Political CRM Wars Get Ugly: NationBuilder Alleges ‘Harassment’ by NGP VAN

If you have some connection to the online organizing tool NationBuilder, you probably got the email printed below, which alleges “harassment” of the company’s political customers by rival NGP VAN. NGP’s response to the NationBuilder email is beneath, and see also Steve Ofner’s “what a CRM is and isn’t” article inspired by progressive criticism of NationBuilder over its contracts with Republicans.

NGP VAN harassment of NationBuilder customers

I hate having to send this email, but we are getting numerous reports that NGP VAN is both lying to and bullying some of the Democratic candidates using NationBuilder. This is appalling, and we want to make sure our customers know the truth.

They are saying that your data is not secure and more specifically, that we give it to your opponents. This is utterly ridiculous. You own your data. You can export it, import it, and share it with whoever you want, but we will never give it to someone else. Ever. Our entire company and infrastructure is set up to preserve your data’s integrity.

Some of you are also receiving threats from NGP VAN and being prohibited from importing your data into NationBuilder. I’m so sorry you are being treated like this.

I started NationBuilder to make the tools of organizing accessible and affordable to everyone. There are two things you can count on from me and the NationBuilder team: we will not rest until we have fulfilled our mission, and we will always be honest and forthright with you.

If you are being bullied, please know that this pressure is not coming from the Democratic Party. It is coming from NGP VAN, a corporation trying to preserve their monopoly on a market with anti-competitive and unethical behavior. We encourage you to contact your state party, and if that gets you nowhere, call us. We can give you access to voter data for free, and you can use all the money you’ll save to rent vans and get your voters to the polls.

Jim Gilliam

Read more about our data and privacy policies:

And now, the response from NGP VAN’s Stu Trevelyan:

It appears NationBuilder wants to manufacture a fight with NGP VAN, possibly as a means of marketing NationBuilder. NGP VAN is in good company in being attacked by NationBuilder’s CEO, Jim Gilliam. Recently, when the Netroots Nation ED called for a Democratic boycott of NationBuilder because of NationBuilder’s new contract with the Republican State Leadership Committee, Gilliam told him to “stop lying about us”. When a Democratic NationBuilder consultant blogged that they could no longer use NationBuilder because of the Republican contract, Gilliam wrote, “Shame on you.” To a person who asked if Gilliam would feel guilty if Republicans won as a result of NationBuilder help, he wrote, “You’re insane.” When TechPresident covered the Democratic boycott, and Jim didn’t like the coverage, he attacked the reporter as “exactly what is wrong with political reporting.” And he’s attacked partisan firms Salsa Labs and Blue State Digital also.

My mother taught us to deal with these sorts of situations by contacting the other person directly; Jim did not attempt any contact with NGP VAN.

Had Jim done so, we would have explained to him that NGP VAN is not in a position to threaten or prohibit anyone from taking data from VoteBuilder and importing it into NationBuilder. The state Democratic parties own the voter files and distribute VoteBuilder access. It is true that the state Democratic parties and all the Democratic candidates in their states benefit from the collaborative data structure of VoteBuilder, and therefore there is a rationale for all the Democratic candidates using it.

It is also true that since NationBuilder has a contract to provide thousands of anti-gay, anti-union, anti-women, anti-immigrant Republicans with their software, any dollar, idea or feedback provided by a Democratic or progressive client to NationBuilder does in fact go towards improving a tool that is being used to defeat Democrats.

Is it coincidental that Jim is creating this dustup during the same week that TechCrunch, Mashable, ClickZ, and others covered the launch of our Social Organizing tool? For which NationBuilder lacks equivalent functionality? Perhaps.

It’s 100 days until Election Day. Every minute NGP VAN spends addressing NationBuilder’s baseless accusations is a minute we’re unable to dedicate to President Obama’s re-election and Democrats running for office everywhere. We’re going back to work to elect Democrats.

Let’s see how this one pans out. Competition is good for the political organizing market; outright conflict, not as much.


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • As someone who occasionally, consult for politically campaigns, we like NGP VAN and we like NationBuilder. More importantly, we want our candidates to win no matter what tools they are using. We hope this fight doesn’t get too nasty and each company returns their focus on innovation.

  • You know, I’m just a disinterested Canadian. That said, in reading Mr. Trevelyan, he never clearly denied Mr. Gilliam’s accusations, and he took the opportunity to pimp a new feature.

    Perhaps I’m just not reading closely enough, but if I were you, I’d ask for a definitive denial of Mr. Gilliam’s accusations.

  • Darren–Trevelyan’s last paragraph calls Gilliam’s accusations “baseless.” That’s not a clear denial?

  • Nation Builder adds your contacts to their own mailing list and starts spamming them immediately. What company or politician would want to give away their valuable contacts? I am amazed they dare to charge of that! Never mind the very confusing user interface.