers

It’s not likely that the campaign will have an experienced staff on hand in these early days, so we’ll want to establish a dedicated group of folks to help plan, run and evaluate the event. For this, I would ask the Kitchen Cabinet to identify people they know who are not just willing to volunteer for the cause, but have some kind of experience with recruiting and leading volunteers on their own. I call these folks Supervolunteers. In the weeks leading up to the event, I would work directly with Supervolunteers and introduce them to NationBuilder basics. My goal would be to have a group of volunteers ready to print out an RSVP list for the event, sign up people on the fly and assist those wanting to make donations. Ideally, from this point on the campaign, Kitchen Cabinet, and Supervolunteers would work in tandem with me to formulate, test and execute the actions described below.

Establish Incentives

An incentive is any thing of interest the campaign can (legally) distribute. We want to give people incentives to come to the event and get involved with the campaign. Food, in the form of a cookout, potluck or catered lunch, is the primary incentive you would see at most political gatherings. Giving people a choice of incentive is like a double incentive, as the act of making that choice is personally empowering and can become a valuable data point later. These could be food options at the event, types of swag, opting into a raffle, etc. The point is to have something, preferably a series of things, to offer people as thanks for their time, and take note of how they proceed. The campaign should spend time thinking of incentives well before they are needed. They will be used later for supporter, volunteer and donor recruitment. In planning the event, I would advise that each goal have some form of incentive structure associated with completing it.

Configure NationBuilder

I would choose or design a mobile-first event page that captures their brand and then use it as a model for the rest of the theme. You can see an example at https://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com/first_event.  It’s fully functional so feel free to try it out. A visitor to this page is greeted by a large opening image with the key event details overlaid. The website nav is packed into a menu button in the top left to remove distracting links. The RSVP form with volunteer option are the focal points of the page. All key information is visible above the fold, including a live Google Map button, and as you scroll down, the top buttons shrink and follow. , An RSVP button in the top right is always visible. Beneath the fold, I’ve included sections that display a dynamic map of the venue and stylized event details. The final section contains the full event description and another RSVP button anchored to the main form. Google Analytics via Google Tag Manager track every click and action made.

Establish Action Chains

To accomplish our goals, we need to game out the most ideal workflows that would have the best chance of seeing the user sign up, volunteer and/or donate. These are action chains, and I would spend a good chunk of time prepping them, testing them and explaining them to our team. On the backend, I would configure Paths to follow these action chains so everyone can track progress on our Goals.

The basic goal of the event page is an RSVP, and the secondary goal is a volunteer signup. I made the RSVP form short and sweet, and added subtle animations to guide the user as information is entered. Ideally, incentives would be offered in the signup language, such as “Volunteer to receive a free tshirt”. Once a person visits the page, the following action chains could occur:

RSVP + Volunteer - The volunteer checkbox is styled to be large and hard to miss. If the person checks it and RSVPs, they will be sent to http://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com/volunteer, which lists several clear roles and asks for additional information. I’ve also configured it to display custom field checkboxes for tshirt sizes. Like all forms, I try to keep it as short and easy to understand as possible.

/volunteer automatically directs to http://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com/email. I have found that a great way to cut down on unsubscribes is to offer people as much control over the communication flow as possible, early on when their spirits are high. /email is a volunteer page expressly for the purpose of informing the person of the campaign’s communications policies and tagging their account accordingly. It is intended to be an alternative to /unsubscribe, which people tend to visit when they are frustrated and thus predisposed to sever all contact. It describes how the campaign uses email and emphasizes the two-way nature of communications. The goal here is for the supporter to associate /email, not /unsubscribe, with their email preferences.

/email directs to https://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com/donate. The primary goal is, of course, a successful donation. Secondary goals include making a monthly donation and the person volunteering to host a fundraiser, via a custom field checkbox. The form is a modified 3-step with animations and big option buttons that make it easy to use on mobile. The top menu disappears to remove distractions. I like to include a phone number on this page for people to call with related questions.  If the person clicks the “monthly recurring donation” box, they are sent to https://strive-ruppe.nationbuilder.com/donate_monthly#middle, configured to process that action. A successful donation should direct to a thank you page with a heartfelt message, a share prompt and steps to take for the future.

