Nonprofit political reform organizations have unique software needs to effectively advocate for their causes, engage with supporters, manage campaigns, and drive impact.
Here are some key software categories and examples of best-of-class software that you should consider to address those needs.
Constituent Relationship Management (CRM)
You likely need a central location to track all of your volunteers, donors, supporters and the like, as well as what communication has ben sent them, how much they’ve donated, and where they engage with you the most. There are many examples of this from the high end and more costly, like Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud which is version of a commercial software that’s more tailored for nonprofits, to low or no cost solutions. The advantage of using Salesforce is that the platform is quite robust and has many features and add-ons by a large pool of third party vendors that you can use. Of course, all of those additional third-party tools also translate to more costs.
Given most nonprofits don’t have the same monetary resources of an enterprise and typically run a tight ship with regard to the cost-to-value ratio they expect, as well as the desire for a solution that’s tailored for the nonprofit space, you may want to look at other solutions like Everyaction, Action Network, or Nationbuilder. These platforms are not only targeted in pricing for nonprofits, they were designed with political nonprofits in mind. Among these, Bonterra Everyaction provides the most flexibility with regard to integration with any third-party, cost-effective solutions for marketing, event management and others like those listed below.
Mind you, if you have no funds, then you may want to start tracking your constituents in tools that are freely available to you like Google Sheets (spreadsheet) or the Microsoft Office 365 Excel that you already use for your personal needs. Just keep in mind that there are some security and scalability issues you’ll hit fairly quickly after you start up and gain momentum. Nevertheless, this is a reasonable choice and place to start.
Advocacy and Grassroots Engagement
If your organization is specifically focused on affecting policy change, then you’ll need to not only keep abreast of current legislation, but also who has sponsored the current or similar / related past bills, and how they’ve voted on them. Additionally, you likely want to mobilize your grassroots volunteers to engage their legislators by writing to them or contacting them via phone and email to express their concerns and wants.
There are a number of tools to consider here and some that clump much of what you may be looking for into a single platform. You would also need to know your budget here and willingness to bypass combing the publicly available content in favor of tools that aggregate the data and may even provide platforms for interacting with your supporters, advocates, and volunteers on a bill.
On the higher end, you’ll find Quorum. It’s designed for organization with higher budgets and the need to mobilize large constituents. If you’re more limited on budget, you should look into tools like LegiScan, LexisNexis or TrackBill.
Fundraising, Donor Engagement
There are two classes of software that you’ll want to consider for your fundraising. One is focused on collecting donations and managing fundraising campaigns. You can think of this as your credit card processing or payment collection method for your donations with the additional tools to gain insight about your fundraising efforts, what’s working and how you can improve your efforts.
Here you’ll want to consider solutions from DonorPerfect and Anedot which include a set of tools for not only capturing funds, but also managing your donors information. If you’ve already signed up for a CRM like Bonterra Everyaction, it’s a matter of enabling credit card processing and creating forms for capturing the donations. Insight about the campaigns can be managed directly in Everyaction or with their fundraising add-ons.
Another one in this category that focuses purely on payment collection is PayPal. PayPal is commonly used for collecting payments by individuals and businesses. Its value lies in how it’s such a common name and trusted by so many folks. What’s more, they offer special nonprofit pricing to confirmed 501(c)(3) oganizations.
The second class of software is for researching who may be interested in giving to your organization, based on their past giving, or who among your existing donors may be able to donate more. In both cases, you’re trying to figure out where to concentrate your limited set of volunteers and staff as well as time and money so that you can more easily and predictably fund your efforts.
A key factor to consider for any tool you select here is how well it integrates your information and helps you dig deeper into either your list of existing donors, or uses your list of donors to find others with similar interests, means and giving patterns. Platforms like WealthEngine and Donorsearch are excellent examples that gather giving and institutional data about donors for various causes and have integrations with CRMs or means of importing your contacts via spreadsheets and CSV (comma separated value) files.
Email Marketing and Communication
Your messaging is crucial to how you can make more people aware of your efforts, recruit more supporters and volunteers and get more donors. After carefully defining your strategy and messaging, and certainly as you’re testing the various messages, you’ll want the means of managing who gets informed when and how. You’ll also want a way to invite people to your various activities, or keep them informed of your efforts via a newsletter.
This is where tools like Mailchimp and Constant Contact come in. They are traditionally used by companies for their marketing efforts which includes the occasional email or even newsletters. They both offer means for managing your supporters list and sychronizing them with your CRM or list management spreadsheets. They also offer various templates for getting a newsletter started, and tools for doing A/B testing of your message. Pricing is competitive in this space and they both offer discounted pricing for organizations that can prove their nonprofit status.
Website & Analytics
As part of your communication strategy, you’ll likely have a website where you present your message, list events and activities, tell folks how they can get involved, and highlight specific advocacy your supporters can engage in. You’ll also want to embed your fundraising forms on your website, provided by your fundraising tool of choice.
The CRM tools already mentioned, like Everyaction or Nationbuilder provide website functionality, though they are somewhat limited. That may be a good start. However, as your needs grow and you wish to better brand your efforts and embed event management, fundraising, volunteer management and other tools on your website, you’ll want to look at stand-alone solutions like WordPress (via WordPress.com or WPEngine) or Wix.
WordPress is used by many organizations big and small, for-profit or nonprofit and likely has the greatest number of add-on software (plugins). Wix, on the other hand, is more user-friendly especially when it comes to branding. They both offer templates you can use to quickly spin up your website with some standard navigation menus and pages.
