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Experts blog

How to build a nation, Scotland edition

Yes or no

In February 2011, a few months before Jesse and I were set to release NationBuilder, I received an email from a guy named Kirk Torrance. He had gotten wind of what we were up to and wanted to chat about his plan for the Scottish National Party. We connected on Skype and he told me that the new digital infrastructure they had been building for over a year was nowhere near ready, and time was running out. Their election was in 3 months and they were down by 15 points in the polls. Could NationBuilder help?

Ha! Sorry, no way... NationBuilder was still very much in alpha, it wasn’t even ready for the U.S., definitely not Scotland. But Kirk was persistent, so I agreed to do a demo for his team, completely convinced that they would see how buggy it was and leave me alone.

A few days later, Kirk skyped me and said he had gotten the whole team on board. NBD. I couldn’t believe it... and I couldn’t say no. We talked about the logistics and at the end of our conversation he said something that I will never forget. “Jim, I think NationBuilder is going to be the thing that gets us what you got 250 years ago.”

It took me a few seconds to realize what he meant.

Less than 3 months later, the SNP won a historic landslide election, securing a majority in the Scottish Parliament. They vowed to hold a referendum on declaring independence. All of Europe was stunned.

Now, two and a half years later, that day has arrived. Tomorrow, the polls will open and while the whole world watches, Scotland will get to choose. No bombs, no blood shed, just a simple yes or no vote.

Unlike 3 years ago, today, much of the UK political world uses NationBuilder, and they are organizing get-out-the-vote efforts right now on both sides of the independence referendum. But whichever side you are on, this is an undeniably beautiful moment for democracy. Every 16-year-old in Scotland will grow up having had the opportunity to make this historic decision themselves...and their concept of what is possible in the world is now radically different.

And so is ours.

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Surveys and survey pages

If you use surveys regularly, you probably noticed a recent change in their design. Surveys are now separate from survey pages. 

A couple of key changes:

  • surveys display on a single page on your website
  • a particular survey page can be used to display different surveys (one at a time)
  • responding to a multiple choice or yes/no question can trigger a workflow

Curious about these new features? Details can be found in the creating a survey HOWTO.

Stay tuned for more survey news. With the changes we're developing, they just may become the backbone of your organizing efforts...

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Maps now do clustering, auto-turfing and real-time filtering

It's almost election season in the U.S., which is an exciting time for us at NationBuilder. Please enjoy these upgrades to map view and the turf cutter this Labor Day weekend!

  • Clustering. When there are too many points on the map to make sense of things, they now cluster together.
  • Auto-turfing. Those clusters? Turn on the turf cutter and they instantly become your default turfs. Want to start from a clean map? Just hit the clear button.
  • Real-time filtering. If you change your filter while cutting, your turfs will dynamically change their counts with no page reload.

Learn more in our map view and turf cutting HOWTO.

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Fight the spam!

NationBuilder has always allowed nations to self-moderate using community rules. But sometimes the content you want to get rid of is clearly just spam – and while NationBuilder does a lot of magic to prevent spam from ever reaching your nation, it's not as perfect when there are actual human beings (and not robots) doing the spamming.

That's why it's now possible to report spam on five types of user content:

  • blog posts
  • events
  • suggestions
  • comments 
  • and incoming emails

If you notice spam in your dashboard, click on the drop down next to the activity and select Report spam. This will flag the content and permanently remove it from your nation.

For more information on how to deal with spam, please read the HOWTO. If you believe your nation is under attack from spammers, please contact your organizer or email us for immediate assistance.

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Huge demand for people with NationBuilder skills

The infrastructure for communities isn’t just about technology -- it’s about people. Duh!

And we love connecting our customers to people who know how to use NationBuilder well.

That’s why we have three certification programs to identify the folks with the key skills needed to build nations – because one thing I know for certain is that none of us can do it alone. Today, certified organizers, designers, and developers around the world are getting jobs and building huge businesses (!!) to help everyone in the world do the thing they were meant to do.

It’s kind of amazing, and you can be part of it, too. Here are three ways to join the NationBuilder community, right now:

Certified NationBuilder Experts: This isn’t just for consultants. Every organizer should be certified, because it means they have mastered NationBuilder and have a deep understanding of how to bring communities together. It will look great on your resume, it’s free, and only takes an afternoon to complete.


Certified NationBuilder Architects: Designers using NationBuilder don’t spend weeks integrating systems for each new client. They spend their time doing what they love––designing––because everything is already in one place. Less time wrestling with tech means you can offer better service faster, and win more clients.

Certified NationBuilder Developers: You built an amazing app, but is anyone using it? Integrating with NationBuilder opens up a huge new customer base. And if you’re a developer who wants to work with leaders all over the world, getting certified will connect you to clients who can really use your expertise.


