Our customers do some amazing stuff

See what a few of our customers have been up to:

Common Sense Action is a millennial-run group that's using NationBuilder to organize across the country and get more people registered to vote.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC, uses NationBuilder to communicate more effectively with all of its members, who are working to promote the Peace Corps. 

View more stories on our case studies page!

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The targeting tool every marketing team needs

I read a lot about what brands are up to in the marketing world and one of the most genius efforts I’ve come across lately comes from an unlikely player: Goodwill.

I’m talking about the nonprofit that operates secondhand stores to help support its work providing job training and other crucial services to youth, veterans and people with disabilities or special needs.

It’s an incredible organization. But while I’ve personally scored some gems at Goodwill, the stores themselves have never been super chic. They’re generally a little rough around the edges and improvised, which is befitting of any good bargain basement. Now, as part of a new effort to broaden the customer base, Goodwill recently renovated some of its department stores to look more like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie stores. 


It’s genius marketing for multiple reasons, including that it creates a clear strategy of who Goodwill should target as potential customers: People who love Urban Outfitters. 

Targeting is so important in this social media age, because it’s the only way to cut through the noise (much of which emanates  from your competitors) and reach the people most likely to support your brand.

So if you’re Goodwill, you’ve got the stores all set up, and now you ask yourself: How do you get Urban Outfitters customers in the door?

What if there were a way to find the most influential fans of Urban Outfitters, plot them geographically to find the ones who live near Goodwill’s new stores, and mobilize them to talk about the chic second-hand boutiques?

That’s where one of NationBuilder’s most powerful social media tools — the Twitter importer — comes into play: With NationBuilder, you can import into your nation anyone who follows anyone on Twitter. That’s right. Anyone who follows anyone.

The feature is a powerful and easy way to find and engage potential new supporters and influencers in your target audience. The specific use cases vary, but in general the tool enables organizations to widen their funnel to grow their audience in specific, strategic ways.

A nonprofit might import the followers of competitor organizations with similar missions. Or, a musician might import all the fans of a more famous artist with a similar sound.

In the case of Goodwill, the Twitter importer makes it simple to find those Urban Outfitters fans. Then, the larger NationBuilder community organizing system provides a framework to manage engagement and follow-ups with those new targets. 

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Just crossed a major milestone

NationBuilder customers have raised half a billion dollars!

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NationBuilder Facebook app approved for Graph API v2.0

As of today, NationBuilder’s Facebook app has been certified as compliant with Facebook's Login Review. For more information about how you can work with Facebook data in your nation, check out our HOWTO guide.

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Events HOWTO update

We recently updated our event documentation to include things like ticketing and the new Facebook API settings. You'll also learn how to accept RSVPs, fill volunteer shifts, sell tickets, track attendance, and more...just hop over to the freshly updated Setting Up an Event HOWTO


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The must-know campaign strategy of 2016: Twitter imports

Earlier this year we expanded our social media tools to include a recurring Twitter import capability, which allows you to pull the entire following of any Twitter account into your database for prospecting. This data has been available publicly for a while, but it was never connected to powerful search and CRM tools. With this functionality, Twitter becomes a giant online phonebook and reaching people is as easy as clicking.

My colleague Phil Kregel and I wondered if we could use this recurring import to create master files of everyone engaged in US politics. What if we could centralize all of the people engaging in every major conservative and progressive cause, in one place, and learn from it? And that’s how "goptwitter" and "demtwitter" were born.

We set up Goptwitter, an import that automatically pulls in followers of the RNC, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Heritage, the NRA, and many more for a total of almost 4 million records. Demtwitter pulls in followers of OFA, Elizabeth Warren, Emily's List, the Sierra Club, Hillary Clinton, and many others for a total of over 7 million active accounts.

And just like that, we could see the online conservative and progressive movements in a whole new way.

By combining these records with NationBuilder's powerful filtering tool, we viewed individual bio's, mapped followings, and identified top social influencers. At first glance, this was all interesting fodder for research.

