How agencies and NationBuilder find harmony

Over the years, we at NationBuilder have had the privilege of working with some of the most creative and talented companies on the planet. Our partners frequently shape a messy spreadsheet of goals into gorgeous, digital destinations fueled by passion. 

That being said, it's not always roses and puppy kisses. Scoping projects can be hard - especially when you're doing so on an unexplored platform with a dynamic team and complex requirements. 

So I wanted to highlight some of the common concerns agencies have when they're first introduced to NationBuilder and how we tackle them through creating a strong alliance. 

Agency skepticism

The illness

It’s understandable. You’re wedging an unknown system into your tried-and-true technology stack. You already have your arsenal of tools to execute any project scope. You can talk about them in a way that demonstrates confidence and strong proficiency across the board.

Your client also may have selected NationBuilder for their project and is relying on you, as the agency, to get aligned on the constraints and value of the software. What if you had no input on this decision? It’s like having 24 hours to cram for a pop quiz in Klingon fluency.

The tonic

The best way we remove this skepticism is by working together. Agency and platform. That may seem obvious but, often times, this skepticism is rooted in the belief that platform education is exclusively DIY. In other words, having to ingest an endless amount of product documentation and making it relevant to your specific use case.

We circumvent this problem by first understanding what the specific goals are of your client. Do we want to identify the strongest influencers and advocates, are we looking to create measurable ladders of engagement, is constructing a supporter journey pivotal to the project’s success, or maybe all of the above?

Trying to shoehorn in the full-breadth of a platform where, maybe, 60% of the core features are applicable in a particular campaign only stalls progress. A healthy collaboration between agency and platform allows us to reduce any operational “bloat” and deliver a tailor-made solution.

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Software familiarity 

The illness

The familiarity gap is a symptom of the skepticism. Anytime a developer or designer sees a new platform, the immediate reaction tends to be, “oh no...how much time is this going to take me to learn?” It can be a workflow disruptor and potentially clouds the delivery schedule.

The tonic

Much like the tonic to cure skepticism - let’s work together. Just as we have human resources to help scope out the project in general, we eagerly provide the same on a more technical level.

We can examine low or high-fidelity wireframes, functionality goals, and anything else that brings peace of mind to concerns around technical feasibility. This attention from our side not only helps bridge the product familiarity gap, it ensures that implementation is top-notch (i.e. a website that doesn’t break as it grows). Together we’ll create a community hub for your client that is both scalable and conscious of any nuances specific to our platform.

Sames goes for the workflow. Surely you want to know of the tools are at your disposal and what the development process entails. As advocates of “dogfooding” the very the product we build, we’ve created resources that make developing locally and collaboratively a breeze. We use these same resources to construct nationbuilder.com, so your survival is always our survival.

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Some additional questions that are frequently surfaced by agencies new to NationBuilder:

Why wouldn't we use our own CMS?

This is a question that typically follows the skepticism and familiarity discussion. More specifically, “just as it makes sense to work with tools we’re already keen on, why can’t we build the site inside of a content management system that is second nature to us?”

Well, the best way way to illustrate the “why not” is that it’s like installing a Pinto engine inside of a Ferrari. Of course the car looks stunning when it’s not in motion but, as soon as you rev up that engine, the magic is merely cosmetic.

Same deal when it comes to designing on NationBuilder. The front-facing website and database are treated as a single unit, allowing you create incredibly personalized experiences for community supporters. Severing that marriage not only blocks a supporter’s likelihood of progressing in the engagement path, it makes the development workflow far more difficult than it should be.

Theoretically, you could use NationBuilder for certain “action” pages that are setup via redirects from the core website hosted elsewhere. That’s a fine way to gradually become acquainted with the platform. However, you’ll quickly see why a fractured workflow creates an unideal experience for those managing digital operations and, in effect, the end-user trying to support the cause.

What if the native functionality falls short of our client's needs?

We’re not perfect. Sometimes a project scope requires a bit of functionality that is not present in NationBuilder out of the box. This could be due to the function not being a core focus or simply a result of it still being in our development queue. 

But perfect is boring (and unrealistic). Luckily, we have a REST API that opens up the floodgates for platform integrations and functionality enhancement. We also have a robust app marketplace that many agencies take advantage of, both as users and creators.

Despite the API and marketplace, what if this still doesn’t resolve your client’s needs? They might require something like P2P messaging capability or a tool that is economically impractical to develop.

We’ll always be transparent on what NationBuilder does and what it doesn’t. Trying to shove a guitar case through a mail slot won’t help anyone. This is why the “alignment” stage mentioned earlier helps both platform and agency set realistic expectations out of the gate. That includes checking off which client requirements are satisfied through native platform functionality, which may require a 3rd-party integration, and which fall outside the boundaries of capability.

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How do we collaborate on the business side of things?

Aside from the technical specs and the platform itself, the relationship dynamic between NationBuilder and agencies is extremely key. Knowing and owning the roles each of us play in the comprehensive solution being presented helps both parties be more successful. 

It’s not uncommon for the NationBuilder sales staff to be in an agency’s pitch meeting, just as we love having agencies in our presentations. It allows us to orient around the human aspect of relationship building and, quite frankly, demonstrates more of an investment in someone’s objectives with the key players in the room.  

Generating a compelling narrative for an organization’s cause, executing a beautiful rebrand, facilitating a paid-ad campaign - we need you on this. We’ll return the favor by giving you the best possible foundation to work off of to achieve client goals. 

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