What is NationBuilder, anyway?

At first, it seems like a silly question — What is NationBuilder? — because the answer is obvious, isn’t it? NationBuilder is a content management system. Or maybe it’s a voter database. Or a field organizing tool? A nonprofit CRM? A bulk email service?

The company bills itself as a “community organizing system” — a cohesive set of tools to help organizations coordinate their people, web pages, finances, and online communications in pursuit of a goal. But that’s rather like describing a hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, and level as a “household repair system.” It feels… off.

The truth is that NationBuilder is all of those things, and more. At its core, I believe that NationBuilder is an approach to community organizing — to leadership — that’s centered on listening, feedback, actionable data, and individual empowerment. The design of the product and the company’s culture are both a direct result of this philosophy, and it underpins everything about the NationBuilder experience.

NationBuilder’s “community organizing system” is not just the product itself: it’s the pairing of the product with the philosophy. It’s what I call the “NationBuilder way” of community organizing, and it’s incredibly effective.

In my experience the organizations who get the most out of NationBuilder’s tools are the ones who learn this philosophy and embrace it at a core level. They don’t just ask “how does this feature work,” but instead inquire about the thinking behind the feature and how it is intended to be used. Why should I use follow ups? Why auto-assign point people? Why use a NationBuilder-compliant donation processor?

If you truly want to understand what NationBuilder is — really — that’s where to begin: with the philosophy. Once you understand that, the product knowledge will come naturally.

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