Leveling up your NationBuilder themes by understanding the database

Last week, I wrote about how — to get the most out of NationBuilderyou need to understand the philosophy behind the product (i.e., what NationBuilder is on a philosophical level). Today, I’m going to tell you how understanding what NationBuilder is on a technical level can help you unlock hidden potential and do more for your clients.

For most NationBuilder customers, the core set of 28 “page types” — combined with a custom homepage layout — will solve nearly any use case they can imagine. That’s why NationBuilder’s “public themes” are so great: they meet or exceed most folks’ needs. In fact, most of the “custom themes” I build for clients are fundamentally reskinned public themes built on my own framework. They’re a homepage, a custom layout, and support for NationBuilder’s 28 “page types.” But some customers need more — something genuinely unique.

So how do you build custom page types in NationBuilder? How do you unlock it’s potential and make it do things it wasn’t explicitly designed to do? You have to understand the NationBuilder database.

Normally when we talk about NationBuilder’s database we’re referring to the people database: the list of prospects, supporters, and non-supporters in the “People tab.” But in actuality, NationBuilder’s database is much larger — encompassing all of the data stored in your nation. Much of this data (though not all of it) is accessible directly on your website via Liquid Markup, and using Liquid you can display whatever data in whatever combination makes sense for your needs.

Want to display information about your supporters — or perhaps for the individual supporter currently logged into the site? — you’re looking for Signup Variables. Maybe you want to display a Howard Dean-style donation bat on your site’s sidebar; you’ll need to use Page Variables to pull information directly from the donation page. You can even combine page variable data from multiple pages to create a composite view — a whole new page type — for a truly bespoke website.

Now this is all conceptual, but that was the point. If you’re able to understand the database — what is there, how it’s interconnected, and how you can access it on your website — you can move past viewing NationBuilder as a product and toward understanding it as a platform. And that’s when the possibilities become nearly endless.

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