Guide: Nonprofit

This document is designed to provide best practices and guidance on how to get your NB website up and running to support your mission.

Updated over a week ago

📌 Note: Turf cutting & walksheets are available as add-ons. For more information on adding new features please see the add-ons page in your nation.

1. Where to start: Design and build your website

NationBuilder comes with a variety of pre-built responsive themes (using these does not require any HTML know-how). When you first open them they don’t look like the beautiful demo sites that we display in our public theme gallery. Your website is launched with a generic theme (look) and a few “placeholder” pages that are ready for you to edit, these include an about page, events page, contact page, join page, and volunteer page.

To start, decide what you’d like your website to look like. Click on Website > Website name and click on Theme, then Switch to a stock theme. Here you will find the pre-built designs that are readily available for you. Once you find one you like, hover over it and click Use Theme.

Now, within the theme you’ve chosen, you can choose a style. Click on Theme > Switch style. Once you find a style you like, hover over it and click Use style.

Awesome, now you’ve selected your site’s overall look. Next, we recommend starting to edit the content on your site. A good place to start is by editing your ‘About’ page.

NationBuilder’s mascot, Sally the giraffe, is very passionate about keeping her kind protected from being poached by illegal wildlife traders so she recently started a nonprofit called Save the Giraffes! She’d like to build a solid community of supporters to take action and fundraise, so we set Sally up with a nation, and she’s working to set herself up for success. She’s designed her website by picking her theme and style, as well as added some of her own images, so now it’s time to get into the meat of the site by customizing her content. She wants her mission to come across clearly in a variety of ways on her website.

First, she edits her ‘About’ page to introduce her organization to the world and to make sure others know who they are and what their mission is.

To edit your ‘About’ page, navigate to Website > Pages, and click on the Edit button to the left of the page name. You’ll find we’ve provided you with some guidance text to get you started. You can also take a look at a great real-life example from Move LA.

A few things to keep in mind when customizing your website:

Content matters more than design

Our placeholder sites have pictures of Martin Luther King rallies and Sequoia National Park, but not of you. You’d be surprised what good pictures of yourself and your community, along with a clear communication of your vision, can do to your site. Make sure the images are of high quality and resolution. Here’s how to add images to a page on your site.

For an example of great content, check out One Love

Once you have solid pictures and have added them to pages, it’s time to make the site really pop. Featured content sliders are a scrolling bar of images that link to other parts of your site on your homepage. They provide a huge visual upgrade without the hassle of coding. You may have noticed them on the demos on NationBuilder’s site. 

Featured content sliders can be easily swapped out to reflect the current needs of your organization. Need more people to read the blog? Create a featured content slider that redirects folks to the newest piece of news. Featured content sliders live at Website > Pages > Edit page > Settings > Featured content sliders. You can find the best dimensions for featured content sliders on your particular public theme here.

Background images, if done properly, can also dramatically improve the look and feel of your site. Make sure the image itself isn’t too distracting and fits nicely behind your content. When you’ve found the right large, high quality image (Unsplash is a great resource for this!), go to the Website tab in the control panel, click on Site settings and then Background image.

Homepage excerpts

You’ve got a big fundraiser next week and you need more people to buy tickets. You can make any page, like your events calendar, appear on your home page to showcase the latest event. This is another cool visual upgrade that only requires you to tag a page. NationBuilder automatically creates a plug-in for the page and displays it on your home page. This can be set by navigating to Website > Pages > Edit page > Settings > Page settings > Tags.  Learn more about how to do this here.

Splash pages

A splash page recognizes a new visitor to your site and displays a unique welcome page that can encourage them to sign up to support your organization, donate, or RSVP for an event. Like the homepage excerpts, any action page can be turned into a splash page under Settings > Page settings

Check out a solid example of a splash page over at River LA.

If there’s one visual change you can’t live without, consider hiring a NationBuilder architect to make small changes to your site. These folks are certified and understand the product. Check out a list of architects here

Watch a video about setting up your website for success.

2. Call people to action: Gain volunteers, donations, petition signatures and set up events

Use the site to collect membership information, host events, keep people up-to-date, and enable members to have their own log-ins to certain content areas. NationBuilder websites equip you with the ability to create 30 different action pages. Your call to action can be one central call to action (e.g. “Sign the petition”) or a ladder of engagement that clearly directs visitors from easy to harder steps. You can increase the likelihood that step one leads to step two by creating action chains, social share prompts, and autoresponse emails. 