Additionally, to ensure you know how well your content is received, how your website visitors interact with your website, and how successful your website messaging is you’ll need to use analytics tools like the free Google Analytics.
Social Media Management
No communications and messaging discussion is complete without a discussion about social media. Many people now receive their news and engage organizations via social media, whether we like it or not. This is where platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn among other more specialized ones comes in. Each of these has its own targeted audiences and use for your organization.
There are too many many social media platforms and you have too little time to manage each one individually. That’s especially true when you consider the multiple accounts you’ll have to manage under each platform such as those for the organization as well as for your key staff like your Executive Director.
A better approach would be to use tools designed for not only seeing all of your posts and responses in one place, but also to learn about best times to post, patterns about what messages work better than others, or even respond directly to the messages for each platform from a single location.
Tools to consider here are Hootsuite and Buffer, commonly referred to as social media management tools. Buffer may be a good place to start as it offers a free version for startups, though Hootsuite is the better known name among those who’ve used social media management software and is one of the original tools designed for this purpose with quite a robust set of features. Both tools offer discount pricing to confirmed nonprofits.
Event / Volunteer Management
Aside from your communication and messaging strategy and their associated tools, you’ll likely want to capture sign ups for your events, whether it’s for in-person meet-n-greets, to online educational events or fundraising mashups. You’ll also want the means to have folks sign up to volunteer for these events or your various efforts to bring about change.
Once more, there are two classes of tools you’ll want too look at here. First, it’s the run of the mill event announcement and sign up management tools. This includes tools like Eventbrite and Mobilize, with Mobilize focusing specifically on the reform and nonprofit space. Both tools act as platforms to facilitate event registration, ticketing, and attendee tracking for your events and conferences. Given Mobilize‘s specific focus, they also provide the means for capturing support for online petition signing.
The other class of tools focuses on recruiting volunteers. Here you’ll find tools like VolunteerMatch, which provide you the means to match nonprofits with potential volunteers. Think of these as job boards for the various volunteer roles you may have and want to fill with qualified candidates who are interested in volunteering with organizations that fit their interests.
Survey and Research
There will come a time when you’ll want to survey your supporters or volunteers to gather information about various aspects of your operations and efforts. You may want to understand what they think is working for your events or what interests them most in your newsletters. Or you may be interested in learning where they think you should focus your efforts or how you should change your strategy and associated tactics.
This is where tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms come in. They are user-friendly survey tools that enable you to collect valuable feedback and start your analysis. SurveyMonkey has a very robust set of features around collecting survey data and even suggestions on how to best present the questions, along with taking the guess work out of look and feel with survey templates.
Google Forms is a simpler tool that may fit your budget well (free), especially if you’re already using Google’s set of tools personally or have purchased Google Workspace as your organization’s productivity tool. However, Google Forms is a rudimentary tool that outputs the data in a web page or spreadsheet format and is limited in how the surveys can be constructed. Both Google Workspace and SurveyMonkey offer discounted pricing on confirmed nonprofit status.
Collaboration, Project Management and Productivity
At the onset, when you’re bootstrapping, you’ll likely use your own Google or Outlook account for emails, calendaring, and file sharing. This is a good place to begin, especially given they are free. As your needs grow and, especially, as your volunteers come and go, to ensure communication continuity on messages and various documents you create for your organization and efforts, you’ll want to to start using Google Workspace or similar paid tools for emailing and communication with outside organizations.
Google Groups is a good place to start, though the interface is quite dated and sometimes confusing. Tools like Basecamp provide a project- and team-based communication and associated features that make it quite easy to manage time-based activities like tasks, documents, messaging, and include integration with other tools you may already be using for your website, collaboration and communications.
All of these tools provide nonprofit pricing on confirmed status.
One last tool to consider is a password manager. By now, you’ve noticed the large number of tools you’ll be using, and realize they each have their own associated logins. As a way to ensure that you not only remember the various passwords, but also use strong passwords and have a secure way of sharing them with your staff, you’ll want to pick a password manager from the likes of Bitwarden, 1Password or Lastpass. Bitwarden is open-source though a bit hard to use. 1Password and Lastpass are both well known tools in this space and a bit easier to setup and use.
It’s important for nonprofit political reform organizations to select software that aligns with their specific needs, budget, and long-term goals. In your consideration, we always recommend starting with knowing what are your organizational Mission, short and long-term goals or your north star, and associated Key Performance Indicators. This will help determine which of the tools above are most important to you and should have the more robust set of features to address your needs.
What’s more, depending on where you are on your organizational growth and fund availability, you can choose to start with a smaller set of tools, or a free version of one, then upgrade to the paid subscriptions as your needs and means grow. We especially recommend starting slowly and taking advantage of small gems hidden in the existing set of tools you may be using before using your hard-to-come-by funds on unnecessary features and software packages.
With that said, you’ll likely want to start your paid software selection with a CRM, as this is the hub for all of your organizational information and your contact list management. In reviewing which CRM to use, you should then weigh in your organizational goals and metrics to see which CRM best addresses 80% of those inherently, without the need for additional third-party tools. This will both reduce your overall costs as well as help you laser focus on what additional third-party software and add-ons you’ll need as your organizational needs grow. This is the other 20% of capabilities from the categories listed here.
This sounds involved and it is, but the effort you put in up front will pay dividends as you work through your fundraising, recruiting, event management and, most importantly, bringing about the political and policy changes we all need.