Since 2015, Hines Digital has worked with at least seventeen congressional campaigns across the United States.
That breadth of experience has allowed us to learn what’s important — and what isn’t — when it comes to launching a campaign effectively online.
One of the most valuable insights we’ve unearthed is that, while it’s essential to have a functional, scalable, on-brand website at launch, it’s a waste of time and money to try to build your campaign’s site to impress.
That’s what makes Florida Republican Byron Donalds’ campaign launch-day website so effective: it does everything that it needs to do (and well), and nothing that it doesn’t.
Below, I’ll break down what makes this design so effective, and explain why every down-ballot campaign ought to be doing something similar at launch.
1. It Was Built and Deployed Quickly
Under the Federal Election Commission’s rules, once a candidate begins making expenditures in connection with a federal campaign, they have just ten days to file their official Statement of Organization.
And since a Statement of Organization is a public document, candidates typically want to have their website ready for a public announcement timed to coincide with the paperwork dropping.
That means that in most federal elections, a campaign’s website designer has just over a week from the moment the project begins to the moment the site needs to be live — and often even less than that.
Byron Donalds’ launch was no different — launching with little time for iteration or tinkering — which is why the ability to design, develop, and launch his website quickly and professionally was a crucial component of its success.
2. It Gets Right to the Point
Useful congressional campaign websites are not content-heavy.
Like a traditional “door hanger,” their primary purpose is to establish brand awareness and answer the basic questions voters have about the candidate:
- Who are they?
- What’s their story?
- Why should I vote for them?
A good campaign website also makes it easy for a candidate’s supporters to get involved, and in that area, Donalds’ site also excels.
It’s intentionally clear how supporters can sign up to join the campaign, with the primary signup form appearing “above the fold” on both desktop and mobile-sized screens.
And because grassroots fundraising is fundamentally crucial in modern campaigns, the website puts explicit donate buttons in prominent places.
The campaign “hired” this website to do three jobs: tell the candidate’s story, collect email signups, and facilitate online donations. On those three points, it gets straight down to business clearly and effectively.
3. It Raised More Money Than it Cost
Buying a website is a lot like buying a car: there is a range of options at almost every price level, and with rare exceptions, they’re all pretty nice. Most people can find what they need by shopping for a model on the lot; a few people need something built-to-suit.
But while most people have purchased a car (or know someone who has), few candidates have invested in a website. As a result, they often make the mistake of overthinking their needs and over-inflating their budget.
Byron Donalds’ team did not make that mistake. He got exactly the website he needed, and — without sharing hard numbers — I can say that he’s already turned a profit on that investment.
Within twenty-four hours of his campaign’s launched, Byron had already raised more money online through his campaign’s website than he invested in building the website. From here on out, every marginal dollar has his website infrastructure investment “in the black.”
The Bottom Line
For political campaigns, website design is not an art project. You’re effectively hiring that website to do a job (e.g., to tell your story, capture email signups, and raise money online), and you need it done effectively and profitably.
By focusing on practical design within their constraints, Byron Donalds’ team got a website that got the job done on time and budget.
So, you’ve decided to start a political action committee and change the world. Outstanding! Stepping forward as a leader is a crucial first step.
Now comes the work of doing, and Priority #1 is choosing a strong and memorable name for your new organization. A political action committee is not unlike a business, and choosing the right name can be the difference between success and failure.
(Note: If you’re a billionaire who’s trying to spend an overwhelming amount of money through a benign and generic sounding SuperPAC, this article is not for you.)
Below, we’ll share a few tips for how to choose a name that’s strong, memorable, and — dare I say it? — fun. (Yes, politics can be fun.) Let’s start.
Table of Contents
Tips For Choosing a Strong Name
- Keep It Short
- Think Outside the Box
- Consider Social Media Usernames
- Choose a Memorable Domain Name
- Make Sure It’s Not Taken
1. Keep It Short
Lots of the establishment political committees have long, boring names (e.g., The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). But don’t be fooled. Names like this are bad and will cause you trouble in the long term. They’re forgettable and easily mixed up.