Before she started Save the Giraffes, Sally was circulating a petition, and she’s decided she's going to set up an additional page on her site for this. She creates a petition page to house the petition online, which will allow other giraffes to sign it online and allow her to keep track of all of the signers in her nation’s database.

To create pages, navigate to Website > Website name > + New Page.

Create pages to:

Check out another example of a donation page.

Watch a video about page creation. 

3. It's all about teamwork: Identify your core team

Give each member of your team access to your nation. When logged in to the control panel, team members will be able to view, in real-time, all the actions your supporters are taking, track conversations, and tag supporters with relevant information. We typically refer to these folks as control panel users (CPUs) in NationBuilder.

Sally has a team of four volunteers who are on board to help with outreach and events. She sets up this core team with control panel access, that way they can view supporters/prospects, track conversations, and more.

Watch a video about managing control panel users. 

4. Get ready to accept donations: Connect your bank account

Define your organization's goals and connect your payment processor to begin accepting donations from your supporters. Leaders need to be able to raise money--to support their work, grow their memberships, take donations, and sell tickets to their events. Integrated into the platform, and included standard for every NationBuilder customer, is the ability for you to accept payments right in NationBuilder. No more need for a third-party payment processor with monthly fees, complicated set up, or a separate donations system that doesn’t sync with the data in your nation.

Sally also knows it’s important to be ready to accept donations, so she’s set up integrated payment processing with NationBuilder to make it super-efficient to collect contributions, as well as for her supporters to contribute.

Set up your account so that your donation page can go live:

  • Go to Settings > Payment processors > Set up a new account.

  • Complete the required fields and follow the instructions. Hit the Save button when you are done.

5. Build your foundation: Import data

Your organization probably engaged with people before you started your nation. You can load membership data, email lists, financial data, and more into NationBuilder’s control panel!

Save the Giraffes has a small network already thanks to some previous email lists, which Sally imports into her nation. She will use this data as a basis for outreach/social targeting, so she can begin to grow her community.

Watch a video that guides you through an import. 

Here are a few things to note about data:

Email lists

Email addresses are the basic building block of most NationBuilder databases, as they help uniquely identify your prospects and supporters, serving as anchors for practically every online engagement with your organization.

Time and again, email has been shown to have the highest return on investment — upwards of 3800% — of any online communications channel. And the more sources of data you layer onto your email list, the more sophisticated your own targeting and personalization can be:

You can also sync your work email with a personal broadcaster. Doing so will automatically log 1:1 emails on the recipient's profile in NationBuilder, ensuring that if another teammate reaches out, they’ll have valuable context on where that relationship stands.

Possible other sources of email data:

  • Own an email list of people from a previous digital outreach campaign that might be interested in your new endeavor? Reach out to those prospects. (If they don't bite, simply batch-opt them out).

  • Migrating off Constant Contact or MailChimp? Tectonica’s free import tools can quickly sync those to your nation.

  • Migrating off another 3rd party tool? Email lists are simple to import yourself

Offline engagement data

Odds are your team engages supporters offline as well as on. They have calls and one-on-ones with volunteers or possible donors. They organize events where attendees are asked to sign in. Or maybe they're out collecting signatures on physical petitions.

Whatever offline engagement looks like for you, if that data isn’t in your nation, you run the risk of alienating your top activists. Have you volunteered for a cause you care about, only to later receive a blast from them with no recognition of that contribution? How did that make you feel?

If some of that data is spread across Google Sheets somewhere — don't worry, if you have people’s email addresses in those records, with a little clean-up, you can easily add that vital offline data to supporters’ existing profiles in your nation.

Here are 3 examples:

  • Spreadsheet of event attendees + their contact info: Export that as a CSV file, upload it to NationBuilder, and enter “event-your event-attendee” into a “tag everyone with” field. Everyone imported will get that tag.

  • Spreadsheet of volunteers with columns for each possible volunteer role, and “X/YES” values in cells beneath the roles a volunteer is suited for: Find and replace “X” with “volunteer-xyz role” in each column, then map each of those columns to “tag_list.” Cell values will be appended as a tag.

  • Ever organize an event through Eventbrite? Use Eventbrite Connect to import up to 4 events and 200 people for free ($25/month to auto-sync all new events).

