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NationBuilder solves a really devastating technical problem for our customers. Our newest feature is solving a cultural one.

In our years of working with advocacy organizations, nonprofits, political campaigns and brands, we observed with unsettling frequency that many our customers lacked clear, specific, relevant and achievable goals.

It may sound like a simple problem, with a simple solution. But the simplicity belies the severity of the consequences.

Absent clear, transparent goals in your organization:

  • Different teams branch off and work on whatever they think is important. You end up with Communication sending emails to achieve a goal that has no coordinated relationship with Development’s goals around supporter engagement and fundraising.
  • In advocacy, this creates toxic internal turf battles around ‘ownership’ of your supporter data. This makes effective targeting impossible, and puts a limit on how well your people can work together.
  • Teams actually end up competing against each other, because they have to justify their work to the enterprise. This can lead to teams undermining the missions of other teams, to “win.” Your mission loses.
  • Because goals aren’t clearly communicated, staffers tend speculate about what John in Operations and Katherine in Communications actually do all day long. This is super toxic and crazy common.
  • Leadership decisions are judged by the staff in a total vacuum, instead of judging them as they relate to clearly communicated organization-wide goals.
  • When a staffer doesn’t understand another staffer’s goals, they can’t possibly understand how the colleague’s work connects with the overall mission, and so you end up with a staff increasingly disconnected from the mission. If your internal culture is drifting from the mission, imagine the ramifications for your external community.

When we released the new Goals feature in NationBuilder last year, we wanted to make it simple for customers to track progress toward key organizing goals. It’s an important tool for managing your external organizing — one that customers really needed — but we under-estimated how much the feature would get into the cultural fabric of our customers’ organizations. And ours.

At NationBuilder, our CEO Jim Gilliam has always been committed to a concept called dog-fooding, which essentially means that we use our product. When we develop new features, we use them internally before releasing them to our customers. And I don’t mean testing, which is normal at tech companies. We’re in a unique position to dog-food at a whole deeper level because we use NationBuilder to run NationBuilder.

So of course, we use the hell out of the Goals feature. The first screen anyone sees when they log into NationBuilder is a goals dashboard. It might highlight goals for petition signers, donations, or total supporters. It could also track value of grants closed, or number of high-value donor prospects engaged last quarter (and how many of them donated). It might look something like this:


If you dig into an individual goal, you can see in detail how different leaders in your community, including internal staffers, are contributing to each goal. In this next example, you can see how 5 different staffers have helped a different organization exceed its goal to engage 1,000 small business leaders.


Critically, these goals necessarily cross into the responsibilities of different departments inside organizations. This means transparent insight into what your colleagues are doing, and how your work relates toward progressing on various organizational goals. At NationBuilder, I’m personally responsible for goals related to new revenue for the company — but I’m routinely reminded of the priorities of our amazing Customer Success team, just because I can see exactly what their goals are, and whether they’re on track to meet them. When you see that a team is really behind on an interesting goal, that sparks a conversation: What’s blocking you on this? Can I help?

Say you’re the social media director at an advocacy organization, and you want to actually show the results of your work. You could create a goal to acquire 100 new supporters next month via a Facebook acquisition campaign. In NationBuilder, you can create that new supporter goal, and it will automatically update as your supporters start rolling in. If that goal tracking lives only in your Facebook ad dashboard, the Advocacy Director never sees the results of your work; the Development Director won’t take notice that you’re killing it on new supporter acquisition; collaboration doesn’t happen.

Orienting around goals is not only a proven strategy for effective operations. It’s a deliberate decision to build an internal culture that recognizes the value of collaboration, teamwork and transparency.

I am the Director of Advocacy & Brands at NationBuilder, where I help large organizations implement technology, strategy and process to achieve their goals in community engagement. Ping me at rv[email protected] to talk organizing and technology.

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