Instead, you want a short, easily remembered name that conveys the heart of your mission and your message. But finding one can be challenging, especially when traditional PAC names conventions have become the punchline of inside-the-beltway jokes.
Here are a few ways to get your gears turning:
- Focus on “Action Words:” Traditionally, PAC names have been descriptive nouns laced with platitudes (e.g., Citizens for a Brighter Tomorrow). To get a different, punchier vibe, focus on verbs instead (e.g., Swing Left).
- Create New Words: Think about the most memorable consumer brands and tech companies. Often, they just made up a new word that sounded vaguely like what they wanted you to feel. Surprising as it may seem, it can work.
- Choose an Insider Term: Are there specific words or phrases that have meaning to your community, but not to the larger world? That might make a great name. For example, MoveOn.org got their name because they just wanted to “move on” from the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal. But the name lived on even after that moment passed.
2. Think Outside the Box
Right out of the gate, you should write down a list of the names of 5–10 organizations operating in a similar space that you hope to occupy. These organizations can be in your ideological lane, or not. What’s important is that you’d consider them comparable in mission and focus.
Then, try to identify similarities between these organizations’ names. What do they have in common? Are there any unifying themes? Etc.
Try to come up with a name that feels authentic to you, but does not fit in the same schema as these other organizations. You have to be different to stand out.
3. Consider Social Media Usernames
Once you’ve come up with a list of potential names, it’s time to go shopping for usernames.
It does little good to invest in a robust and memorable brand name if you won’t also have memorable social media URLs.
Services like Namechk allow you quickly check for available usernames across a range of social media services.
If your dream name is taken across the social web, you should probably consider another option.
4. Choose a Memorable Domain Name
By now, you’ve chosen a name for your organization and identified that your ideal usernames are available. Your next step is to make certain that you’re able to get a memorable domain name.
.com you were hoping for is unavailable, that’s no reason to give up. There are other options!
Use an Alternative TLD: The reason that everyone defaults to
.comis that it’s the most widely known. But there are lots of TLDs to choose from, and it’s likely you’ll find one that works well for you. (Notice that this website is hosted at a
.digitalTLD, even though we own the
.net, as well.)
Get Creative: You may still be able to secure a .com if you add a modifier to your domain name. For example, if
mypac.comis unavailable, you might try
TLDs to Consider:
- other country-specific TLDs.
Modifiers to Consider:
I recommend using Google Domains to purchase your domain.
5. Make Sure That It’s Not Taken
As a final step, before you officially register your PAC with the Federal Election Committee (or relevant state agency), you’ll want to be sure that the name isn’t taken. The easiest way to do that is to visit fec.gov/search and search for it.
This is probably also a good time to mention that before you file your PAC with the relevant government agency, you should probably engage a qualified attorney to help handle all of the compliance work.
Nothing in this article should be construed to be legal advice, and you should absolutely confer with a qualified attorney to make sure your Statement of Organization is compliant and that your PAC’s name is legal.
Examples of Great PAC Names
- Swing Left
- End Citizens United
- Committee to Defend the President
- Need to Impeach
- Progressive Turnout Project
- National Democratic Training Committee
- Ditch Fund (Ditch Mitch)
1. Swing Left
Swing Left was founded with a single goal in mind: flip, or “swing,” the House of Representatives from Republican to Democratic control. Their name is evocative, and its meaning has evolved along with its mission. When you hear “Swing Left,” it’s immediately clear who they are and what they’re doing. That’s exceptional branding.
Founded in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which permitted unlimited sums of money to be spent on federal elections through new independent expenditure-only committees, End Citizens United’s mission is clear: reverse the decision, and restore limits on election spending.
The Committee to Defend the President took its name in the wake of President Trump’s 2016 election and is among the largest independent expenditure committees devoted to defending his agenda and securing his re-election. Their fundraising pitches write themselves: with a name like that, donors have no doubt about their mission or whose side they’re on.
Billionaire Tom Steyer founded Need to Impeach in order to make the case that, well, we “need to impeach” President Trump. Like End Citizens United, the organization’s name doubles as a slogan/messaging tool. You literally cannot discuss the organization without accidentally repeating its core message. It’s brilliant branding.
