Campaign Database 101

Originally posted on CompleteCampaigns.com and written by Brian Williams

“Who has the latest version of my High-Dollar Donors spreadsheet?” Does that phrase sound familiar?

Gone are the days where a campaign was run off an ever-expanding collection of spreadsheets and business card catalogues.  Like any other high-intensity collaborative effort in our interconnected, “always-on” world, today’s modern political campaign must be supported by a relational database, with online and multi-channels accessibility (via web-browser, mobile-optimized web application, or a native smart-phone app) an absolute must.

But with the available options for campaign database platforms increasing with every new election cycle, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes an effective political campaign database in the first place. Political professionals with multiple election cycles under their belts (and a healthy win-loss record to prove it) could probably spout off a dozen or so key features and functions that they find essential to completing their every day work.  And there’s no doubt that each election brings in a wealth of new ideas, best practices, and cutting-edge features that further the art of political data management.

But with our 30+ years of experience in the political technology ecosystem, the experts here at Aristotle, along with our growing list of Aristotle-certified campaign professionals, took some time out to reflect on what key functions make up an efficient campaign database software platform.  And with the next election cycle rapidly approaching, we thought it would be helpful to share our ideas (and hopefully, our solutions with you).  So to get us started comes one of the most frequently cited properties: Ease of use.

Good software makes it easy.

“A good piece of software makes it easy to do the basic things.”

… And for anyone who has witnessed the ongoing revolution in smart-phone user-interface design can agree with this fact.

The fact of the matter is, political data-management (ranging from Fundraising, Compliance, Grassroots targeting and Election Day efforts) is, by its nature, a complex and tedious effort.  Every day brings a new challenge and an expanding set of data that must be tracked and organized digitally.  And with a steady stream of new volunteers, staff members and consultants moving in and out of a campaign, it’s essential for the most frequently executed tasks to be modeled in the most straight forward and easy to use manner.  The steps needed to input a new person or interaction into the database must be as obvious and self-evident is it possibly can.  Convoluted menu navigation and hard-to-remember work-flow steps will absolutely kill your efforts in its tracks.  

When it comes to evaluating the right database software package for you and your team, take a moment to identify the top 10 most frequently executed tasks that will be done in your database, and then walk through each case with your sales representative to be certain that the system’s operations meets your expectations and standards.  Every extra click, every extra second will add up.  Now is the time to minimize that up front before you’re caught in the middle of a financial disclosure deadline playing a game of “point-click, point-click.”

Tag your data like your job depends on it… it probably does.

“Track supporters by interest, by issues, by demographics, information that you select and collect.” 

The old saying “Bad Data in, Bad Data out” rings true for this point: Once your data is loaded into your campaign database, it’s really up to you and your team to properly tag and identify your supporters by characteristics that are important to goals.  A good campaign software platform will allow you to tag key targets by a whole host of identifiers (interests, issues, demographics, participation history fundraising support to name a few). This should be done on a one-by-one basis or en mass… but no matter what the method, it should be done regularly and kept up to date.  

Some of the more advanced database platforms available to campaigns today take the tagging functions further by automatically integrating and matching your list against publicly and commercially available data-sources.  For example, the Aristotle 360 data-management platform will allow you to match and import voter registration data, voting history, party affiliation and, in many cases, birth-date and ethnicity, without you ever having to manually research and input this data.  

Without the ability to quickly tag and track your database, the ability to segment your targets goes out the window (along with that extra fundraising dollars and micro-targeted votes.

I’ve never met a list that I couldn’t slice.

“Break down lists by geography, by giving ability, by whatever criteria you have in your database.”  

With your data fresh, clean, and massaged during the “quiet period” of the campaign, the more intense stretches will force your team to focus their efforts on the most persuadable and responsive targets.  This is where list selection, segmentation and micro-targeting make the difference. Using the wealth of information you’ve collected and acquired from various sources, your segmented target lists are now ripe for targeted messaging, or organic appeals from specialized advocates and volunteers working on your behalf.  

Without a software package that supports the complex list-segmentation that you will undoubtedly engage in, you will be locked out of a wealth of information and force multipliers that campaigns depend on in these 21stcentury campaigns.  If you can think of a segment that you may want to build, be sure that your select software gives you that ability, while making it easy for you to regenerate and distribute the results.

Show me the data I should care about right now.

“It should make it easy to exclude people based on how much money they’ve given to you in the past, making sure you aren’t wasting solicitations on past donors.”  

What’s the one resource that you can not get enough of during a campaign? Many of you may answer funds, but fundraising dollars take a back seat to the precious commodity of time.  You can never have enough of it, and your campaign database should help you use what little time you have as efficiently as possible.  

One especially telling mark on a campaign software tool is its ability to highlight and interface with the data you need.  If you are focused on fundraising, a tool that helps you drill down on your outstanding pledges, as opposed to your past contributions or ‘maxed-out’ contributors will help drive additional donations to your effort in a timely matter.  Similar things could be said about the event management, grassroots canvassing, or election-day tasks that need to be addressed as soon as possible… you need the data that you care about front and center, without any of the past information or records getting in the way.   

As you select your campaign database, be sure to consider how it presents the information you need out of it, and how easy it is to get that information out and in the hands of the volunteers that will be acting on your direction. Anything that saves time and focuses efforts will bring you one step closer to victory on election day.


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