Low Cost Tech Stack Tools for Upstart Campaigns

Brookings recently shared data that shows a dramatic increase in Democratic challengers for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. There are more new campaigns and candidates than we’ve ever seen.

These campaigns are often operating on shoestring budgets and are asking how they can jump-start their tech infrastructure without breaking the bank. Some political consultants will pitch complicated tools that require experienced teams to support. We think that’s the wrong approach for nascent campaigns. Instead, we think there are a handful of simple apps that are low cost, painless to set up, and easy to use.

Here, I will recommend a few of these simple tech solutions to get you going. As campaigns mature, they will outgrow some of these tools, but they can help an early-stage campaign launch. These might sound like advertisements, but we have no relationship with any of these companies — other than being satisfied customers. We don’t get referral payments.

1. MANAGE YOUR PROJECTS WITH TRELLO

Trello is a project management and collaboration tool.

Managing your personal task list in a complex combination of email, spreadsheets, to-do lists, and notebooks might work when you manage it on your own. On a fast-moving team — like a campaign — you need something that helps you easily collaborate and track progress.

Trello helps you collaborate with other people on complex projects. This is what many people call a project management app. Trello replaces more complex — and intimidating — project management apps like Asana and Basecamp.

A Trello board is a series of lists and cards. In each card, you can add comments, upload attachments, create checklists, and add labels and due dates.

Trello’s basic version is free, which is a great place to start. It lets you build a team with an unlimited number of people and boards. It gets you one power-up per board — think integrations with other services, like Slack. It also lets you attach files up to 10MB or link any file from your Google Drive or Dropbox.

We use Trello at The Arena to map out projects, assign tasks to our team of volunteers, and track progress towards our goals.

We’ve learned a few Trello best practices from trial and error.

On Board Organization

  • Cards are discrete tasks that can be completed within the span of one week. The more specific, the better. Larger projects should be broken into multiple cards.
  • Cards flow across lists from left to right as their status changes. We organize by to-do, doing, done.

On Project Management with Trello

  • Meet with your team at the beginning of each week. Generate a list of tasks that must get done that week. The more you’re able to generate at the start of the week versus during the week, the more productive and efficient your team will be.
  • Assign each card to one — and only one — person. That person owns it. They update the card as necessary throughout the week.
  • Hold your team accountable to updating the board. Then, you won’t have to ask about the status of the task — you can quickly check out the board.

2. SECURE AND SHARE YOUR PASSWORDS WITH 1PASSWORD FOR TEAMS

The 2016 campaign was dominated by news about hacked emails and accounts. Most people agree it’s an important issue. But few people are actually doing anything about it, often because they assume it’s difficult and time consuming.

1Password for Teams helps accomplish two essential, but different, objectives: (1) secure your web accounts and passwords, and (2) share passwords amongst your campaign team in a secure way.

1Password doesn’t solve every security issue you could encounter — such as clicking phishing links. But, security experts generally agree that creating a unique, randomly generated password for each service is the most important first step.

With regards to the first objective, secure your web accounts and passwords — 1Password helps you create a different, randomly generated password for each of your accounts. It builds a secure vault of these passwords that you unlock with one master password.

When you’re prompted to log in to one of your accounts in your web browser, 1Password asks for your one master password, then automatically inserts your secure random password. If one of your accounts is hacked, all that’s discovered is one randomly generated password that you don’t use anywhere else.

With regards to the second objective, share passwords amongst your campaign team in a secure way — 1Password for Teams will help you stop emailing and texting passwords. It stores each password in a secure cloud-based vault. The data is encrypted end-to-end, which means only you, the user, can unlock it with your one master password. Add each person on your campaign team to a shared vault, and they’ll be able to securely access passwords for team accounts.

1Password can also help you store and share other important data, such as credit cards, bank accounts, and legal documents.

1Password for Teams costs $4 per user per month.

3. SEND WELL-DESIGNED EMAIL WITH CLEAR CALLS-TO-ACTION WITH MAILCHIMP

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to get results for a call to action. We like MailChimp for two reasons: it is easy to use, and its emails look great without much work.

Many campaigns use email tools built-in to comprehensive political apps they already use. For example, NationBuilder and NGP both include email marketing as a feature.

From what we’ve found, these all-inclusive apps do a mediocre job at many things. For example, their email marketing features have a bigger learning curve and produce emails that aren’t as well-designed. They are essential for some features like access to voter data. But we usually prefer apps that do one thing well.

MailChimp does one thing well — easily creating and sending well-designed, action-oriented email.

MailChimp is free for lists up to 2,000 people. Then, it starts at $30 per month for your whole team.

4. BUILD YOUR WEBSITE WITH SQUARESPACE

The purpose of your website is to (1) tell your story and (2) inspire action.