ActBlue is a political action committee that works as the default payment processor for Democratic campaign contributions. But as their name implies, their mission is larger than just providing payment processing software: they exist to encourage and empower Democratic grassroots voters to take action in support of “blue” (Democratic) candidates.
Founded in 2019, WinRed is the Republican establishment’s response to ActBlue: a universal payment processing platform to harness and amplify the small-dollar fundraising power of the Republican grassroots. But WinRed, in contrast to ActBlue, is not philosophically about encouraging organic grassroots action as it is about helping Republicans win — and their chosen name clearly communicates those values.
The Progressive Turnout Project is an independent expenditure effort designed to encourage Democratic grassroots activism and increase left-wing voter turnout. You probably guessed that from their name, which is essentially a distilled mission statement.
Remember how, at the start of this article, I said to avoid long, wordy, establishment-sounding names? This is an exception because the name clearly states the organization’s focus, alignment, and mission: to provide free campaign training to every Democrat everywhere.
When MoveOn first launched in the late 1990s, its name was a direct reference to its message: that it was time to “move on” from the Clinton scandal and get back to the work of governing. 21 years later, its name still resonates because it’s short, memorable, and doubles as the domain name.
The Ditch Fund — or, as most people know it, “Ditch Mitch” — is a PAC solely dedicated to defeating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his bid for re-election. Both Democrats and Republicans refer to the senator as “Mitch,” so the phrasing of “Ditch Mitch” has both an immediate clarity and a sort of fun rhythm to it. It’s punchy, clear, and a call-to-action.
What’s in a Name?
Choosing the right name for your political action committee can seem like a big job, and it is. Take it seriously! Your organization’s official name will appear on every piece of communication you create or publish: on every webpage, on every advertisement, and on every fundraising solicitation. If at all possible, try to make it clear, fun, and memorable.
For digital directors, the end-of-year fundraising push is one of the most exhausting and high-stress times of the year. But as tiresome as it is for your team, it might be even more so for your supporters.
You probably just sent them 3–5 emails every day for two weeks, and they’ve given you every dollar they have to give. At this point, asking them for more money the day after your major deadline is just downright impolite.
But… you can’t stop emailing them, and your boss still expects results. So what do you do?
Here are a few ways to keep engaging your supporters and nurturing your list in the wake of the end-of-year fundraising push.
Thank Them For Their Help
You’ve just spent weeks asking your supporters for money: raising the stakes and elevating expectations with every email.
Whether you met your goal, fell short, or blew it out of the water, your supporters are likely feeling exactly how you’re feeling. They’re watching the news reports, checking the totals from other campaigns, and evaluating whether they did enough to help the movement succeed.
So in these first weeks post-deadline, be sure to remove any doubt from their minds. Thank them for their work. Make sure they know they made a difference. And when you do, be as specific as you can about the impact that their contribution made towards your shared success.
Ask Them For Their Feedback
People need to be appreciated, so thanking your supporters will go a long way towards rebuilding the relationship you strained with all those fundraising appeals.
But people need to feel heard almost as much as they need to feel appreciated, and that’s why asking for their feedback and advice is a great next step in your start-of-quarter fundraising plan.
Using one of NationBuilder’s Feedback or Survey pages, you can make it easy for supporters to share their views and shape the future of your campaign. The information they provide can also be instrumental in informing your future messaging and engagement strategy.
Asking for feedback is a win-win strategy that makes your supporters feel heard and provides your team with essential insight into the people behind your movement.
Reward Them For Their Support
If all went according to plan, you just raised a fair bit of money as a result of your end-of-year fundraising push.
Now, you might consider spending a portion of it on thanking your supporters.
Create a batch of exclusive campaign stickers or t-shirts and reward your supporters with a free gift. And not just the donors. All of them.
Create a NationBuilder Signup page, and tell everyone on your list that all they need to do is sign up there to receive the free swag. Then, chain them along to a donation page to — optionally — contribute a few dollars to help cover shipping costs. (You’ll be surprised by how many do.)
This approach has so many benefits!
