It’s campaign season, so you’re (obviously) insanely busy. Not only are you trying to hire staff, but you’re also finalizing universes, onboarding fellows, registering voters, setting goals, and more. And you also may be getting cold calls and emails from political tech vendors you’ve never heard of or interacted with. Their pitches are enticing, or maybe confusing, but now you’re double thinking your decision about buying one tech platform versus another.
Which one do you choose? Which should you buy? Is it affordable? Does it integrate with other tools you’re already using? Is this even worth your time when juggling dozens of other priorities?
As you look into different tech tools and platforms to help you win your race, keep these 10 questions at the top of your mind to ask the vendors on the first demo call or in your follow up conversations*:
*Important note: this list was written specifically for campaign staff considering purchasing organizing tech, which we define as tech used to facilitate direct voter contact and volunteer recruitment in the field for field organizing teams.
- Can you show me a live full demo of all the tools?
When looking at organizing tools, it’s important to see them live and in action so you can ask questions as you see the tools being used. Does the dashboard look user friendly and easy to use/read? Or are you going to spend a lot of your time just trying to figure out what you’re looking at?
If the platform claims to have multiple functions you’re interested in, ask to see all of those functions demoed live. Email tool? Call tool? Canvassing tool? Ask to see how each one works independently to not only ensure that they actually work, but that they also suit your needs.
You should also take note of when a vendor says a feature is “on their road map.” This means that they’re working on developing the feature but it does not currently exist. Be wary here — development timelines can be delayed, and if they say it’s on their road map, this does not necessarily mean that it will be ready for the 2018 cycle. Make sure to ask for a specific date for when the feature will be rolled out and hold them accountable to that date.
2. Do you have different user permission settings?
As you go through a demo, ask about user permission settings — in other words, the ability to give different users different levels of access to the platform. You’ll likely want different levels of organizing management to have access to different levels of datasets for consistency and accuracy. Make sure the vendor you’re talking to offers different levels of user access: turf-specific access for organizers, regional-specific access for RFDs, statewide-specific access for statewide level staff, etc.
3. How much does this cost?
Many vendors like to say that they’re ‘the most affordable’ in the market, but not all vendors have transparent pricing policies. Some specific questions to ask vendors in relation to their pricing include:
- Do you charge per user? Is there a cost for adding users later on?
- Is there a fee to connect an integration or to maintain it? For example, do you integrate with NGP VAN? Is there a cost to turn it “on” or maintain it?
- Are there any set up fees?
- Are bulk discounts available for purchase in advance?
- Do you charge per emailable contact record, or just contact records in general?
- What, if anything, could cause costs to increase?
- Are we charged for reaching out to customer support/asking questions?
- Is there a cost for activating an API connection or getting your tools to talk to another tool we’ve purchased?
You should also ask for a “30 day out clause.” Many vendors will provide for a 30 day out clause in your contract, giving you the ability to cancel the contract anytime during the first 30 days. We highly recommend asking about a clause like this in case you end up not being happy with the platform.
4. What does your customer support look like?
- How long will it take for us to be onboarded once we’ve signed?
- If we have a major issue, how long can we expect support to get back to us?Many vendors will put a guaranteed amount of time it takes to get back to you about support requests in your contract. If they violate this, hold them accountable.
- What does your onboarding process look like?
- Is there an extra charge for requesting a phone call or screenshare for troubleshooting?
5. Voter File Access
- Does your system have access to the voter file? If yes, what provider do you use? If not, do you have a current partnership with a data partner who can facilitate access for us to the voter file?
- What does voter file maintenance look like? How often is it refreshed?
- If you have any integrations with voter file tools, what data syncs over? Is it a one-way, or a two-way sync?
It’s really important to dig in with tools that say they sync with the voter file. You probably want something that has a two way sync, meaning that the tool can both put new information into your file (like canvass responses) and pull information out of the file into the tool (like a contact list). However, some tools only go one way but might not say this upfront.
6. Do you have any phone banking tools?
- How do your phonebanking tools work?
- Can I print phonebanking lists for volunteers who aren’t comfortable with tech?
- If they have an integration with a phone banking app rather than their own tool: How often does the data sync? Is it a one-way or a two-way sync?
7. Do you have canvassing tools?
- If you don’t, do you integrate with any?
- If you integrate with any canvassing tools, how often does the data sync? And is it a one-way, or a two-way sync?
- Can I set the user permission settings so my organizers can/can’t cut their own turf?
- Can I print walk lists for my canvassers who prefer paper lists?
8. Do you work with progressives only, conservatives only, or both?
While we live in an environment that’s more partisan than ever before, know what sides of the aisle your tech vendor supports. This question matters more to some than to others, but you should at least know where you’re spending your dollars.
9. What is your user flow like?
Ask to see everything from setting up a canvass/phone bank/voter search to sending a list to a specific organizer or volunteer.
10. Data Questions
You don’t have to be a data security expert by any means to ask this, but it’s helpful to know if they have either written documentation or can answer basic questions concerning what their company does with your account’s data. Especially because you’ll be dealing with the voter file, you want to ensure they won’t do anything silly like send .csv files of people’s information via unencrypted email. Be wary of vendors who say, “Yeah, just send us spreadsheets via email.”
- How do you handle election day scale? We expect activity to pick up by two powers of 10 during GOTV. What are your uptime guarantees and how do you staff election days?
- Who owns the data and how do I get all my data once the campaign is over?
As you sit through demos, phone calls, and explore all of the possible tech, we at ACRONYM are happy to walk you through the process and think of what questions you should further consider as you explore your tool options. We’ve created our own Tools Assessment of what’s out there, so let us know if you have any further questions on the tools or need help thinking through which tools to use to elect Democrats up and down the ballot this cycle!