Recently Mandy Mowers wrote a blog post about the work Oxide has done for Spencer Danner’s campaign for Nebraska’s Secretary of State. Much like Spencer himself, we’ve put a lot of energy and excitement behind the work we’ve done on this campaign to this point.

The one aspect of the campaign material I’ve worked on most is the campaign website. Generally, we build websites on top of WordPress. It’s very flexible and simple for clients to update when we hand it over to them. On the recommendation of some associates, Spencer requested something different: NationBuilder.

Danner for Nebraska home page slider

Oxide has never used NationBuilder to build a website. In fact, I had never really heard much about it before Spencer requested use it as the platform for the website. NationBuilder is equal parts content management system (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) software, and specifically designed for political campaigns.

While WordPress comes out of the box as a CMS-only website, we could have achieved all of the CRM features with the help of third-party plugins and a bit of customization. NationBuilder comes out of the box with CRM ready to go, and it really does a nice job. It seemed like the moment we launched the site, it started capturing email contacts, signing up people to volunteer and taking donations from Danner For Nebraska supporters.

But for all the good NationBuilder offers, it has its drawbacks. Much like any other CMS, NationBuilder utilizes themes to control the front end. For all you gain with the CRM features, you lose an amount of control over much of the front end. Rather than spend weeks learning how to build a fully custom theme on NationBuilder, we opted to customize a pre-built theme template. More than just considerations of time, we chose this route because NationBuilder is not open-source. We’ll never have access to the source code, and NationBuilder’s documentation is a little too broad for my needs as a developer. These concerns all make building a custom theme a huge headache.

NationBuilder has a browser-based code editor, a feature less convenient than it sounds

Customizing a pre-built theme template is generally a last resort for me. They’re notoriously difficult to work with and you never know the quality of code you’re working with until bugs start popping up. It’s a bit like playing a game of whack-a-mole: you bop down one bug only to trigger another bug somewhere else.

NationBuilder seems smartly aware of these common issues and built a code base for their theme templates on a really solid foundation. I was able to pick it up and build on top of it fairly easily. While my control still feels really limited, we achieved our goal of building a simple site to showcase Spencer’s platform and a place for people to easily donate and sign up for updates, all while showing off the Danner For Nebraska brand. It does the latter few very well. Soon we’ll be adding a more robust section to the site for Spencer to share his campaign stances: a place where he and his campaign staff can add to as the issues evolve over the life of the campaign.

We hope you take some time to check out the website and maybe throw your support behind a candidate who wants to protect all our voting rights — something Oxide holds near and dear.