- Your supporters will feel valued and appreciated;
- When they display/wear the swag, you’ll get free advertising;
- You’ll earn the physical/street addresses of supporters who may not have donated yet; and
- You might actually raise a net profit from the optional donations.
This is a low-risk, high-reward move that every campaign ought to try.
The Bottom Line
While it’s bad manners to continue aggressive fundraising solicitations in the days and weeks following a major deadline push, that’s no excuse for your campaign to stop emailing its supporters.
Savvy campaigns will use this period to re-engage supporters, build trust, and deepen relationships. And — surprise! — you might even raise a little money in the process!
Earlier this year, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rolled out a really bold and forward-looking design toolkit. I love it, and I love the organizing theory behind it that says “it’s okay — no, it’s good — to encourage our supporters to create.”
The colors and typography were beautiful and distinctive, and the website they launched to match them was equally so. It was a brilliantly executed brand identity project.
But now, the campaign’s own website (JPG, 4.3 MB) no longer adheres to them! The beautiful typographical combination of Industry, Aktiv Grotesk, and Domaine Text has given way to a haphazard combination of Futura PT and system fonts. I can’t help but wonder… why?
Three times in the past month, I’ve been asked by prospective clients for my view on NationBuilder’s future.
Is the company healthy? Is it growing? Can they rely on it? Etc.
I assume that people are asking because, before they make a considerable investment in the platform, they want to know if that investment is smart and safe and wise.
My answer is always the same: I have been working with NationBuilder every day since 2012, and I have never seen it as healthy and dynamic as it is today.
In fact, my confidence level in the platform is so high that I shuttered my agency business earlier this year to invest myself 100% into NationBuilder-specific consulting work.
Essentially every major political figure in the “western world” (outside of the United States) uses NationBuilder. Within the United States, I would say anecdotally that most Greens, Libertarians, Republicans, and independents use the platform. Democrats only shy away because of their penchant for partisan platforms and ideological software. And that’s just the political market!
If you’re thinking about investing in the platform, either as a customer or as a vendor partner, I say “do it.”
I’m not a great fan of “New Year’s Resolutions,” but I do find goal setting to be healthy. So, in the interest of accountability, I’m going to publish a few of my goals for 2020 (in no particular order).
Make Work More Personal
In early 2019, I hit a wall professionally. My agency business had become unsatisfying, and more importantly, I was profoundly unhappy at work.
Starting in the Spring of 2019, I began restructuring my company to reflect what I wanted out of my career more accurately.
Now, Hines Digital is reborn (in a manner of speaking) not as an agency, but as my professional office.
In 2020, I want to focus on stripping away all the excess business fluff, letting my personality show through, and being the best partner that I can to my clients.
Invest in The NationBuilder Theme Marketplace
NationBuilder’s Theme Marketplace has made it possible, for the first time, to create and sell ready-made website themes to NationBuilder customers — potentially creating a passive income stream for Architects like me.
In 2020, I’m hoping to release several more, with each focused on a niche use case that I’ve seen in my 6+ years as a NationBuilder-focused designer.
Build a Private NationBuilder Theme Component Library
To empower me to build themes more rapidly, I want to develop a repository of commonly used component blocks.
While I’ve built component libraries before, I’ve learned some new things in the past year about NationBuilder, Liquid markup, and Boostrap 4 that will allow me to do it better than before.
Learn More About Accessibility
I know that, in the past, my designs have not consistently conformed to accessible web standards. That means that I have been excluding people from my clients’ online experiences. I can do better.
In 2020, I want to learn more about how to make intentional design decisions that create space for people with disabilities to interact with my work. Specifically, I mean thinking about website design through a content-first lens and thinking about WCAG 2.0 guidelines when developing my component library.
Focus On Teaching
In 2019, I realized how much I love sharing my knowledge and experience with others. I don’t know everything, by any means, but over 33 years, I’ve developed a unique combination of experience and perspective that’s worth sharing.
In 2020, I’d like to focus on finding new ways to share what I know with others. Maybe that means creating an online course, or a podcast, or just blogging more often. I don’t know (yet), but I’m going to try to figure out what works for me and lean into it.