If you’re on Linkedin, be sure to add your certification to your profile and add NationBuilder as a skill.  And if you’ve received your certification in the mail, please post a picture of yourself with it on Twitter or Instagram, and tag it with #nationbuilder so we can brag about you!

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Using digital to get to know your people

Paul_Simpson.jpgPaul Simpson leads the digital practice at the UK's foremost independent public affairs company, Lexington Communications. He uses NationBuilder for all of his client's communication needs, and in today's post, offers up his thoughts on the evolution of public affairs and communication strategy. Learn more about Lexington Communications and others in the public affairs community

NationBuilder is designed to help people organize a community around whatever it is they want to do. But, you can’t build community without telling your story, and many organizations have no idea where to start. That’s where good communications steps up—it helps people, organizations, companies, and brands authentically tell their story, and deliver that message to the people who care about what they’re doing. 

But, the communications strategies we used two years ago are old news. Is your press release pulling buzzwords from the marketing lexicon of days past? If the answer is yes, there’s a strong chance your audience will never hear your story – because they’ve already scrolled past it, clicked on something else, or changed the channel.

While the traditional methods are still important, nothing can beat digital for building a relationship. I'm not saying traditional channels don't have a place, because they do – for example, people are still listening to the radio decades after the TV came along. It is just that digital is often more effective in reaching people faster. The key is using digital to get to know your people and build real relationships, so you can engage them further.

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August Experts Roundup!

experts-ribbon-new-logo.pngWe added some insanely talented folks to the Expert directory this month. Congrats, everyone! 

Jose Iriarte has a background in international relations and recently joined forces with Tectonica. He is fluent in English, Spanish, Italian and a conversational German, French, and Japanese speaker.

After more than a decade working with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Joe Newlin founded vsbly.org, a nonprofit and advocacy consulting firm. He has led community engagement campaigns in the LA area and spent the early part of his career at consumer watchdog. 

Christopher Breene is a DC based progressive political activist ready to provide in-person services for customers across the east coast. For more info, check out Millenial Might.

Aj Valenzuela is a progressive campaign operative relatively well connected in Ventura and Santa Barbara politics. 

A former Republican party chairman, Tom Swatzel has a long history of issue advocacy work in NC. He is currently focused on issue campaigns, candidates, and media relations, and works exclusively with conservative causes and candidates. More info at Swatzel Strategies.

With a background in acting and real estate, Joel Doerfel is a great candidate for brands, businesses, and other groups looking to adopt NationBuilder.

Calum Handforth is a London-based expert focusing on international development, charities, and nonprofits. He has a masters degree in international development and most recently started work on Christian Wolmar's campaign for mayor of London.

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein is eager to help medium sized campaigns and nonprofits – the sort of groups who are large enough to have staff, but may not be making the most use of their nation. Check out Spitzer-Rubenstein Strategies.

Francophone customers, rejoice! Lyne Robichaud is a social media and online presence consultant based in Quebec. She is fluent in both French and English.

Vanessa Byrem-Tangy is another great addition to the Expert + Architect firm, Mosaic Strategies – a full-service agency ideal for larger customers looking to carry out complex migrations. 

Marcy Rye and Katy McCreery are resident Experts at Wire Media, a local nonprofit and business consulting firm with an emphasis of socially responsible organizations. 

Johannes Fischer is a Tennessee-based part-time political operative and full-time student currently working on Jim Cooper's congressional campaign.

Jhanixi Arellano is a system engineer and our first Venezuelan Expert. She generally works with non-profits and other non-political clients through Kluge.

Lupe Chavez is an LA local eager to gain experience working directly with customers. View his work at Nation Launcher.

To view our entire list of certified NationBuilder Experts, check out the directory

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Stripe + eWay payments added to NationBuilder

In addition to the processors we’ve supported for a long time -- Authorize.net, Democracy Engine, PayPal Express, PayPal Payflow Pro, and Sagepay -- NationBuilder now supports Stripe. And because so many of our friends in Australia and New Zealand wanted eWay, we added that, too.

This means that organizations based in 29 countries (!!) can now accept donations and payments through NationBuilder in their native currency from anywhere in the world.

Each processor has its pluses and minuses, so check out this HOWTO for all the details. If you want help figuring out which one makes the most sense for you, don’t hesitate to contact your organizer.

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Do this if you're running for Mayor in 2015

mobile-endorse.pngWhile most political pundits are focused on federal elections and developing story lines of billionaire-funded independent expenditures, another hugely important political effort is underway in many of America’s major cities—the battle for control of the Senate. Right now, 2015 mayoral elections are shaping up in Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and other key metropolitan areas.

