Staff shake ups at two large tech companies that form the backbone of Democrats’ digital infrastructure have some practitioners worried.
On Friday, Tom Bonier revealed that he’s been named CEO of the TARA Group, with Lindsey Schuh Cortes taking over as CEO of TargetSmart, one of the left’s top data analytics firms, later this month. TARA Group is the holding corporation that counts TargetSmart as one of its seven portfolio companies along with research, fundraising and marketing firms.
“Just as was the case when I joined TargetSmart, I wasn’t looking for another opportunity, but when this role was presented to me, I couldn’t say no,” Bonier wrote in an email to staff. He noted that since he joined the firm some nine years ago, it had “quadrupled in size.”
“Since 2015, we have launched numerous industry-leading services, including analytics, polling, strategic consulting, fundraising solutions, digital audiences services and more,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, NGP VAN revealed that it’s making layoffs as part of a broader reorganization being made by umbrella company Bonterra.
The moves are distinctly different. While Bonier departs, retaining a senior advisor role, TargetSmart and its umbrella company are retaining their existing leadership and adding staff in preparation for 2024. On the other hand, the headcount moves by NGP VAN and its parent company have digital practitioners worried it could lead to some digital products stagnating going into an intensely competitive presidential cycle.
“I think people are angry,” said Josh Nelson, CEO of Civic Shout.
Nelson said he believes the cuts include 50 percent of developers working for ActionKit, an online fundraising and volunteer CRM used by progressive groups. NGP VAN didn’t respond to a request for comment from C&E on the size of the company’s layoffs.
“Core infrastructure,” Nelson said, should be “owned by people who care about the future of the progressive movement and the Democratic party.”
Private equity firm Apax Partners owns Bonterra and its portfolio companies.
Nelson wrote a LinkedIn post on Sept. 9 raising concerns about the job cuts that drew many supportive comments.
“They have just defunded an essential platform that hundreds of candidates and organizations rely on every day to engage millions of members in progressive causes,” wrote Tara Harwood, previously a “lead QA Engineer for ActionKit/ NGPVAN,” according to her LinkedIn profile.
Back in 2021, Democratic digital strategists, including Nelson, had a different concern they raised with the company: they wanted NGP VAN to play a lead role in cleaning up the email fundraising ecosystem. The company never responded directly to Nelson’s open letter.
Now, the latest moves are part of a years-long change that has been happening since March 2022 when Apax Partners grouped EveryAction, Network for Good and Social Solutions together under Bonterra.
The private equity firm then combined NGP VAN, ActionKit and Mobilize into a single entity called NGP VAN. Erin Mulligan Nelson, Bonterra’s CEO, stated at the time: “Joining these organizations together offers limitless possibilities to help the doers reach their most ambitious goals.”
Scott Brighton, who has been NGP VAN CEO for three months, wrote in a blog post Sept. 6 that NGP VAN will now be “a separate, independent business unit” within the umbrella corporation.
“Our vision is to reassert NGP VAN’s core CRM as a ‘platform for Democracy’ that the entire ecosystem can use to drive faster innovation that results in consistent election and policy victories,” Brighton wrote, before adding that this reorganization would necessitate layoffs.
“This change is happening in conjunction with a broader reorganization of Bonterra that is designed to break down organizational silos and focus on the needs of our social good customers,” he wrote. “This will, regrettably, involve a workforce reduction across Bonterra. While this is a difficult decision, it’s a necessary part of combining organizations, shifting the right talent to the right impact areas, and aligning our investments and cost structure with our revenue and areas of greatest customer need.”