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Take a deep breath, you’re not alone. 

After years of engaging with you supporters, you may find yourself with an unruly nation. One that could use an audit to help inform a cleaner infrastructure. As a former customer, I went through this process myself, though my experience was due to a lack of supporter structure in our lists and tags. 

I was first introduced to NationBuilder in 2019 when I joined Amnesty International Indonesia as the new Activism Coordinator. At the time, the organisation had used the software for a little over a year, but no one really understood how it worked due to staff turnover and the fact that we hadn’t received any training. 

Shortly after using the software, I became quite frustrated. We were working on 9 different campaigns. Our email blasts were performing poorly, and I struggled to understand what issues our supporters were interested in. I later realised my frustration was due to the fact that we had over 300 tags and 100 lists that simply didn’t make any sense. For example, a tag named ‘night stories 01’’ didn’t give me a clear indication of which issue it was related to, or if it was a program or an event. There was also a tag named ‘Reza’s army.’ I had no idea who Reza was or which army they were referring to - the only army I cared about was Dumbledore’s. And like many other nations, we had a handful of tags and lists that only had one or two people. 

My point here is that this messy structure and lack of clarity in the naming convention didn’t just prevent us from understanding who our supporters were, but it also inhibited us from creating targeted and effective engagement. For example, if I couldn’t easily identify who supports children’s rights, how was I supposed to send them emails about upcoming events or important campaign updates? Consequently, if I sent an email to the wrong group of people, this could hurt our email deliverability. The larger impact is that we would miss out on opportunities to distribute leadership among our most engaged supporters and reach our campaign goals and targets.

As the only staff member using NationBuilder, it took several months to restructure our database and create new names for tags and lists that made sense for us. While it may seem like a long time, it was certainly worth the effort. With our new structure we were able to identify that our supporters were mostly interested in women’s rights and least interested in abolishment of the death penalty. This seemingly simple information gave us incredible insight about how we should engage with our supporters and how we should frame our messaging about more contentious issues. The results spoke for themselves. The following year, our email open and click rate average were 37% and 10.5% respectively. With better targeting, we were able to effectively distribute leadership across the country and double the number of our supporters within the year. 

If this story sounds familiar or if you find yourself in the same position, here are a few steps you can take that will hopefully help create a smoother and quicker process

Step 0: Inhale, exhale

And repeat. Everything is going to be ok. 

Step 1: Get in touch with us for support 

We are here to help you. 

Get in touch with our incredible Support Team and ask them to export a copy of all your lists and tags. From here you can better assess what does or doesn’t work for you, how you might change things, and which ones are no longer relevant and would like to permanently delete. If you find yourself needing to bulk delete a large number of lists and tags, simply send us a copy as a CSV file and we can do it for you. A good tip to remember is you can also use the batch update feature to merge different tags that you want to keep but would be better to combine in a single tag. 

If you are an Enterprise customer, get in touch with your dedicated Enterprise Account Manager.  Your EAM and their team have a wealth of knowledge and experience they can share with you, particularly on best practices by other organisations. Communicate your needs clearly from an organisational and practical perspective, and collaboratively lay out a plan about how to move forward. If you’re like me and need that external accountability to get motivated, setting specific timelines with your EAM can be helpful to get the ball rolling. 

Step 2: Allocate time to think about how your supporters should be structured

Your supporters are unique to you, so treat them as such. 

There isn’t one correct way to structure your supporters in your nation. Every organisation is different and it’s important to sit down, roll out that white board and have a long hard think about what your supporter structure should look like. If your organisation’s success is measured on specific metrics, there are a few things you can consider: 

  • How does your organisation define ‘supporter’ and ‘volunteer’? Are they different from NationBuilder’s definition? 
  • What are the specific numbers your organisation needs to measure growth and engagement? How will they correspond to your KPIs? 
  • Does your organisation segment supporters, volunteers and donors based on campaign issues? 
  • Do you have campaigns that run annually? How will you differentiate them?
  • Do you need to segment your supporters based on geography and/or language preference? 

NationBuilder also has extensive support documentation on lists and tags you can read to help inform you how to structure your supporters based on how our features function. Recommended articles include: 

Filters vs Lists vs Tags

How to use tags

How to use lists and batch actions

This step can take some time and if there’s anything to learn from my story it’s that this exercise should involve multiple people from different teams to help fasten the process, and ensure you are seeing things from different perspectives. Two heads (or more) are truly better than one.

Step 3: Create a naming convention for your tags and lists 

Think about the longevity of your database.

Staff turnover is a reality every organisation has to face, so it is important that you create your tag and list library that is easily understood by everyone, including volunteers and future staff members. Creating an agreed naming convention can provide clarity on who your supporters are, and make it easier for everyone in the organisation to identify them in your nation. 

There is no character limit to the name of your lists and tags so you can create names that are as specific as possible. For example, a fundraising event can be named ‘event_givingtuesday_november2021_attendee’. For more tips on best practices you can read our article create a tag library.

Once you have a final format for your naming convention, create an internal document for your team explaining the logic behind the structure, and why it’s important to adhere to the guidelines you’ve set out. You can also include documentation for saved filters based on your new tags and lists which can be especially helpful for regular reporting or communications purposes. 

Step 4: Educate your team about your supporter structure 

Yes, even if they don’t use NationBuilder on a daily basis. 

Grab some snacks and sit down with your team to go over the document you’ve just made in Step 3. Creating a robust engagement strategy means everyone needs to be on the same page, this includes an understanding of who your supporters are and how you segment them in your nation. The infrastructure you build should have a symbiotic relationship with the different strategies developed across different teams, and the way your supporters are structured can really set the tone of how successful your strategy will be.

The work you’re doing is important and powerfuland with a cleaned up and optimized supporter structure, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running with more time and energy to put toward driving the greatest possible impact for your cause. 

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