With federal government at an impasse for the foreseeable future, many people believe city governments have more impact on our day-to-day life, making mayoral races important battleground for policy innovation. Here at NationBuilder, we've been hard at work providing the organizing technology for dozens of major municipal efforts, not just in the US, but in Europe, Australia, and South and Central America, too.

You wouldn’t compare a five-year-old Blackberry with a touchscreen smartphone purchased last week. The same idea applies to campaigning—from a technology perspective, tactics used by candidates in 2011 will likely be completely insufficient in 2015.

In that spirit, here are some cutting-edge tactical suggestions for candidates quietly gearing up for next year's contests.

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NationBuilder website themes: now 100% responsive

NationBuilder websites are about people taking action—signing a petitiondonating to a crowdfunding campaign, or volunteering. And it's important for people to be able to do those things anywhere, whether they are waiting for the subway or waiting for a footlong at Subway.

Responsive themes make that possible because your website automatically adjusts to fit the size of any device, whether it’s a desktop, iPad, or smartphone. For the last six months, our team has been designing new v2 responsive themes, and beginning today, we will be removing all v1 themes from the gallery—unless you are already using one. Custom themes will not be affected at all.

So, check out our full suite of responsive themes, including two beautiful additions designed for visual creators and writers.

Headliner is ideal for showcasing visual media. With an oversized image slider, Headliner puts your photos and video on center stage, and embedding your content is super easy. It also features an animated sidebar and an event calendar perfect for anyone hitting the road. Check out the demo site.


Publish, a theme designed by our friends at cStreet, features unique typography, colors, and design details that will make your written content stand out. See what’s possible on the demo site.


You can view the entire selection of v2 themes in our public theme gallery.

Currently using a v1 theme? Don’t worry! Your site will not be affected. If you have additional questions about the transition, contact your organizer.

P.S. For some impressive design inspiration, check out Blueprints—a place for NationBuilder Architects to showcase their latest designs.

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Integrating new tech spurs action in Latin American politics

map.pngI was fortunate enough to work with three presidential campaigns fighting for El Palacio de Nariño (the Colombian equivalent of the White House) during the last round of elections in my beautiful home country of Columbia. During the experience, I saw the potential to truly engage and mobilize communities using integrated community technology.

Before I wrote this blog, I spoke with Andres Achury, the technology administrator for the campaign Peñalosa Presidente. Andres and his team used NationBuilder to enhance his online community and create a space where Colombian citizens could be part of the democratic process. Together, we developed the three most important takeaways from the our campaign experiences.

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Nueva tecnología e integración promueven movilización en Latino Americana

Peñalosa.jpgEn esta última ronda de elecciones Colombianas tuve el placer de trabajar con campañas presidenciales  en mi bello país. No solo aprendí acerca de los procesos que existen dentro de la política Colombiana, también vi el potencial para movilizar comunidades usando tecnología que se enfoca en entender y activar al/a seguidor/a.

Esta experiencia me motivo a compartir con ustedes tres cosas que aprendí, y para darle más contexto a estas lecciones hable con Andres Achury, administrador tecnológico para la campaña de Enrique Peñalosa, ex-candidato a la presidencia de Colombia.

Andrés, sus programadores y estrategas usaron la página web de Peñalosa Presidente como un espacio con varias metas:

  • Activar e informar seguidores de Peñalosa y el Partido Verde

  • Registrar testigos electorales

  • Aprender sobre los votantes y sus temas de interés

Bueno, acá les comparto los resultados de mi aprendizaje en Colombia:

1. Integración apoya la acción.

“Ejecutamos una campaña de testigos electorales, donde vimos lo que es tener todo integrado, en ves de que cada herramienta (correos masivos, bases de datos, página web, etc.) sean islas. Yo pude ver un registro en tiempo real de todas las acciones que se estaban tomando,” explica Achury.

En un lapso de 2 a 3 días Achury y su equipo registraron 400 testigos electorales, y si hubieran tenido mas tiempo, habrían podido registrar más.

“Una persona que hace un labor tan importante como ser testigo electoral, lo hace por que quiere y no por que le toca,” dice Andrés.

2. Mejor tecnología promueve mejor trabajo en equipo.

Esta frase lo dice todo: “integración de correos, pagina web, hosting, bases de datos en todo un sitio, me ayudo a despreocuparme por los temas individualmente.” Achury me contó eso cuando tocamos el tema de cómo alguien en su profesión implementa y usa una nueva tecnología.

Al no preocuparse por los detalles pequeños Achury y su equipo de programadores le pudieron dedicar más tiempo y energía a la estrategia, segmentación de votantes/voluntarios, y aplicación de la tecnología como tal en la campaña. El potencial de compartir datos entre usuarios y miembros de la campaña ofrece la posibilidad de abrir miles de puertas en como una campaña crece y se vuelve más eficaz al mismo tiempo.