Why is only 4% of OFA following ReadyForHillary?

What could the conservative movement do with the 46k self-identified military veterans following top tier presidential candidates and major advocacy organizations?

Then we had another epiphany: All of these folks on Twitter are engaging with causes they care about, but almost none of those actions are being reciprocated. We could help solve this problem by opening up access to this data for customers who want to organize people. In fact, we already know it works – in the 2014 election cycle numerous efforts on each side used Twitter imports to drive up volunteerism and GOTV awareness. Some went even deeper, like the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's unexpectedly easy win. Harris Media has a great case study that details their digital efforts, FWIW.

So let's imagine we're an advocacy organization putting forth a bipartisan plan for small business tax breaks. We want to quickly impact the presidential election and provide an incentive for all the candidates to endorse our plan. Here's a quick example of how to execute a direct contact strategy using Twitter imports in 7 easy steps...that can all be done from the NationBuilder platform.

  1. Identify a universe. In this case, we want everyone with keywords like "small business" and "entrepreneur" in their Twitter bio. Goptwitter pulls in 27,931 people using this criteria, and Demtwitter pulls in 40,129.

  2. Find the top tier targets. If we focus these 67,000 targets, we can find about 5,000 who directly follow the DNC and the RNC, we can segment out the 5% with high levels of social influence (in this case, lots of followers), and maybe we also specially target everyone in Iowa too.

  3. Follow the top tier targets...and see who follows us back.  

  4. Of this cohort, send them a link to join our email list.

  5. After people join, send them a special targeted invite to a local event and bring them into our overall donor and volunteer activation program.

  6. For anyone who's not a top target and didn't sign up for the email list through a direct conversation, target them with a sponsored tweet that shows up at the top of their feed. Ideally this is a petition or a survey that captures their email.

  7. Capture all the emails that come in from the sponsored tweet, follow those people, and bring them into the overall donor and volunteer activation program.

With young people steadily opting out of landlines (40% of US households are now cell phone only, and growing), we've essentially supplanted a traditional phone program with a social media direct contact strategy. Only it is far better targeted, has the benefit of reaching known influencers, and is significantly more data-rich. And young volunteers would much rather tweet like-minded individuals than call random strangers. 

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Real transparency facilitates participation

What does government transparency look like? To some folks, it’s a downloadable report detailing how City Council spends millions of dollars. Or opening up data from 911 calls and locations so that it can be modeled and used in new technologies.

But transparency is not only about having access to knowledge – it’s also using that knowledge to surpass goals. Transparent communities achieve goals faster. Why? Because real transparency provides the space for participation.

I recently facilitated a webinar on this very subject via an international democracy-building organization. I’d like to share some of the key points we discussed.


Here are three ways you can create a more transparent, participatory community for your government, political campaign, and/or organization: 

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You're dynamic...and so is your story.

mklecture.pngLast week, I had the chance to facilitate five classes about storytelling at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Over the course of three days, I worked with management students, teachers in training, and theater students. The classes ranged in size from over 100 students to eight, and each approached storytelling from a different perspective. I’d never had the chance to work with so many different groups in so short a time and used it as a bit of an experiment in personal storytelling.

I knew, both from experience and a myriad of talks like Brene Brown’s amazing discourse on the power of vulnerability, that an authentic story facilitates connection. And that this connection would lead to greater engagement from the students. No surprises there.

I decided to experiment with what version of my story to tell. I ended up sharing three completely different – but authentic – stories.

In the large management class, my story revolved around an episode that showed me the incredible power of a well-told story to inspire charitable giving. The story then followed the outline of the lecture, delineating my journey to discover what makes story so powerful, how to construct a strong story, and so on.

In the theater class, I focused on my struggles to balance my need for creative expression with my need to pay rent. I wanted the students to come away with the sense that finding authentic ways to express their creativity could, in the long run, be more important to their happiness than getting cast in a television show.

