Review of first time use with Nation Builder for a new political candidate's website.
Welcome back one and all.
It's been a while since I have written a tech article, but this one is special: I was tasked to build a website outside of my usual WordPress platform. Why so special? This client is David "Mac" McCall, a friend of many years who is a brand-new progressive candidate running in District 25, an area that comprises parts of the upper and central valley area of Oregon. The upper part of his home page is the image in the header of this blog post.
To follow along and view the site as you read this article, you can find it by using the URL www.friendsofdavemccall.com.
Here is a screenshot from the website from the Volunteer section of his website that is fairly standard for most of the pages. You get a choice of a one or two column layout, the second column being a sidebar, which can be adjusted easily with code removed, changed or generated from other applications, like a Twitter feed or Facebook feed, or both.
It comes with a set of pre-made templates, one of which, Victory Again, is the one his site is based upon. McCall's campaign manager, Steven Bell, suggested this theme. One of the nice features is the ability to create your own custom template based upon these standard templates. For those needing something quickly that is solid and will work with the Nation Builder framework, I suggest this option.
There are a set of ready-made page templates with all kinds of well-developed and easy to use (from the visitor standpoint) forms that you can add, which is a great time saver. In WordPress, I typically build my own forms, so the ability to have good ones at my disposal is a very nice feature. There is a great deal of online documentation, live training sessions online five days a week and friendly tech support staff that never once made me feel like an idiot, which is always refreshing. (Some of you know EXACTLY what I am talking about here...)
You can modify the existing forms to some extent, but ensure that you read up on the documentation on how first, as there are specific ones for the donation form vs. other forms that are highly critical.
I was able to do some modification to the backgrounds, header images, etc. If you aren't a serious code toad, or like me, slightly rusty here and there, the online support docs do a great job of assisting you in basic tasks. In addition to the pre-built forms, you can also have a page that is just plain HTML. Every page has settings that allow who can see your page (all visitors, administrators, etc.), as well as header and sidebar options. Once your sidebar is built, you are pretty much stuck with it, but are allowed to make page-level HTML edits to it that will not affect other pages on your site.
Here are screenshots from the mobile version of the site: one in portrait mode, and one in landscape mode. Nation Builder is a fairly mobile responsive, but not completely.
The only real drawback was dealing with some of the restrictions Nation Builder has placed on their platform in regards to the mobile layout. It does a fantastic job dealing with those who are viewing your site on a mobile device. However, because of their "best practices" in terms of what they believe works with visitors (and I am not going to dispute their findings, as they have a better idea of what works with their sites than I do), it left McCall's team a little frustrated. The built-in donation page has no navigation, and I remember having lengthy discussions with the client about little quirks like this one, which was McCall's original splash page:
On a mobile device, this scrolled well. However, on a desktop, no matter what was attempted, the software would not allow us to effectively center this embedded video. (Like WordPress, Nation Builder allows a simple URL to be entered into a blank HTML field for instant embedding.) Adding to this problem: there was no graceful and simple way to embed video into one of the page headers, either, and the Nation Builder WYSIWYG editors would not allow simple <div> tags to center the item. Yes, it made the splash page look awkward, but we didn't have it up for long, so we just dealt with it and moved on.
There is a truckload of other features Nation Builder also offers in addition to the basic website, and yes, some of them do cost a little extra (such as e-mail blasts) or have fees, like the built-in donation page (which we do not use). This is not a terribly expensive software set-up for those doing a serious campaign, but for candidates in smaller areas or who are new, like Dave, it can seem like a daunting monthly fee when you don't have it. There are also a great many other features on their site to assist new candidates and policy makers of all types, which was a real surprise.
On the plus side, you can use almost all of the features in a free two-week trial period (I believe only e-mail blasts are not covered, but don't quote me on that) with full customer support, which, as I mentioned before, is really on the high end of excellent.
Overall, happy with the software and service thus far. Please visit Dave's site at the link here and give feedback. We would love to hear from you and find out what works best for you.
Love to you all. Don't forget to vote in Oregon primary elections of the 15th of this month!
Ben "Bear" Brown Jr., owner