Re-Invest in OmniFocus
In the past, during the periods where I’ve felt the most productive and in-control, I’ve found that the combination of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology and OmniFocus’ software have served me well. But in recent years, I’ve lost my “flow.”
In 2020, I’d like to get back into a productivity groove. That doesn’t mean tons of “productivity hacks” or constant tinkering. Rather the opposite: I think what I need more than anything else is a focus on the fundamentals and the determination to build a good routine and stick to it.
If I am successful, it’ll mean better work for my clients, better service to my family, and a better sense of calm for myself.
More Work Travel
I don’t want to be the sort of person who travels a ton for work. I like working from home and being near my wife and kids. (It’s the little moments of working from home — like being around when my kids first wake up or when they get back from school — that I treasure the most.) But I do enjoy traveling for work, seeing my clients in person, and experiencing different cultures.
Hopefully, 2020 will afford me opportunities to travel to some of the regions I love and to experience a few new ones.
Last night, The Conservative & Unionist Party had an emphatic win in the United Kingdom’s General Election. And in Gloucestershire, the party’s candidates swept to victory powered by NationBuilder infrastructure and Hines Digital-designed websites.
We’re particularly excited to see that Siobhan Baillie defeated Labour’s incumbent MP to become the first woman to represent the constituency in the House of Commons. Siobhan ran an energetic campaign and made excellent use of NationBuilder’s platform, and we’re thrilled to have been able to play a small role in her success.
After four years of tumultuous politics — from the start of the Brexit referendum process until now — the British public seems ready for a break from campaigning. And with their majority secured, it looks like the Conservatives are going to deliver just that: a return to normalcy in political life.
So again, congratulations to Siobhan Baillie, the Gloucestershire Conservatives, and the whole of the Conservative & Unionist Party on their tremendous and well-deserved win!
In the last two decades of online campaigning, there hasn’t been a more consistently useful and universal strategic framework for organizing than the “ladder of engagement.”
If that’s a new term to you, or if you’ve heard it but aren’t sure you understand it fully, and you’re using NationBuilder, then this post is for you. I’ll walk you through the top-level concepts of engagement ladder organizing, and then take you through each step of the ladder with concrete examples.
What is an Engagement Ladder?
The Engagement Ladder is a way of conceptualizing and charting your organization’s relationship with its supporters.
Imagine your supporters’ journey as a ladder: in the beginning, they’re at the bottom — interested in climbing on, but not totally committed to the journey — but over time, as they climb higher, the become more and more invested in your cause.
Each rung on the ladder marks a new level of commitment for your supporters and a new way to engage them in furthering your organization’s mission. And just like with a real ladder, the safest and most reliable way to reach the top is by climbing one step at a time.
Example Engagement Ladder
Every organization’s ladder of engagement is unique, and it’s important that you take the time to research and experiment with what works best for you. The following is an example
Step 1: Connect on Social Media
The first, easiest, and least expensive way to connect with your community and build support is on social media. If you’re building a movement or running for office, maintaining an active social media presence is a must — and connecting with your community on a meaningful level will naturally grow your follower base on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
It’s not enough to simply post or tweet, however. The essential step here is that you meaningfully engage your community in a two-way conversation. You’ll build loyal fans/supporters by being a loyal fan/supporter of your community. In practice, that means following back, replying to comments, and ensuring that people feel heard and not just talked-at.
Step 2: Collect Email Consent With a Targeted Small Ask
In order to deepen your relationship with your supporter, and free yourself from the social networks’ pay-to-play walled gardens, you’ll want to move your conversation to their email inbox. No matter what anyone tells you, email is still king when it comes to digital engagement in advocacy, politics, and e-commerce.
Under modern data privacy rules, like the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulations or the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, that means obtaining their explicit consent to be emailed. And the best way to earn that consent is when it’s bundled with some sort of targeted small ask.
Note: You might be thinking “I don’t need explicit consent, because GDPR doesn't apply to me.” That may be true… for now. But you’d be well to comply with these new rules, anyway, because it won’t be long before similar requirements come to a nation near you. Be prepared and forward-thinking: obtain the consents now.
