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I work with a lot of political customers, and I often hear, “NationBuilder is a great system for engaging with people online, but can you really use it to run a field campaign for a major election?” The answer, of course, is yes! A resounding yes, in fact, because NationBuilder allows you to do things campaigns couldn’t even have attempted just a few short years ago. 


Every political operative knows that a field campaign has two main tasks:

- Identify voters as supporters, undecideds, or non-supporters.
- Engage supporters, both to ensure that they vote and to turn them into volunteers and leaders.

Excelling at one task will positively affect the other, creating a virtuous cycle that builds momentum for your campaign. Traditionally, field campaign success was attributed to a high volume of phone calls and door knocking (and those are still important), but NationBuilder opens up a slew of new possibilities for effective engagement. So, where do you start?

1.    Load in your voter data.
NationBuilder is data-agnostic, so you can use our voter file or load in your own – completely up to you. You’re not limited to one file, either – you can layer in targeting data, local files, or anything else you’d like. Even better, you can load in your email contacts, donors, or volunteer lists and start merging those people with their voter records, giving you a more complete profile on each of them.

2.    Embrace the digital field campaign.
Too many campaigns view their website and social media as totally separate from the field campaign—and it’s a big mistake. Your website is a powerful tool for identifying supporters and learning what they care about, so take advantage of NationBuilder’s surveys, petitions, and other action page types. They’ll serve two purposes for your campaign, both capturing useful data and automatically prompting your supporters to share their activity on social media, broadening your reach.

NationBuilder also captures people who interact with you on Twitter (including followers) and people who like your posts on Facebook. Merge those records with your voter file, and suddenly you have a valuable new channel for reaching potential supporters who might not respond to a phone call or an email. Best of all, you can see how they’re connected with other people in your database – check out the “network” tab – giving you a deeper understanding of your community as it grows.

3.    Start targeting people more effectively by building intelligent lists.
If you’re a field director, NationBuilder’s advanced search is your new best friend. Because NationBuilder integrates data from your website, voter file, communications, and fundraising all into a single database, you have an incredible array of different criteria to use in building lists. It goes way beyond the traditional “3 of 4 and 4 of 4 primary voters” standard (though, it can do that, too), so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For instance, if you’re looking to build a list of potential social media leaders, you could run a search for all people in your district with a Klout score of 40 or higher who haven’t been contacted yet. Or you could kick off a big volunteer drive by running a search for small-dollar donors who aren’t listed as volunteers.

4.    Empower your volunteers.
NationBuilder isn’t just a database – it’s also your online campaign office. The difference between just canvassing and truly organizing is one of scale – if you empower your volunteers to become local leaders, your reach increases exponentially. NationBuilder makes this easy with customizable permission sets and the ability to log in through your campaign’s website. You can grant access to as many control panel users as you’d like, then assign them responsibility for organizing voters and other volunteers in their areas, only letting them see the voters they need to see. You can even assign point people for specific precincts.

5.    Reward engagement.
NationBuilder’s Political Capital feature allows you to assign point values to different actions, whether they’re voter contacts, social media shares, donations, or recruiting new volunteers. You can then track them using leaderboards – either internally or on your website – so you can recognize and reward your most active supporters.

6.    Contact voters.
Don’t worry – we know that phone calls and door knocks are still important, and NationBuilder makes it easy to create your lists and record your contacts with voters. Once you’ve pulled a list of targeted voters using advanced search, you can print call sheets or view the list in call view, where you can enter data in real time as you make calls. Advanced search also makes it easy to maximize your time by excluding previously contacted voters. If you’re looking to go door-to-door, you can use map view to turf cut your list into walkable areas, then quickly create PDF walk sheets to print or send to your canvassers. You can also share lists with other control panel users, so it’s easy to pull lists and assign them to the correct field staff or volunteer captains, who can then access them from anywhere with an internet connection.

7.    Track EVERYTHING.
You have a versatile database that can slice and dice based on hundreds of different criteria, so feed it data! If you send off a list to your mail vendor, take the time to batch update it to add a “snail mail” contact to each record. If you run into a voter while you’re out on a coffee run, drop a quick note about your chat into their record in your nation. Make sure pages on your website are configured to add tags to people who take action. You’re building institutional memory about how you’re interacting with supporters and voters – an invaluable part of building trust and moving them up the engagement ladder.

8.    Take advantage of the NationBuilder apps ecosystem.
If you haven’t already, check out the NationBuilder apps listing. You’ll find tools for mobile canvassing, phone banking, advanced social media engagement, and even polling and ad targeting. With Accurate Append, you can enhance your data with premium phone and email appends.

The most important thing is this – remember the fundamentals, but don’t let yourself be boxed in by the conventional wisdom of what a field campaign is and isn’t. NationBuilder features like user-generated events, political capital, social sharing, and text message blasting open up all kinds of exciting new avenues for reaching voters and supporters, so don’t be shy about experimenting to see what works for you. With NationBuilder, you’ve got everything you need to run a cutting-edge digital field campaign – now it’s up to you to go out there and do it.

Good luck!

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