In the class for aspiring teachers, I focused on how I’d quit my job in 2012 and, through a series of misadventures, ended up teaching a 2nd grade Sunday school class. And how, in a rough moment with the class, story saved the day.   

And, finally, in a small management seminar, I elected not to share anything about myself to see what would happen. The answer: not much. The students didn’t participate. The professor even apologized, saying that they were usually quite talkative.

In all of the other classes, the students were active, curious and engaged. The theater professor even said that she had never seen the group participate with such openness and vulnerability.

This was far from a scientific study, but still illuminated a few key lessons for me around how to share our personal stories:

  1. Our stories are dynamic. I’ve read more than a few books about how to uncover and craft your ‘personal narrative.’ The assumption underlying their approach and exercises is that we’re heading for some defined version of a Personal Story. This ignores the fact that we’re changing all the time and, as we do, so does our relationship to our story. Embracing the dynamic nature of personal narrative means that we can craft our story in the moment, customized to the audience and situation.

  2. You will never be able to tell the whole story. Our lives are made up of billions of data points. Trying to incorporate everything will lead to an unfocused and overlong morass. Instead, identify key themes and episodes, then craft the story around them, making sure to speak to your audience’s concerns or needs.

  3. Tailor your story to your audience. As we walked to the class for aspiring teachers, the professor told me that the class really wanted rules and checklists. She urged them to think more creatively, to find authentic ways of relating to students and creating a love of learning in the classroom. Knowing only this, I located the parts of my own story--the right data points--that would both resonate with the professor’s goals and with the students. The result: a great, active discussion about story and authenticity in teaching.

With these lessons in mind, crafting a personal story becomes less about defining and nailing down a structured narrative and more about identifying key themes and events, then empowering ourselves to construct stories appropriate to any given situation. This naturally brings up a few other questions:

  • How do we identify key themes?
  • What makes an event story worthy?
  • What are the basic principles of constructing a strong, customized personal narrative?

I’ve been thinking about those quite a bit and we’ll go into each of them over the next few weeks. Until then, let me know if you have any questions or personal storytelling tips!

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What you can do with your NationBuilder Voter File

What's in the NationBuilder voter file?

In short? It's everything you need to run for office, make scientific predictions about who will elect the next president, and research voting histories as well as demographics to understand trends amongst the electorate.

The Problem: Not all files are created equally

The 2002 Help America Vote Act required states to centrally administer voting records (before that, local officials could maintain their own official lists) to receive federal elections funds – but each state interprets the law in its own way, so there are inconsistent file formats and update schedules for voter files. Some states have even found more than 20 different ways to misspell the same major city!

The Solution: Consistency

At NationBuilder, we've created a standardized national voter file and make it available to any legally authorized users. It's a complete and regularly updated file for each of the United States' more than 190 million registered voters. We acquire data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (and from many counties that update records faster or in more detail than state authorities), by file transfer, fax and mail requests, hand pickup or whatever it takes – saving candidates and researchers acquisition expense and data development resources.



Accurate and openly available list of eligible voters and their vote history, complete with actionable contact information, is crucial to free and open elections. And the fun part is what eligible voter file users can do with that file.

A comprehensive voter file informs you of who is engaged or not engaged in the political process and to what degree. Smart candidates have told us they personally filter and comb through the data to better understand their electorate. The file includes information like, how long a voter has been registered, how frequently they vote, which party primaries they are most interested in, and how to reach them in the best way, either by mail, phone or even email.

Advantages of the NationBuilder voter file:

  1. Regularly updated using the most reliable authorities. In the pursuit of accuracy, we go to straight to the source. Some Secretary of State offices maintain incomplete data or are slow to update files, so we often spend time with local counties to collect the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
  2. Uses a globally unique identifier. Our GUID for every person in the U.S. matches data about voters across accounts, products, campaigns, and research projects.
  3. Standardized formatting. Because it’s a uniform file format across all 50 states and the District of Columbia,data is clean and easy to use for research, outreach, and action.
  4. You'll own your own data. Everything you learn will be yours to keep so you can grow and develop according to your own values as long as it's legal. 

