Action platforms are a campaign’s Swiss Army knife. There’s a lot built in to deal with different situations without having to carry a tool belt of assorted tools. How do you decide which platform is right for you?
Campaigns differ in size and objective, but the core functions are fundraising, outreach, advocacy and organizing. Connecting them is a common Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system which stores details on donors, organizers and volunteers. This helps coordinate outreach to them, invite them to events and track the donations they make. Here are some evaluation criteria to consider:
1. How easy is it to use?
Gone are the days where you needed to choose between powerful tools and an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. Make sure the toolset you choose has the right mix of tools for you and doesn’t sacrifice your time by making the toolset too hard to use.
2. Integration with social media (such as Facebook, Twitter)?
Social media is becoming even more important than email for outreach, petitions and fundraising. Does the integrate directly with Facebook Ads Manager? Facebook events? Can it support social share tracking, where every record with an email address gets automatically appended with Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn profile info (“Social Matching”)?
3. What is the conversion rate and what aids are available to improve it?
This refers to how seamlessly email campaigns can be executed, how many people read the message and what percentage take action or donate? Even a small increase in conversion rates makes a huge impact. How many users store their credit card details with the vendor? This facilitates one-click actions for advocacy, signups and contributions. Not having to enter credit card details results in better response rates.
4. Can it support targeted online ad campaigns such as DemAds?
It’s often used to target specific voters from a database to get online ads, and measure the ROI per ad run.
5. Is mass mailing supported?
Moreover, can the platform support randomization for A/B testing to see which appeals perform better? Can it let activists move through sophisticated ladders of engagement by sending them customized emails based on their actions automatically?
6. Organize with other like-minded groups?
Share the actions you create in the form of a widget that you can copy and paste into any website. Sharing widgets with partners helps you reach a larger audience through multiple channels.
7. How does it handle event management?
Ticketing, RSVP lists and role management are things to look for.
8. What are the integration options?
It helps to pick a solution that works well with specialized tools such as: Peer-to-peer (P2P) texting like Hustle, digital printing like SpeakEasy, analytics platforms like Civis Analytics, phone platforms like CallFire, to broadcast text through Revolution Messaging, and payment platforms such as ActBlue.
9. Are mobile devices supported?
Staff and volunteers need mobile access as they are on the move to take contributions, petition signatures, and signups in person.
Now that we have our questions ready, these are three popular CRMs to aim them at:
ActionNetwork is both powerful and simple to use. It focuses on email-based digital mobilization and has a powerful email blast tool that can be precisely targeted. It produces customized emails to automatically guide your activists through sophisticated ladders of engagement. ActionNetwork provides an event tool, fundraising, contact-your-legislator, and is particularly useful for federated organizations. The Women’s March used its distributed event campaign tool to organize their marches around the world. Its API (application programing interface) integrates well with call tools, SMS, social media, ActionSprout and ActBlue.
NGP VAN Action Platform is used by both campaigns and nonprofits. It includes Digital 8, Fundraising (NGP 8) and Organizing (VAN), with all of them using a single unified CRM. This enables user to more easily run multi-channel (email, canvassing, mail, phone, online ads), multi-objective (organizing, fundraising, and communications) efforts, with comprehensive reporting.
NationBuilder provides a versatile solution that can be used by campaigns and advocacy groups. It offers tools to build web sites, send out emails, event management and donation processing. Templates are provided to streamline web site creation. It includes integration with Slack, MailChimp, Facebook, Eventbrite and Wordpress.
Deepak Puri is a Silicon Valley veteran and co-founder of Democracy Labs, a San Francisco-based non-profit that connects technical and media experts with progressive campaigns.