Developers and consultants can build you a beautiful custom website that may accomplish these goals — but it’ll be expensive and more difficult to update over time. When you add content, you’ll have to work with a developer, which will rack up expensive hourly fees. That’s why we prefer Squarespace for early-stage campaigns. Without a lot of work, you can build a website that looks great and is easy to manage.

As mentioned above, many campaigns default to using tools built-in to comprehensive political apps. Amongst its many other features, NationBuilder also includes a website builder as a feature — but we’ve found it to be subpar. The websites it creates aren’t as well-designed and are more difficult to update.

With Squarespace, you can quickly develop a website that accomplishes these goals. It comes with a handful of templates that look great out of the box. Add your logo, colors, text, and photos — and you’re done.

Squarespace is also easy to update over time. It’s entirely web-based. There are no apps to download or install. You can log in and update your website from any computer.

Squarespace costs $144 annually, which includes a custom domain name.

5. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CAMPAIGN TEAM IN SLACK

Email and text messaging are inefficient ways to communicate with your team. That’s why we use Slack to communicate internally amongst our team.

Slack enables us to organize our communication by topic, or channel. This means conversations stay focused.

We use Slack’s free version. It includes 5GB of storage space, 10k of our most recent messages, and 10 app integrations.

We invite our staff and volunteers to Slack. We ask them to use it instead of email and texting for internal communication. That helps us keep things organized and secure.

Slack integrates with other tools we use all the time. We connect Slack with our payment processor so we can be notified in our #donations channel each time we receive a credit card donation. We also connect it with Trello to pull details from cards on various Trello boards.

6. VIDEO CHAT WITH ZOOM

We’ve tried all the major video chat apps — Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, Highfive. We like Zoom because we can quickly join a video chat and we’ve had few connectivity problems.

Create a Zoom account, then share your personal meeting room link. When people join for the first time via the link, they download a simple app. Unlike GoToMeeting and WebEx, the process only takes a minute or two.

Zoom is free for calls up to 40m, then $15 a month per host account.

We prefer video chat over phone calls whenever possible. You can quickly share your screen to review documents together. It’s more difficult to multitask while video chatting, so people are more engaged. And it’s easier to read body language.

7. CONFERENCE CALL WITH UBERCONFERENCE — IF YOU CAN’T VIDEO CHAT

UberConference is a conference call app. We like it because you can see who’s talking via the app, you can record calls, and you can upload your own hold music.

We like UberConference’s $10 monthly plan because you get a custom dial-in number. You can also turn off pins and access codes. This makes joining calls convenient, but you’ll want to keep your call secure by closely monitoring who has joined via the UberConference dashboard.

We always prefer to host video calls. Sometimes it’s not possible, so we use UberConference.

8. EDIT PHOTOS WITH YOUR PHONE

It’s worth investing in a professional photographer to take high resolution photos for your website. Grainy, low resolution photos on your website will make you look like an amateur.

But it’s not worth investing in a pro to come to each event you attend — so you’ll probably take many photos on your phone. With a little editing before you share, you can make them look polished for social media and email campaigns.

For this last recommendation, we’re not going to suggest a specific app. There are lots of great apps available, and many people have a personal preference.

I edit my photos in Lightroom and Photoshop on my laptop, but recommend starting with an app on your phone. I like VSCO. Some of our friends like Snapseed. Others use the built-in iOS or Android app. The app you pick isn’t as important as the editing strategy you follow.

Here’s the three step strategy we usually start with, regardless of app. These steps will improve many photos.

Step 1: Make it bright. Brightening your photo brings it to life. Do it by increasing the exposure. Sometimes, this is the only edit you’ll need.

Step 2: Increase the contrast. Contrast brings depth to your photo. It also highlights details.

Step 3: Crop it. Cropping cuts out distractions and draws your eye to the key details. Usually, you want your subject to be positioned in two thirds of the photo. This is called the rule of thirds. Positioning your subject a little to the left or right of center makes your photo much more interesting.


There are other tools out there — NGP, NationBuilder — that package many of these features together. But we think they sacrifice doing one thing well as a result. We like simple, inexpensive, single-purpose apps that are easy to implement and use.

Once you declare, you’ll need access to a voterfile. But we think this low-cost tech stack is a great place to start for new campaigns.

If you adopt each of our recommendations, here’s what your monthly bill would look like.

  • Trello - Free
  • 1Password - $16, assuming 4 users
  • MailChimp - $30, assuming 2,000 - 2,500 subscribers
  • Squarespace - $12
  • Slack - Free
  • Zoom - $15
  • UberConference - $10
  • VSCO/Snapseed - Free
  • Total - $83 per month

Know another tool we should add to our stack? Let us know.

Lee Pedinoff