Call it the Barack Obama factor.
Even before Americans knew for certain who was going to be their 44th president, politicos from Alaska to Alabama began emulating the online strategies Obama used in his campaign. Simple splash pages making judicious use of the Gotham typeface, part of Obama's curiously cohesive brand, became standard operating procedure for Democratic congressional candidates.
NGP Software provided some of the technology that helped Obama win at around the same time new pricing models in the industry and more money in the war chests of congressional contenders and statehouse hopefuls put those candidates on the market for political technology.
As those candidates' campaigns began to shop around, they seem to have reached a consensus: Hey, if NGP is good enough for Obama ...
The industry powerhouse now provides its software to almost 80 percent of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, says its president, Stuart Trevelyan.
"There has been a sort of Rubicon crossed where technology is no longer an afterthought to a campaign," says Trevelyan, a former media consultant who joined NGP in 2007 as president and part owner.
That's a tremendous opportunity for NGP, which identified smaller campaigns as a target market about two years ago. The company has for years been providing campaign management software with an emphasis on fundraising compliance and Internet tools, and maintains a focus on the nuts-and-bolts compliance reporting political committees need to get done to stay on the right side of campaign finance laws, which vary widely from state to state. As social media skyrockets in importance, NGP seeks to develop tools that takes advantage of that, too.
"We have an online campaigns team [that] not only builds websites, but helps consult [with] clients in building their online profiles and managing online communities," Trevelyan explains.
NGP Software's core offering is Campaign Office, provided as a service — it's hosted on NGP's computers, and paid for through monthly fees.
Campaign Office is, at its heart, a constituent relationship management database tailored to the needs of a political campaign. It accepts and tracks data from a campaign's Web site, including the ones NGP builds for clients using the open-source Drupal content management system, from the software's separate online fundraising, e-mail and social networking packages, and from a package for campaign foot soldiers in the field.
The additional fundraising package includes event ticketing, among other things, and the social networking package — another add-on paid for separately — includes personal fundraising pages. NGP handles the back-end work involved in collecting donations online and filing reports with the Federal Elections Commission and many of its state counterparts. Trevelyan says compliance is one of NGP's strengths; he likens Campaign Office's capabilities in this regard to Quicken's TurboTax, the tax preparation software.
"There's a filing deadline, there's a relatively complicated set of issues, it's mission critical and legally required," Trevelyan says.
Not all 50 states make it possible for campaigns to file electronically, so it's hard to say that NGP will file compliance reports for your campaign no matter where you are in the country.
That said, NGP has a client services department to help customers make sure their fundraising efforts are meeting the requirements of their particular state, Trevelyan says.
Between the fundraising module, the broadcast e-mail capability and Campaign Office itself, the application suite also has the ability to send out customized e-mails. Trevelyan says the e-mail program has a feature he called "SmartAsk," which allows a campaign to include custom-tailored amount requests for each donor based on what the donor may or may not have given in the past. As the e-mails go out in bulk, each recipient gets what should be a more appropriate ask — meaning the donors who went to that $2,500-a-plate dinner and the ones who bought the $25 T-shirt won't all be hit up for the same amount of money. A field services package generates barcoded walk lists and generates follow-up thank you letters for get-out-the-vote efforts.
Part of the unique value for NGP, from Trevelyan's perspective, is that NGP's CRM tracks offline as well as online donations.
The real power in any CRM offering is segmentation — the ability to work with subsets of a list — and Trevelyan said that's also true for Campaign Office. Being a central repository for all the interactions a campaign has can be a valuable asset; it powers strategy such as, for example, identifying people who create personal fundraising pages as potential hosts for real-world house parties. But NGP is also looking to expand its integration with social networks. A feature launched in November 2009 allows someone who contributes on a client's personal fundraising page to post that contribution to their Facebook wall.
There's also Campaign Office Mobile, which allows campaign managers — who, in the latest election cycles, seem to have developed the ability to follow their candidates through crowds at events while never taking their eyes off their BlackBerries — to look up information like contribution and contact data while on the go.
Trevelyan, not surprisingly, says that software has been popular, too.
To reach the thousands of small-scale campaigns that happen in the U.S. in any given year, NGP offers a slimmed-down version of Campaign Office at a lower price point. But the firm also provides services beyond software, including IT and data consulting.
Trevelyan says he's been leaning on NGP's clients to try to pull users out of the Facebook "data silo" — industry-buzzword-speak referring to how users and data about them is stuck in Facebook and does not migrate to other sites — and onto their campaign websites. But NGP's real focus is on data and how to combine data from a variety of sources. He says that the firm will continue to focus on providing data to clients that spans offline and online activities.
- Rush Holt for Congress' website is powered by NGP software.
- Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards and Bill Richardson all used NGP tools in their 2008 Presidential bids.
At the Democratic National Committee, NGP Software replaced their "Demzilla" software. The DNC uses Campaign Office to ensure fundraising compliance, for doing list segmentation and to deal with issues about recurring donors, for example, and to file their finance compliance reports with the FEC.
Campaign Office begins at $175/month with no setup fee; an average U.S. Senate campaign might cost $750/month; price varies by office and state; modules like online donations, event management and e-mail blast are extra. Some large clients pay setup fees.
The Democratic National Committee; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Democratic Governors Association