So, what’s a targeted small ask? It could be a lot of things: take a survey; complete a petition; sign a birthday card; etc. In the example above, Elizabeth Warren leveraged a simple “card” for her dog’s birthday to collect email addresses for her campaign. You may laugh, but this sort of thing can be tremendously effective.
The point is to design the action form with a low barrier to entry that’s on message and easy for your supporters to say “yes” to.
Step 3: Ask Questions to Learn More
Now that you have received consent to email your supporter, you’ll want to do so — often. But don’t get overeager and start asking for donations and volunteer support straight away. Instead, take the time to learn more about their interests, opinions, and reasons for backing your cause.
President Trump’s campaign, for example, frequently makes use of long-form strategy surveys both to motivate and learn from his supporters. Part push-poll and part listening device, these surveys collect important data from his supporters in the form of tags that can inform future advertising and content creation efforts.
Step 4: Make a Transactional Donation Ask
Now you’ve been engaging your supporters on social media and via email for some time, you’re ready to start fundraising. But to begin, you’ll want to move slowly. While your supporters may be ready to contribute, asking them to donate at this stage might spook them off.
That’s why the next step on your engagement ladder is to ask your supporters to make a nominal contribution in exchange for fun swag. In the example above, Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign is selling anti-Trump stickers for $1 apiece. If you’re a Democrat, these stickers are probably fun and — at just $1 — an easy impulse buy.
At that price, the campaign is likely just breaking even, but they’ve also successfully identified potential repeat donors for the future.
Step 5: Invite to Take Higher-Order Actions
At the fifth step in your engagement ladder, it’s time to start inviting your supporters to take higher-level actions, which may vary significantly depending on your organization’s needs and your supporter's interests and abilities.
For example, this is the step on the ladder where it would be most appropriate to invite supporters to become paying members of your political party or recurring donors to your campaign. It would be the best step to recruit active volunteers, as well. Whatever the ask is, people at Step 5 (or higher) on your engagement ladder are the people who have demonstrated the greatest commitment to your campaign or cause. Treat them accordingly.
The Bottom Line
The ladder of engagement is the most consistently effective and broadly applicable approach to building an active and engaged grassroots community. The ladder illustrated above has been simplified in order to make a point. You’ll want to craft your own, with each step tailored to your organization, your supporters, and the meaningful actions that will help you to shape the future.
As you take steps to build your own ladder of engagement, consider the following:
- Remember that the core goal is to find meaningful actions and match them to the supporters (or potential supporters) who are most likely to take those actions.
- Too many steps on the ladder and it’ll be too complicated to maintain. Too few, and the distance between steps will be too far to climb.
- Make sure that you have processes in place to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your asks. You’ll want to iterate on and refine your ladder over time, and you can’t do that unless you can measure the efficacy of what you have in place.
- Don’t forget that you’re communicating with real people who believe in your cause and want to help. Treat them with dignity and respect, and things will work out just fine.
Oh, and one final point: remember that this is not an exact science, and there’s no “right way” to do this (just a ton of wrong ways). If you’re authentic, creative, and results-oriented, things will work out fine.
I’m not certain when it launched, but it looks like Targeted Victory recently updated their website.
The TL;DR version is that I like it.
The simple sitemap and black background convey the company’s hard-earned confidence. After seven years in the business, they’re not trying to sell you on their skills. The results speak for themselves.
It’s also worth noting that this new site emphasizes their public affairs work and removes all direct mention of Victory Passport.
In just 35 days, the UK is set to hold a crucial general election that will help to shape the future of Europe.
But all politics are local, and in Gloucestershire, a candidate is fighting to become the first female MP to be elected from her constituency.
Earlier this week, Siobhan Baillie — the Conservative candidate to represent Stroud in Parliament — officially launched her campaign using a custom NationBuilder website theme by Hines Digital.
The theme itself is based on the design we launched last month for the Gloucestershire Conservatives, the regional organization of the Conservative & Unionist Party. It’s designed to be engaging, on-brand, and — most importantly — easily updated and maintained by the campaign team without the everyday help of a “coder.”
We’re excited to see this website theme being put to use by candidates in the field, and we wish Siobhan and her whole campaign team good luck in the coming elections!