RSVP - If the person RSVP’s without checking the volunteer checkbox, they are automatically directed to /email and then to /donate. Should they revisit the event page, they will see a link to /volunteer in the RSVP success message where the form was located.

No RSVP - Since this event page will be the first page many people see, and not everyone will want to RSVP for the event, I’ve also included a link styled as a checkbox that skips directly to /volunteer. There are also Share and Add to Calendar buttons they may use which offer secondary methods of engagement. Should they navigate away from the event page, the top right RSVP button will change to Take Action, and clicking it will display a sign up form and mini donation form. It’s visible on all pages except /donate.

Advertise

Once the logistical and technical issues are handled, we would need to put our full efforts into promoting the event and making sure everything is logged in NationBuilder.  

Depending on available resources, advertising could be word-of-mouth and friends sharing links to the event page, or substantial investment in mailers, digital ads and other forms of paid advertising. For the former, the campaign should focus on engaging First Supporters, preferably through direct phone calls from the candidate. Incentives could be offered if they bring friends or share the event on social media. We’d direct them to /volunteer and build up a volunteer list.

I would push for investment in digital ads to build up an email list and get as many eyeballs on the event page as possible. We could begin phone banks, calling voters in close proximity to the venue and logging their responses. Whenever possible we would share the event page, not the homepage, as the primary landing page.

2. Execution

Most events can be divided into a greeting, a program and a closing. To ensure the best possible conditions for goal completion, the candidate and the campaign will need to work in tandem through each phase.

Greeting Phase

The most important part of any event is the point when people first meet the campaign or candidate. Some call this registration or check-in, but I call it the Greeting Phase. We want to make a great first impression but we still want to make progress on our goals. To do this, I would divide volunteers into three Stations. Just like we used Action Chains online to meet our goals, we will use these stations on the day of the event to gather information and prompt actions.

Station 1 would have the main RSVP list, preferably printed. Their function would be to welcome people to the event and check if they RSVP’d. If they did not RSVP, they would be directed to Station 2. If they did RSVP, they would be sent to Station 3.

Station 2 would be the Signup Station for people not on the list. Volunteers would ask for names, some form of contact info, a zip code and permission to email them with campaign updates. I would also try to slip in a campaign related question, such as “What policy area interests you the most?” Once that was done, they would direct them to Station 3.

Station 3 would be the Information Station, which would have the dual role of handing out event programs and also offering incentives for signups, volunteers and donors. It would be the largest station, full of volunteers armed with laptops, tablets or cell phones set to the campaign’s NationBuilder front-end pages. Ideally, the candidate would be here greeting people and introducing them to all the ways they could get involved.  

Program Phase

At any political event, a speech is inevitable, but it should not be a solitary effort. I would work with the campaign to craft a speech that reinforces the need for sign ups, volunteers and donors. I would want to hear the candidate praise early supporters by name and show that volunteering on the campaign was fun and rewarding. The candidate could even announce new incentives or unveil a new initiative, but the main goal is to get people to revisit the Information Table and commit to the movement. I would advise this phase last no longer than 15 minutes, depending on crowd size.

While the candidate works the room, the campaign should update NationBuilder and see where they stand on their goals. That information should be communicated to the candidate for the Closing Phase. 

Closing Phase 

The Program Phase should end with some kind of break, such as serving food, playing music or offering refreshments. At this point I would encourage the candidate, campaign, and every volunteer to make the effort to talk to everyone in the room in pursuit with an eye toward completing their goals. Since NationBuilder forms work fine on a mobile device, all a volunteer needs is a cell phone to get them in the system. As a last-ditch effort, they can share the campaign’s text-to-signup number or circulate a paper signup sheet.

