Updated: Jan 19
Edit on 10/17/2021. Since publishing this blog post in May of 2021, we've made numerous changes to this Airtable CRM. At the time of writing this edit, three of our five clients are on this CRM and it's been a gamechanger to the way we work and operate. More on this to come soon.
Edit on 1/19/23. We had over 15 clients use the Airtable CRM last cycle and it was a big success. It's a core component of our service offering at the firm. It's become remarkably more refined and advanced since I first wrote this in May of 2021.
I've been using NGP since day one of my political fundraising career, and I'm tired of it. It's expensive ($750/month for a Congressional), slow (have to add every call log by hand through multiple clicks), and the company's developers are completely disconnected from the fundraisers that use their product day in and day out.
NGP has been the central launchpad for all of my fundraising work and the fundraising of hundreds of other Finance Directors across the country. Yet, it's an inefficient product from a company that has become complacent with its monopoly-like hold on campaign software.
Furthermore, instead of admitting that our campaign software sucks, we tend to delegate the tedious work to a team of Interns or an entry-level call time manager who gets tasked with adding call logs by hand and database management. What happens is that staffers learn to do the repetitive work for the first year or two of their campaign career and then delegate it to their team once they move up. It's a cycle.
Databases and central CRM's shouldn't be this difficult. We need a better way.
In my pursuit of the best CRM for political campaigns, I've found a bunch of cool stuff. I've gotten a few clients onboarded to Numero (check them out here), and I've tested a bunch of different no-code databases that could serve as viable alternatives.
My journey is far from over. In fact, I'm pretty sure I might try building a custom SQL relational database hosted in the cloud. But along the way, I've discovered a tool that I'm convinced is the best CRM for small and medium-sized campaigns.
Airtable isn't a spreadsheet — it's a relational database that allows you to link records (rows) together. The whole software platform is customizable, and you can create custom databases for just about anything, including political fundraising.
(You can signup for a free Airtable account here: https://airtable.com/invite/r/nCqZhSYk)
Here's a screenshot of a client CRM on Airtable (added 1/19/23):
Using Airtable has been a powerful solution for storing and organizing my client's fundraising data. If it weren't for a 50,000 record limit per database, I'd be moving all of my clients over. Instead, its record limit makes it a perfect fit for a city council race, school board race, or campaign for the state legislature.
This "base" (what would be called a spreadsheet in Google Sheets) is divided into the following tables:
Interactions — Where you store all of your call and donor meeting data
Contacts — A table of all of our contacts, donors, prospects, and more
Orgs — A table of any PACs, LLCs, or entities that have donated to your campaign
Donations — A table of every donation your campaign has received.
Toplines — A quick breakdown of how much you've raised by source code.
Pledges — A list of all pledges & financial commitments
Call Time Stats — A detailed data set from each of your call time sessions.
What makes Airtable different from Google Sheets or Excel is that each of your records (rows) can be linked to records in other tables. Here's what this looks like in the CRM:
Interactions — Linked to pledges and call time stats
Contacts — Linked to interactions, orgs, donations, and pledges
Orgs — Linked to donations, pledges, and contacts
Donations — Linked to contacts, orgs, toplines, and call time stats.
Toplines — Linked to donations.
Pledges — Linked to interactions, contacts, orgs, and call time stats.
Call Time Stats — Linked to interactions, donations, and pledges.
As a result, a single contact record in the "Contacts" table can give us information about a donor, such as their contact information, donation history, last time they've been called, and more.
The biggest challenge I've found with small and even medium-sized campaigns is that their data is all over the place. Using Airtable as a CRM allows you to consolidate everything into one easy-to-access platform.
In addition, you can easily sort your records in Airtable by using Views. You can create custom views of previous donors that haven't been called in 6 months, of donors that have attended fundraisers in the past, and can easily sort your donation records by source code.
Views are particularly powerful for creating call time universes. By setting your criteria such as contacts that haven't been called or previous donors that gave over $500, you can create a quick call list ready for each call time session. If you prefer to pick contacts by hand, you can add a custom tag to each call time target and then filter for those folks via a view.
Now, what really makes this CRM powerful are automations. Airtable has custom automations that you can set up to link new records as they come in and even send automated weekly reports via email.
This CRM has 8 automations set up in Airtable. These bots will automatically link new donation records to the right contact or organization. They link interaction records to the corresponding record in call time stats (or create a new one if needed), and they link records in donations to the toplines table to give a dashboard view of a campaign's fundraising.
When combined with Zapier, an incredible no-code automation platform, you can automatically add new ActBlue contributions to your database and create new contact records if the matching donor doesn't exist yet.
Here's a Zap in Zapier that will create new contact records for any donations that come in that don't match an existing contact: https://zapier.com/shared/ab9af915d6b3098e679a29318c5c3ffe4b240583
Here's another Zap in Zapier that will create new records in the orgs table for any donations that come in that don't match an existing orgs record: https://zapier.com/shared/65c9669b4e797a5534783c233b711a6eed072efe
Setting up the Zap to automatically add in new ActBlue Contributions to Airtable is easy. The whole zap is two steps: 1. Catch hook and 2. Create record in Airtable.
Lastly, I'm working on a custom Zap that would automatically send follow-up emails to new pledges as they come in. Automating pledge follow-up would save a ton of time and ensure that each pledge is timely followed up on.
Now Airtable doesn't have an easy way to share internal automations yet, so if you email me at Kalani@Tissotsolutions.com, I'm happy to share some tips about setting them up.
NGP's main edge comes with its full listing of state & federal compliance software. So please read up on your state's regulatory environment before using Airtable as your CRM.
Pricing Compared to NGP:
Here's what NGP charges political campaigns:
City & County Council - $150 - $320/month
State Legislature - $30 - $320/month (limited to 750 contacts at the lowest tier).
Mayoral — I was quoted $500/month
Congressional — $750/month
Statewide — I was quoted $750/month
For all of the features and automation used in the above CRM, Airtable will charge you $24/person/month for their pro plan, and you'll need a Zapier account at $25/month. For a two-person team, a CRM on Airtable with a Zapier account will cost you $73/month.
At my firm, we use Airtable for our own Nevada donor database and use Zapier to automate repetitive tasks such as sending thank you postcards and monthly invoices. As a result, we can get our clients on this CRM at no cost to their campaign.
While I'm still fine-tuning and adding new features to my Airtable CRM, I've found it to be a wonderful addition to our client finance programs. I'm live testing the CRM on two of our clients at the firm and plan to use it for future races.
You can signup for Airtable here: https://airtable.com/invite/r/nCqZhSYk
If you have any questions about using Airtable, feel free to contact me at Kalani@Tissotsolutions.com.