Financial data

As you know, you can raise money online through NationBuilder. Most organizations will import any past online donations when they first get started on NationBuilder. (If you did not, let us know ASAP.)

Having all your contribution data in NationBuilder empowers you to deliver personalized asks at scale by tailoring the appeal based on recipients' giving history. Why ask these folks to chip in just $8, when you could ask them to match their average gift?

Treat fundraising like a conversation, and your donors will feel seen and appreciated — rather than like your organization's ATM.

Here are 3 sources of financial data you may be missing:

  • Checks received from major donors— don’t accidentally send someone who just contributed $5,000 a generic fundraising email. 

  • If you’re tracking major donors in another system, import those donations; moving forward, enter those contributions one by one as they come in.

  • Are you using a 3rd party tool to sell merch?— You may be interested in Shopify Connect ($25/mo), which can automatically import contacts and their purchase data (with tracking codes) from Shopify. You can also use Ecwid’s shopping cart software whose plans range from free to upwards of $15 per month.

Using your data

Once your network is in your nation, it’s time to put your data to use:

  • Keep track of donations and export donor history to file expense reports. Navigate to Finances > Export > Export Donations.

6. Aim high: Set up your goals

An organization's mission should be broken down into measurable goals. These goals can be tracked within a nation. Goals provide a snapshot of an organization's success and areas needing improvement. When entering the control panel, current goals are displayed on the Dashboard, providing an overview of the nation's health.

Sally has decided that Save the Giraffe’s first goal is to gain 1,000 new supporters in the first three months. She sets up this goal in her nation and her entire team can view progress on the dashboard when they log in.  

To set a goal, from your Dashboard click New goal (or click Set a goal under one of the pre-set goal types).

Watch a video about goal creation. 

7. Prepare for outreach: Connect your email address/socials

Communication between your organization and your community is consolidated around broadcasters. When you attach an email address to a broadcaster, you can send email blasts to your community. By taking a few extra steps in setting up your broadcaster, you can also accept incoming email for a broadcaster. This will allow recipients to reply to your bulk email. 

Now Sally is eager to connect with her supporters. She’s read some of NationBuilder's HowTo's and knows she would benefit greatly by setting up a broadcaster for email correspondence. She also links her social media accounts so she can post on Facebook or Twitter and track post engagement/tag giraffes who interact with her accounts.

Connect your broadcasters to email addresses to prepare for one-on-one and blast email communication by going to Communication > + New Broadcaster.

Also, connect your organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to your nation. Go to Communication > Click on the broadcaster > Connect Facebook page/Twitter account. The NationBuilder people database will now record each time people in your database interact with your official social media accounts. This provides you with a wealth of engagement data that’ll become valuable as you move into more targeted outreach. If you’re serious about growing in a targeted manner, create recurring Twitter imports; you’ll be able to find and convert the top followers of any Twitter handle into supporters.  

Watch a video about connecting an email address to your broadcaster.

8. Make outreach easy: Use NationBuilder to help automate workflows for your team

When someone takes the time to sign up to volunteer or donate to your organization, you want to make sure that person gets the attention they deserve. The last thing you want is an email asking for money to go to a donor who just donated hundreds to your organization. Keeping track of your relationships is important and the best way to do that is by managing your workflow in NationBuilder. 

Ideally, when a volunteer signs up or a person decides to donate, a few of things will happen: 

1. They will get auto tagged. This gives them a label for easy sorting later.

Sally would like to keep track of all the giraffes who sign her petition, this way she can find them and reach out to them later to solicit further support. She sets up her petition page to tag all signers with ‘protection-petition’.

You’ll find the ability to set auto tags by navigating to Website > Website name > Edit (next to the page you wish to add auto tags to) > [Page type] Settings > Advanced.

2. They will be added to a path. A path is a step-by-step workflow that describes how people taking action contribute toward achieving the larger goal. As a person completes various steps, they are moved along the path to its completion. This deliberate distribution of work provides clarity on how individual support helps achieve the organization's mission. Paths are the cornerstone to building internal alignment and accountability.

Sally also wants to add petition signers to a path, that way she can use this simple workflow to move these giraffes toward supporting the organization as a whole by donating or volunteering. Sally decides to edit the default path ‘Become a volunteer’ to include the steps she plans to take to make giraffes volunteers.

To create/edit paths, go to People > click the Path button > + Create path OR click the Edit button next to a path.

