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One of the challenges I hear most frequently from campaigners and organisers is the issue of limited resources—particularly limited time, money, or staff. Given how resource-consuming it can be to build your own bespoke software, it amazes me how many organisers consider or actually embark on that very project. Having worked in the political campaigning space for over ten years, I can make the case for why you should focus on the work you want to do in the world rather than developing the perfect custom software.
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Let the experts do the hard work
There are very few humans out there with an equal grasp of both technology and campaigning. Finding people to build your software who understand how to build it as well as use it to organise tends to be a tall order. Thankfully, we seek them out at NationBuilder, employing experienced digital organisers at every level of the company. Our leadership team alone has a combined 60+ years of experience building movements, and many other employees have extensive backgrounds in politics, advocacy, charities, and non-profit organizations.
One of our core values is that we seek data and wisdom to make the best decisions; this includes advice and expertise from academics and strategists studying the principles of leadership, organising, and community building.
Custom software comes at a high price
NationBuilder was founded with the belief that everyone should have access to the tools you need to successfully campaign in this era, and that cost shouldn’t be the barrier to entry in the democratic process. But, building best-in-class software on your own is expensive (and time-consuming).
For example, let’s start with a budget of 50K euros to build your infrastructure. In Europe, that only covers the average salary of a single software engineer. In addition to engineering resources, you will also need staff to offer product management, technical support, and data management—and this is before you add any employment taxes or benefits, let alone necessary infrastructure like servers, domains, mailing, payment providers, database hosting, etc. If you put that budget toward an off-the-shelf solution instead, you can redirect the remainder toward actually campaigning.
Bespoke solutions aren’t necessarily better or more secure
Building world-class software takes time—it’s not something you can just do overnight, and even once you’ve developed your own solution, the work isn’t done. Since ongoing security upgrades, software improvements, and troubleshooting will always be needed, it simply isn’t a one-off cost. You will still need to maintain the software and provide technical support for your users.
Additionally, being part of a wider network offers you greater protection than a bespoke solution. Having a team of engineers at NationBuilder means we have 24-hour monitoring in place—which is difficult if you’re relying on a team of one or two people—and there is more expertise on hand to deal with urgent issues.
Battle-testing a bespoke solution is high risk
NationBuilder is the most used software for politics and advocacy in the world. Since launching in 2009, we have played a key role in many of the highest-stake elections around the globe.
When you build your own bespoke software, it’s hard to fully test it under the same conditions that you’ll experience on election day. There are a handful of widely publicized stories of even major campaign and party systems suffering outages on election day, because they weren’t able to stress-test their tools in a way that reflected election day behaviour. Even dry runs were a poor substitute for a real election. Having worked in 110+ countries over the last decade, our software has weathered many an election day successfully.
New political trends are always emerging across the world
We work with political campaigns, political parties, nonprofits, advocacy organisations, and corporations across a wide variety of beliefs, ideologies, and use cases, so we are always learning and adapting in response to the needs of the moment. Though we develop new features on a consistent basis, in the event that we don’t have what you need, we have an open API and access to a terrific ecosystem of partners providing the latest technology in the space. If you stay focused on building your own bespoke solution, you might not even know what you’re missing out on.
Based on my experience, I say focus on what you do best—building the relationships with your voters, supporters and volunteers—and we’ll take care of the infrastructure.