When to use filters vs. lists vs. tags

Organizing and sorting your data is extremely important for ensuring that your community is accessible and easy to contact. This allows you to target the right people at the right times for the right things. Having your community data (names, addresses, phone numbers, interests) well sorted will make you a more effective leader and community builder, and give you the tools to discover and empower new leaders.

There are many ways in which you can organize all the people in your NationBuilder people database using filters, lists, and tags. You can use all of these organization methods together in an integrated way to get the most out of your database. But which tools are good for what? When should you use a list vs. a filter? What should I tag certain actions? How can I automate parts of the sorting process? Let’s dig in.


Filters are dynamic groupings of people who match certain criteria. Create filters to target people in your database by specific criteria. When you filter people, you can save the filter for future use, export the results, or add people to a list. A saved filter is dynamically populated with the people who match your criteria in real time.

Save filter

For example, I am hosting an event in downtown Brooklyn for my volunteers to thank them for all their support. This Tuesday, I set criteria in my people database for anyone who is a volunteer, has an address within two miles of Brooklyn, and is emailable. I get a result of 12 people, and I save them to a filter called “Brooklyn emailable volunteers.” On Thursday, I load my saved filter, and see that there are 13 people listed. This means that a new person matched my filter criteria, so they were automatically added to the results.

Filter results can be sorted for prioritizing outreach within your community. Once you have set criteria and saved your filter, you can begin to sort your results. For example, if I’m doing a set of outreach to my Twitter followers, I will go to my saved filter of anyone who is a Twitter follower. Next, I’ll sort them by their Klout scores, so I know who has the most influence on this channel. Then, since I only have limited time and can only talk to about twenty people, I’ll start reaching out to those in my community who have the highest Klout score.

Sort by

You can create reusable filters with relative date search criteria. For example, you can create a filter for anyone who had a profile created in the last week, and send a scheduled welcome email blast to that filter every Monday.

Last 7 days


Lists, which are created in the people tab, are static groups of people who match certain criteria. Lists can be populated by a single filter, or manually. Lists are  static search results based on the database at the time the list is created, and will not change over time. Once you enter your filter criteria, you will be given the results of all people who match your terms. You can then save the results as a list, and use the list to send mass communications to groups of people.

Lists are used to send blast emails, batch update information, print walk sheets, view information in call view, and view information in data entry view. While lists are key to segmenting your community so that you can communicate with them effectively, filters and tags should be the primary sorting mechanisms in your nation, due to the static nature of lists.

For example, my organization wants to email all our donors from our grand opening in 2010 through the date of our 2014 gala for a new fundraising effort. I search the database for anyone who has donated between the date we were founded in 2010, and our 2014 gala. I create a list of all donors called “donors_asof_gala2014” in my people database, and add my search results to this list. I now have 146 people in a static list that can always be accessed through my people tab. Even if somebody donates tomorrow or next week, this list will not change to include them. 

Add all to a list

If I want to contact each of these donors, I can create a call sheet from this list. I find my list “donors_asof_gala2014,” and click on “call view.” This view will allow me to easily log calls on my supporters’ profiles as I’m on the phone.

Call view

Once I log a call in call view, however, the user will be removed from the list. So, when I call Joe and log the call I have with him, his name will be removed from my “donors_asof_gala2014” list. If you want to ensure your list is not changed when in call view, you can always create a second list with the same criteria, and name it “donors_asof_gala2014 to call” and use call view on this list. To reiterate...

Lists change when you interact with them. Though lists are static, they will change over time if you interact with them in certain ways. For example, you have the list “Get Out the Vote - June,” which contains 40 of your volunteers who you want to call to remind about Friday’s door knocking event. As you log a call in the call view of your list, the logged profile will be removed from the list. So once you call Jon, your first volunteer, your list will have 39 people on it.

Therefore, lists are very useful for short-term groupings to take a specific action, but don’t have the staying power of filters or tags.

Which brings us to...


Tags are like virtual sticky notes that you can attach to a person’s profile to highlight certain criteria or characteristics. Tags are key to organizing your community and ensuring that you are targeting the right people. You can use them to track who attends an event, who has donated and through what link, who signs a petition on your website, who signs up for a volunteer role via text, and much more.

Tags are used to find people who have characteristics in common, so you can generate lists and filters, and group people according to your needs. Tags are also permanent, and won’t change or update unless you do so manually, or via batch update. So compared to lists and filters, which can change with time or actions, tags are the most permanent way to categorize people in your community.

You can tag people anything- donor, donor2013, board member, editor, comiccon2015, SpringFling2014attendee- and give them as many tags as you like. It’s important, however, to carefully build your tag library so that you and your team can use the same taxonomy for naming tags throughout your database, and therefore group people together effectively.

Any action taken on your website can be set up to automatically add a tag to a person’s profile when they take that action. For example, you can choose to tag each person who signs up to come to your “Clean up the Streets” event with the following: cleanthestreets14, cleanthestreets14rsvp. You can then take attendance on your event page, and tag those who attended with cleanthestreets14volunteer, or cleanthestreets14attendee.

Now, you’ll be able to generate lists of who was interested in the event, and who actually made it to the event once they RSVPed, so you can reach out to these people appropriately for your next event. In this way, tags can also help you see where people are getting lost or confused in your process. If fifty people RSVPed for your event, and only ten attended, you may need to revisit how you present the volunteer opportunity to your folks, the time of your event, or the location of your event. For more tagging tips, check this out.

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