The cliché of governments as overwhelming and impenetrable bureaucracies is as old as government itself. It’s not for nothing: too often the same governmental protocols that are meant to encourage active citizenship actually end up discouraging participation and engagement. How can governments be truly responsive to citizens if they don’t engage citizen voices?
Government on the web is seldom any different. Whether serving as dumping grounds for reports, unnavigable messes of links and content, or generic electioneering platforms, sites for governments and politicians frequently lack information and tools that are most intuitive to citizens.
So it’s pretty easy to say that if we really want to encourage citizen engagement through the web, we need to make simple and accessible tools for citizens to use. And to do this, we need to understand how people actually use the internet.
NationBuilder represents the solution to many of these problems.
I’m a government geek. I joined NationBuilder back in 2011 after several years in city government and City Hall journalism (and founding Gov 2.0 Radio) and immediately put together proposals for how governments could use our community building software. Flash forward to early this month, when the the first customers of our brand new government edition started launching their websites. I was giddy with excitement.
There are 90,000 government bodies in the U.S. alone - and with NationBuilder Government they no longer have to spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for web, CRM and communications technology.
If you work in government, it’s likely you’ve had one of these painful experiences:
- You just got elected and all the constituent software your predecessors were using is ridiculously bad.
- You want to redo your outdated city website, but traditional vendors want $25,000 a year for a new contract.
- You need to manage email newsletters and social media across a team of communicators but stitching together a bunch of different solutions just doesn’t make sense.
Our government edition solves these problems.
We often get questions from our political customers who are just launching on NationBuilder about how to most effectively leverage the platform's features. Here is a case study of an unlikely municipal candidate who used NationBuilder's digital field features to organize his way to a decisive 62 percent win.
Michael Tubbs grew up in Stockton, California with a single teenage mother and an incarcerated father. In high school he earned a full scholarship to Stanford where he graduated with honors in June of 2012. During his last year there, Michael decided to run for office in his hometown.
In November he beat an incumbent candidate with strong local recognition to become the youngest council member in the history of the city. Here's how NationBuilder helped him do it:
Michael was 21 years old when he announced his campaign and he wasn't recognized as a legitimate candidate at first. "No one took him seriously and we realized that we needed to go directly to voters," said campaign manager Nicholas Hatten. They mapped precinct lists with NationBuilder's turf cutter and used them to walk the district every weekend. "We were walking from the primary up until election day and sometimes twice a week. Compared to other platforms, NationBuilder's turf cutting feature was far faster and easier to use. That means the world when you're walking every weekend and rushing to get things done. That's valuable time you can use to coordinate volunteers instead."
During the primary, the campaign organized a group of about 15 of Michael's Stanford classmates to make calls to voters. "I admit, I was a bit frightened about the logistics but it was easy to do using the NationBuilder tools," said Hatten. "As the volunteers were calling people they were able to enter the level of support and that made it a really smooth process."
Three Miss America contestants ran for office this past November. Only one was elected. Starting this month, Lauren Kealohilani Cheape, who won the title of Miss Hawai'i in 2011, will represent the state's 45th District in the House.
Lauren and her family have a history on the Hawaiian islands that goes back 100 years before the state became part of the US in 1959. In 1910, her great-grandfather started Peterson's Upland Farm, which is still run by her family and supplies fresh eggs to the local community.
Lauren's strategy for winning her seat in the state legislature involved staying close to her roots. "I delivered eggs from our farm door to door and talked to people," said Lauren. "It was a truly grassroots effort. Making those personal connections was what made the difference in my campaign."
One of our favorite Southern California Public radio stations, KPCC, aired a story yesterday about how integrated online and offline organizing with NationBuilder was able to make the difference in some of California's closest November races.
NationBuilder President Joe Green was interviewed about how campaigns are using NationBuilder to more effectively communicate with voters through multiple channels including email, text messaging, social media and good old fashioned canvassing and phone banking.
The segment also focuses on NationBuilder's role in three of California's Assembly races.
Daria Ovide moved to Arizona from the East Coast with a single mission: take down Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The long-time Phoenix sheriff has been heavily criticized for his harsh policies toward illegal immigrants, treatment of inmates, and his investigation of President Obama's birth certificate.
Earlier this year, the organizing group PAZ en Accion and the hospitality workers' union, Unite Here, collaborated to launch the Campaign for Arizona's Future, an effort to unseat Arpaio. Daria and like-minded organizers have dedicated themselves to the Campaign for Arizona's Future and have vowed to defeat Arpaio and his anti-immigrant policies.
Despite winning reelection in November, Arpaio's controversial policies and firebrand style have helped give birth to one of the largest progressive grassroots networks in the nation. Daria, who manages communications for the Campaign for Arizona's Future, started the Adios Arpaio nation to coordinate the campaign's online communication efforts.
Taking on an official with a reputation like Arpaio's is no easy task. "The twin facts of a twenty-year sheriff with basically unlimited power and a very frightened community are a real challenge," said Daria. "You have to convince people that action can create change." And through the power of community organizing, Daria and her allies have done just that.
Warning! This video will warm your heart and brighten your day.
The best part about working at NationBuilder is the inspiring people I get to meet. I was at the Independent Sector Conference in San Francisco this weekend and one of the highlights was getting to talk to Deborah Szekely, a leader and legend in the health and fitness world. As soon as I met Deborah I knew I needed to share her story with the NationBuilder community.
Marie Corfield is a lifelong New Jersey resident, school teacher, progressive public education advocate and single mother of two. In 2010, her passionate defense of public school funding at a town hall meeting provoked an angry response from republican Governor Chris Christie. The exchange was caught on camera, and a YouTube video went viral, skyrocketing Marie into the public eye and triggering an influx of harshly negative emails and Facebook postings aimed at her.
Instead of shying away from the spotlight after those public attacks, Corfield decided to continue fighting for public education in the political arena, where she’s garnered plenty more attention. She ran for state Assembly in 2011, but was edged out by two republican candidates. Just two days later, one of the winners passed away and was replaced by Donna Simon, an interim republican appointee, who Corfield is facing in a special election tomorrow.
Although 26-year-old John Logan Jones is running for elected office for the first time, he’s not a stranger to politics. Jones spent the last year working on U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and was a delegate at the Republican National Convention. He is also a veteran of the Air Force where he served as a linguist in Afghanistan.
Jones, a graduate of the district’s Falmouth high school, is trying to unseat a two-term incumbent, Rep. Mary P. Nelson, who has been a resident of Falmouth for more than 30 years.
He feels very strongly that his high-tech approach to campaigning - which he plans to extend into his work as representative - is what sets him apart from his opponent, who doesn’t have an online presence for her campaign. “I don’t feel that you can really be in touch with the electorate if you’re not online,” said Jones. “Using social media to reach voters is the new standard for political candidates.”