3. They will be assigned to a point person. This person is responsible for ensuring the volunteer/donor follows up on their promise. 

Next, Sally is going to assign a point person to the petition page who will be in charge of outreach involving the giraffes who end up on this path.

To assign a point person go to Website > Website name > Edit (next to the page you wish to add a point person to) > [Page type] Settings > Basics.

Sally also wants to add the petition signers to a path, so she can use this simple process to get these giraffes to support her presidential campaign more broadly by making donations or volunteering. Sally decides to modify the default "Become a Volunteer" route to include the steps she plans to take to make giraffes into volunteers.

4. They will be added to a Workflow. Workflows are email series that help streamline your team's digital engagement with supporters. You can create chains of actions and reactions to automate tasks within your nation. This will allow you to have multiple emails in a series with defined time intervals between each email. This means that you can create an onboarding journey for your supporters when they sign up for the first time.

Three days after signing the petition, signers will receive an email that lays out the mission of "Save the Giraffes" and how they can get involved. Five days later, they will receive another email with a volunteer ask.

Watch a video that covers setting up automation for tags, paths, point people, etc.

9. Build your community: Target people and localize engagements

If you’re ready to rise above the fray, tailor your digital outreach to meet prospective supporters where they’re at, whether it’s Millennials, mothers, or Minnesotans. This is where you can really utilize the ability to use filters and lists to get specific with your outreach.

Also, remember people are telling you all kinds of information on social media. If you decide not to listen you will lose donations, votes, and supporters.

Sally has now posted her first Facebook post (since connecting it to her nation). She decided to post an article with statistics about giraffe poachers and captures. She tagged all giraffes who liked the post with ‘giraffe-protection-FBK’. Now she has identified their interest and knows these giraffes are currently engaged with something that is the cornerstone of her mission. Next, she may tailor an email blast about her organization’s mission specifically for these giraffes.

Here are five ways to listen on social media:

  • Turn social into local. Find everyone who follows you, lives in a particular neighborhood, and has a specific keyword in their Twitter bio.

  • Anticipate what people need to hear. Find everyone on Twitter who follows similar organizations. Buy Twitter advertising that targets this list with information about the endorsement.

  • Make Facebook work for you. Pull up a list of everyone who “liked” your gun control post on Facebook. Bonus: you might have email addresses for some of these folks, so this information could turn into a targeted email blast to this constituency.

  • Identify interest and excitement. Organize your database based on who has liked your Facebook post, commented on your Facebook page, RSVP’d to an event, retweeted you, mentioned you, or followed you on Twitter in the past week. These folks are interested in you right now. Alternate: run the same search but find anyone who has done any three of these activities in the past week. These folks are excited about you right now. Act accordingly.

  • Build on expressions of support. Find everyone who is subscribed to your email list, has volunteered for an event, or has engaged with your website but doesn’t yet follow you on Twitter. Ask them to fix that problem, and provide them with two or three things to tweet right now (extra points if you have their cell phone number and can send them an SMS message with these tweetable nuggets). Watch the trending topics shift in your direction.

Watch a video on targeting people.

10. Continue to build your community: Find your leaders

To rapidly grow, you can’t do it alone. NationBuilder makes it easy to instantly find your champions (people who care most about what you’re doing and are highly engaged as a result) and influencers (people who have large social followings). Tag these people or save them to a list; they’re the leaders who will propel your growth. 

Lastly, Sally wants to be able to identify giraffes that are the champions for her organization as she really wants to work with these folks to build a solid community and incentivize progress with rewards. She decides to create a leaderboard for her ‘Superstars.’

To build a leaderboard, navigate to People > More > Leaderboards > New leaderboard.

By using leaderboards, you can more quickly identify who the biggest influencers are in your community. 

Distribute ownership

Since you already know how deeply people are engaged with your organization, you can invite leaders in smaller cohorts or on a 1:1 basis to help grow your digital community in specific ways -- as volunteer recruiters, fundraisers, or social media ambassadors. Equip them with personal pages that contain recruiter links for peer-to-peer engagement.

Incentivize and track progress

Customize your social capital system and link it (or other metrics) to leaderboards. In addition to providing a quick way to monitor progress, these “gamifying” features activate peer effects, which you can consider bolstering with real-world rewards and recognition.

Related resources

Need more direction? We also offer demos and virtual/in-person training sessions!

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