3. Segmenta, comunica, moviliza.  

Algo muy bello pasa al poder segmentar comunidades, y es que uno aprende y entiende más. Con Achury estructuramos la base de datos de tal forma que el pudiera agregar la información que ya se tenía, segmentar los votantes y voluntarios de diferentes formas, y después ir a comunicarse con ellos y ellas para aprender más sobre sus temas de interés y poder hacer un seguimiento más adecuado.

“Mi uso de NationBuilder se enfocó muchísimo en el proceso de movilización, el cual es  el máximo objetivo de búsqueda al trabajar en una campaña política y buscando plataformas integradas para la política,” dice Andres Achury. “Centralizamos toda la comunicación y nos mantuvimos en contacto con el elector  interesado de una forma muy personalizada, ya que la base de datos permite segmentar.”

Bueno, en estas últimas elecciones se aprendió bastante. Espero tener más oportunidades como estas, y de poder ser parte de crear más acceso a herramientas como NationBuilder para movilizar.

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Welcome our newest Experts!

experts-ribbon-new-logo.pngCertified Experts are well-versed in using NationBuilder and possess a unique skill set to help communities organize online. They are qualified to provide consulting services to NationBuilder customers, and eligible for referrals from NationBuilder Organizers.

Last month, we added several new Experts to the lineup:

  • Chris Robinson is a Hill staffer and activist turned digital organizer. Based in DC, Chris has experience working with the Peace Corps and members of Congress.

  • Linda Wu Pagano is the resident expert at BackOfficeThinking, a Pennsylvania based non-profit consulting agency focused on growing medium-large sized non-profits.

  • Imran Moin is using his background in business development and finance to help local musicians and artists build their audience with NationBuilder.

  • Brad Hover is a LA based business professional helping small businesses grow their customer base and operate more efficiently.

  • Garrett Stark is a Tennessee based labor organizer with over ten years of grassroots experience. He's worked with a variety of unions, including SEIU, and also enjoys cross-sectional labor campaigns.

Check out our complete directory to find an Expert who can help your organization with exceptional workflow strategy, website setup, and data management.

Know NationBuilder like the back of your hand? Use your knowledge to consult and manage nations for organizations of all types and sizes—get certified today. 

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Big upgrade to the NationBuilder Member addon

We made a few big (and exciting!) changes to how memberships work. Key features of the free Member addon include:  

  • Multiple memberships per person (highly requested)
  • Both free and paid membership types
  • Automatic monthly renewals
  • Unlimited membership pages
  • Better automated email management: customizable reminders to renew, etc.
  • Members-only access to portions of your website
  • Give memberships automatically on any kind of page - including event RSVPs, petition signers, and endorsements
  • Import membership information from other systems

In addition, you’ll leverage core NationBuilder features like mapping and automatically syncing to Facebook and Twitter accounts. This makes it easy to personally engage with your members and identify the leaders you can ask to be more involved. Check out the Memberships HOWTO for more details.

There are a lot of ways to use the new Member addon -- here are a few to get your wheels spinning:

  • Monthly paid memberships: create a Donation page, check monthly payment, and set the membership expiration date to never.
  • Annual dues for your club: create a Donation page, check one-time payment, and set the membership expiration date to one year. You can customize the automatic renewal reminder they’ll receive when it is about to expire.
  • Free membership for one year: create a Signup page and set the membership expiration to one year.

If you are currently using the old paid membership pages, read the HOWTO for information about upgrading or contact your organizer.

If you’re not using memberships yet, now is the perfect time to start. The Member addon is included with your NationBuilder subscription at no extra charge, you just need an admin of your nation to turn it on under Settings > Billing & addons. And if you’ve got an old membership database laying around, we can help you migrate it for free.

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Busy? We’ll import your data for you.

There’s a feeling you get when you know your data is safe. It’s all in one place. Life is wonderful.

We want to help you get there faster.

Starting today, we are now offering *free* manual data importing during the trial period. And for the next month (until the end of July), we’re extending that offer to all existing customers.

You know that email system, your Google contacts, your old donor database, that random fundraiser you had two years ago with all the RSVPs in an Excel spreadsheet? We’ll take care of it.

And once it’s in NationBuilder, it will automatically sync to Facebook and Twitter. Instead of only email addresses, you’ll see pictures and bios and friends. It’s the first important step to building those relationships and organizing your community. And it means sleeping easy at night knowing your data is protected.

Our team of data specialists is ready to make sure it gets into your nation perfectly—just contact your organizer with a general idea of what you want to do, and we’ll take it from there. 

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