When it’s time to conclude, the candidate should make closing remarks, and the volunteers should go back to the stations they manned during the Greeting Phase. The strategy should be to direct people back through the stations as they leave the venue. If possible, I would advise the candidate announce a new incentive and direct people back to Station 3 to redeem it. Station 2 could offer an incentive for participants to complete a paper survey, which would include the question “Based on what you heard today, on a 1 to 5 scale, how likely would you be to vote for the candidate if the election were tomorrow?” Station 1 would be manned by the campaign’s most enthusiastic volunteers, thanking each person for attending as they make their way out.

Just because the official event is over doesn’t mean the party has to stop. Depending on the crowd size, the candidate can hold a town hall, or invite everyone to a local establishment. At this point, the campaign should view each remaining participant as either a volunteer or a donor, and work assertively to get them to commit. Before the evening is over, the candidate should publicly thank the volunteers for their good work and announce the next campaign initiative while morale is high. 

3. Follow up

Follow up should begin immediately, using the momentum of the event to build up the next initiative. At this point, we should have a healthy number of donors, volunteers and active signups in our nation who we know attended our event. Everyone with an email address would receive a thank you message with an incentivized link to a survey asking how likely they were to support the candidate on a 1-5 scale. This will become our GOTV list.

Next step would be to follow up with the team. Once the data is ready, I would inform them how much progress they made on their goals. The best performers should be honored by name, along with the number and types of goals they completed. I would take note of those who signed up the most volunteers and the most donors. Where more work is needed, I would be honest and ask the team for their recommendations to improve.

The next step is to determine our way forward. If we met all our goals from this event, great, then we could move to the next phase of campaign strategy. If not, we should be able to calculate how many more such events we would need to hold to get where we need to be. Whatever the outcome, I would advise we move quickly to engage our newfound supporters for assistance, since the longer we wait, the more likely they are to lose interest.

Once our plan is in place, be it holding more such events or diving into field, I would work with the campaign to strategize outreach to our various lists 

Donors

I would work closely with the finance team to begin scheduling call time and fundraisers. Depending on our needs and strategy, I may suggest setting up a Moneybomb page around a particular event or initiative, or lay out a targeted email campaign. If the campaign has access to a professional fundraiser, my priority would be to keep their options open and the data reliable.

Volunteers

The secret to volunteering is having fun and/or feeling good, so I would work with the campaign to lay out a volunteer strategy with positive feedback at its core, and that would start with leadership.

Ideally, I would want each Supervolunteer to have their own list of volunteers they recruited to contact for coming tasks. I would ask whoever recruited the most volunteers to act as Volunteer Director and assign all Supervolunteers under them. Together we would break up the goals of the campaign into simple tasks. I would then configure a volunteer page to list these tasks, and Supervolunteers could kick off their contact plans by asking their volunteers to pick and choose which tasks we most appealing to them. One of these tasks would be ‘Recruit more volunteers’, thus encouraging new Supervolunteers to rise.

The Volunteer Director would primarily be responsible for sending out a regular “Volunteer Newsletter” that would routinely update all volunteers on the campaign and lay out opportunities for them to get involved. I would build out a special Volunteer Dashboard for loggedin volunteers, which would display that volunteer’s stats, include links to common tasks, and display all the NationBuilder “how-to” guides I’ve prepared for the campaign. 

Everyone Else

Ultimately, we will need to move from counting supporters to counting votes, and that means assigning voter ratings to everyone we can. I would work with the campaign to structure email, phone and field campaigns with the ultimate goal of assigning everyone in our system a 1 or a 5 before election day. I would expand the website to include a Vote Pledge page that volunteers could use in the field or adopt an app like Ecanvasser. This will mean many more events, thousands of attempts and countless interactions between the campaign and the community.

As a NationBuilder Expert, it will be my job to get people psyched about logging their paths and meeting their goals. I will share good and bad news, and frequently be called upon to advise on the smallest questions and the most catastrophic problems. Through it all I will work with efficiency, speak with respect and think positively… that’s my strategy, and it works. 

 

Chris Robinson

chris@chrisarobinson.com