What you can do:

While there are some restrictions, you can do a lot with a file of 190 million Americans. Here are just a few things we've seen folks do with the file:

  1. Run for office!
  2. Build turnout and candidate preference models and predictions based on age, gender, contact types, names, voting behavior, political affiliation
  3. Engineer new civic applications that improve the democratic process
  4. Conduct polls
  5. Target and focus outreach and survey efforts for 501c3 or 501c4 organizations

What’s more exciting is all of the use cases we haven’t thought of yet, so get creative! If you’re interested in learning more we’d love to talk.

Feel free to email us or give us a call at 213.394.4623

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NationBuilder control panel improvements

We just rolled out a few usability improvements to the People and Finances sections. If you use the control panel a lot, these updates should save you a good bit of time.


Single person view. Now, when you view an individual person’s profile, it keeps the current filter active, allowing you to page through each person one at a time without having to open a thousand tabs. This can really streamline your workflow. For example, let’s say you’ve filtered for everyone you need to call today – instead of creating a list and going into call mode, you can just use single person view to log all the information as you speak to folks. And that's not all! Read about the improvements here.

Simplified finances section. All of your financial transactions are now in one list, including monthly donations, installment plans, expenditures, and invoices. You can also filter, export, and see a running total. Previously, it could be difficult to generate certain financial stats, but the running total should take care of that (and more), all detailed here.

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Updates to Finances: running totals and more!

We're excited to announce an update to the interface of the Finances section that makes it more useful and more consistent with the rest of the product.

The first thing to notice is that there is now a running total of all your transactions. This running total will always be accurate for the transactions included in your filter criteria. For example, if you want to see how much money you've raised in any amount of time, you'll just need to add a filter criteria for transaction date. You'll be able to use date ranges, including relative ranges like within this year or in the last 30 days. 

Here's an example of filtering for donations made within the last month:

filter for donations made within the last month includes running total

If you accept monthly donations or installment plans, the running total gives you access to much more insight into your finances than you've had before. You can see how much you raised from monthly donations in January by filtering for monthly donations within the last month. Add the installment plan donation type and you can see how much you raised from all recurring donors in January.

Filter criteria to find all recurring donations made in the last month:


Changing the time frame to within this month will show how much you've raised so far in February.

Another addition is the ability to export the results of your searches, which allows you to get a more tailored version of your financial transaction history.

Finally, we've added the ability to track expenses in NationBuilder. In order to add an expense, just click on +Transaction, then enter the person you've paid the expense to, and the information about the expense. If you'd like to import expenses, please email help@nationbuilder.com.

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People section updates simplify workflow

The People section just got smarter. Now you can create a universe and engage everyone in that universe within the same browser window.

people section

A few ways the new single person view simplifies event planning and followup:

  • Want to reach out to recent donors and invite them to an event? Create a filter click on the funnel to begin filtering and use single person view click the person icon to view individual profiles to log a contact, RSVP for the event, and accept ticket payment over the phone.
  • Did you remember that only 50% of RSVPs typically show up to an event? Target them for reminder phone calls and log the contact.
  • After the event, beef up your online engagement by inviting attendees to join a rapid response team. 

Using single person view, you can edit all aspects of a profile before moving onto the next person in the filter. Consider using this workflow rather than call view or data entry view in a list.

Since you'll never need to open multiple browser windows, you'll also find this is a better alternative to Dashboard > Followup view. 

Let us know how you streamline community engagement. 


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Why Every Nonprofit Should Organize

Does your nonprofit engagement strategy consist of a weekly email blast alongside the occasional Facebook post? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone! As a nonprofit organizer, I see hundreds of organizations struggling to answer the same question: How can we engage our community in a way that mobilizes people to take action?

