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When it comes to putting theory into practice, far too often the lines between a strategy and a tool become blurred and the order in which things each get determined  gets mixed up - especially when technology or software are involved. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a strategy can be defined as a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall goal. A tool, on the other hand, is the device or instrument that helps you achieve that goal. For example, if your goal is to improve animal welfare in your state, your strategy could include determining how to achieve a 20% increase in annual adoption rates, pass animal cruelty prevention laws, or conduct fundraising and volunteering activities within the community. For all of these things to be possible, you will need tools such as a website, petition pages, financial software, volunteer kits and training materials. 

The purpose of this article is not to provide textbook definitions to differentiate a strategy from a tool, but rather to serve as a guide on how to better incorporate the two into your team’s day-to-day work. Here are a few principles to think about to give you clarity on how to get there. 

Principle 1: Your tools should support your strategy, not the other way around

If there is one thing to remember from this entire article, it’s this: your strategy needs to be sound before you start building or using your tools. 

As an Enterprise Account Manager at NationBuilder, one of the most common mistakes I see customers make is creating campaigns as stand alone activities that serve a short-term goal and, as a consequence, get treated as a tool. Take peer-to-peer fundraising as an example. 

When it comes to digital peer-to-peer fundraising, we often find ourselves fixated on the tools that play a supporting role: creating a beautiful landing page, ensuring donations are processed correctly, making sure the leaderboards are accurate, and so on. While all of these things are important, the larger long-term strategy itself runs the risk of being underdeveloped, and in the rush to get all the infrastructure up and running, we forget to take into consideration the questions that actually matter: 

  • What role will past fundraisers play this time? 
  • How do we effectively distribute leadership within our existing supporters? 
  • Do we have a plan on maintaining and building long-term relationships with new supporters after  the campaign? 

It’s important to remember that this pattern is not limited to peer-to-peer fundraising. Take a moment to reflect on other campaigns you run throughout the year like End of Year appeals, GivingTuesday, GOTV campaigns, or petitions on a current topic. 

The pursuit of perfection in our tools can become detrimental to the success of our campaign and detract from what they are meant to be used for: a method of advancement for an overarching mission. We should have clear answers to the questions above that can then guide our decisions on the resources needed to keep the work moving. This way, we invest in longer term strategies that will ultimately have a larger and more powerful impact. 

Principle 2: Invest in building long-term relationships 

Putting people at the center is key to creating a sound strategy. While activities like peer-to-peer fundraising and recruiter campaigns can help achieve short-term goals, it’s the long-term relationships with your supporters, old and new, that really solidify your movement instead of just sustaining it. 

To create a comprehensive relationship-building plan around your supporters, think about them from the perspective of the past, present and future. Seeing your supporters from these angles allows you to meet them where they are and design a journey that moves them further along on the ladder of engagement. 

  • The past: Reflect on the data you have already collected. Who are your current supporters? What actions have they already taken? Can you identify potential local leaders? 

  • The present: Understanding the past helps anchor you in the present and informs how to navigate towards your destination. What is the goal you want to achieve today? Who would you like to target? How will you differentiate your messaging? 

  • The future: The last thing you want to do is to ask people to take action for you then forget about them. Create a plan for how they can continue to engage with you moving forward. How will you continue to communicate with them? How can they do more for you? 

Principle 3: Allocate your resources wisely 

Incorporating your tools into your strategy can be challenging, especially if you work in a small team, so it’s important to be mindful of how you use your human and financial resources. Oftentimes, we don’t realise how much effort goes into using different softwares. Using multiple platforms means there is time invested into building different systems, money allocated to fund them, and humans who spend time maintaining them. 

NationBuilder’s integrated system means you can build your website, send emails and texts, collect supporter data and fundraise all in one place. It is designed to remove the burden of stitching different platforms together, and avoid having to learn multiple systems and spend unnecessary additional costs. The data in your People, Communication, Website, and Finance sections all speak to each other and allows you to create a sound strategy that builds long-term relationships. 

With NationBuilder you can also take advantage of integrating your nation with third party applications for non-native features. If you don’t have the internal resources to build the tools you need or would like to customise your pages to look a certain way, just let us know and we’ll point you in the right direction. We have partners across the globe who can help you create what you are meant to create.

Your tool is only as strong as your strategy. Putting in the time and effort to plan a long term strategy that puts your supporters at the centre is key to ensuring the success of your campaigns, and the longevity of your organisation. At NationBuilder, we can help you create the right strategy to reach your goals and equip you with the right tools to get there.

If you want to learn more about how to develop a good strategy, here are a few articles that can help guide you through:

Working with your Enterprise Account Manager

Unlocking the power of organizing 

How to swap vanity metrics with success metrics that drive real impact

Conversations over Communications

How to push past an organizing plateau and keep growing

Build your fundraising program from the ground up in five steps


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