Community building is essential for nonprofits, because you can’t move the needle on important social issues without an engaged and committed supporter base. Yet, many organizations default to a mass marketing approach that is focused on list building and email open rates, overlooking the most important ingredient to change - empowerment. 

Many nonprofits struggle to get to know their supporters, identify effective ways to engage them, and leverage the full potential of their network. Community organizing has the potential to address these challenges.

Popularized by the Obama campaign, organizing is a completely different model that focuses on relationship building instead of list building, prioritizes peer to peer asks instead of institutional asks, and values empowerment over brand loyalty.

By applying the key principles of organizing to your engagement strategy, every nonprofit has the potential to make a much larger impact.


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2014 Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster recently announced the 2014 word of the year: culture. The criteria required to earn such a title? Sheer number of internet searches. Apparently, “culture” made a lot of folks curious this year.

Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker outlined some of the possible reasons behind this existential quest for culture. His theory? "More people looked up culture this year because it’s become an unsettling word.”

Rothman speculates our yearning for definition derives from the fracturing of our current society. (Honestly, Rothman’s description leaves me with the visual of America as a 21st century Humpty Dumpty – we’re all the King’s men, clinging to the pieces and jamming them together with superglue.)

Perhaps it’s my optimistic side, but I’m inclined to disagree with such a pessimistic analysis. You see, maybe the internet searchers of 2014 just wanted a place to belong, a place to be recognized and remembered – a community. By searching for culture in general, they were just looking for a culture they could connect to. 

When People Search
Have you heard of the #MuseumSelfie? Once a year, Museum professionals cringe at the scourge of visitors running rampant through galleries, taking photos of themselves next to priceless artifacts. Sound silly? Let’s look at the statistics from Tweet Archivist:


Over one hundred million impressions in 24 hours. Twenty thousand tweets. Sounds to me like thousands of people were using the hashtag to take part in a larger movement that engages these cultural institutions. What would happen if museums embraced the #MuseumSelfie and built a community out of it?

Perhaps society’s interest in culture isn’t a passive disgust with how things are, but a nation-wide extension of arms toward something bigger than ourselves. To Rothman’s credit, he did end his analysis on a high note saying, “Confusion over its evolving meaning is a good reason to look up “culture” in the dictionary, but so is an interest in understanding the world and making it better.” 

What’s next?

It’s 2015 and people are looking at their current surroundings to make connections. If you are an organization it means your supporters want to belong – really belong. They don’t just want an email once a month, they want to be part of your community. They want to know the other people who are part of your community, so give them a chance!

There is a lot more to be said on this topic, but I’m going to boil it down to a single fact:

Fact 1: According to a study by Walden University 82% of adults reported participation in positive action towards social change in the last six months of 2014.

The current adult population not only cares, but it is actively working to give their time, energy, and resources to support causes they care about.

Try and get them engaged. Pay attention to the silly hashtags. Talk to them like people and treat them like a friend. Introduce them to each other and give them real actions (not just donations) to contribute. Let them be a part of your culture and they won’t let you down.

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Building community one story at a time

210742_483653044987035_1291169634_o.jpgTwo years ago, I found myself sitting around a dinner table with some truly impressive people. One started LA’s premiere social impact focused co-working space. Another had recently published an op-ed in the New York Times and was writing a book about his experience transitioning from Wall Street to founding a nonprofit. A third started a massive electronics recycling social venture. They were gathered to discuss increasing the profile of the LA social entrepreneurship scene.

Me? I was there as a guest of my friend who had just started working with the White House on introducing a new model of social impact funding.


In most crowds, I’m no slouch. I have a background in nonprofit management and consulting along with a growing profile as a storyteller and solo performer. But it was all so unfocused. I’d been working on an idea that would combine my passion for story with my commitment to making the world a better place. But it was still a half baked thought cloud.

So everyone’s going around the table introducing themselves and I know that it’s going to get to me eventually. Suddenly it’s my turn and I have no idea what to say. My eyes roam around the table at all of these amazing people illuminated in the faint glow of candles, and my mouth opens.

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