Living with VANxiety: The Present and Future of Progressive Movement Tech

by Micah L. Sifry
April 29, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part One — History of NGP VAN
  3. Part Two – How Serious a Problem is This?
  4. Part Three – What is to be Done?
  5. Conclusion: Towards Sustainable and Secure Movement Tech
  6. Appendix
    1. Who uses NGP-VAN? What does VAN do? What does NGP do?
    2. Who uses ActionKit? What does ActionKit do?
    3. Who uses Mobilize? What does Mobilize do?

“What does it mean to be infrastructure? We’re not the car driving down the highway, we’re the highway.” Amanda Coulombe, former President of EveryAction/NGP VAN, April 2022

“My worst-case-scenario is a world where NGP VAN goes up for sale in ‘25 after they’ve had a very profitable year and it is purchased by a Elon Muskesque figure.” Julia Barnes, CEO, The Movement Cooperative, November 2023


Every day of the week, hundreds of thousands of people get an email, a text message, a phone call, or a knock on the door from a progressive community organization or Democratic political campaign that found its way to them via a powerful suite of software tools. Many get contacted because the entity reaching out to them is a nonpartisan voter outreach organization affiliated with a coalition like America Votes or State Voices which each have hundreds of local partners who gain access to these tools through those coalitions; other organizations find their way to voters because they are part of the Movement Cooperative, a network of more than one hundred national and local community organizing groups who have pooled funds to make tech more accessible.

Some are part of giant digital organizations like MoveOn or Color of Change who have millions of members on email lists. And many are reached directly by campaigns who just need to target voters in their districts. Whatever the entity doing the outreach, be it a nonpartisan voter registration outfit or an issue advocacy organization or a partisan campaign, and whether that entity is asking for a vote, or a donation, or a signature on a petition, they are almost certainly using one or more of these software platforms: NGP VAN, EveryAction, ActionKit or Mobilize. [See the appendix for a description of what each of these tools do and who uses them.]

These are some of the most important pieces of digital infrastructure powering the entire ecosystem of Democratic and small-d democratic political and civic engagement on the center-left in America. NGP VAN and EveryAction are critical for everything from fundraising to voter targeting to canvassing. ActionKit enables organizations with huge email lists to not only run massive online campaigns, but to segment their lists by Congressional district, something no other mass email tool does. And Mobilize is the main tool that campaigns, advocacy organizations and community groups uses to steer volunteers for phone-banking, text-banking, canvassing and other organizing events. With more than four million active users in 2020, there is nothing else like it.

Unfortunately, for the last two years, many top leaders and strategists in this ecosystem have been quietly losing sleep over one worrisome fact: in August 2021, EveryAction, the tech conglomerate which is the source of this powerful suite of software tools and data, was sold to Apax Partners, an overseas private equity fund. Apax in turn merged EveryAction with two other companies (Social Solutions and CyberGrants) into a larger conglomeration of software services under a new company name, Bonterra, that is mostly focused on the giant nonprofit sector. And with interest rates rising and the economy slowing, Bonterra started shedding engineers and cutting back on support for these key products. In 2023 alone, it made across-the-board cuts of almost one-third of its workforce.

Some organizations that have built their programs around these tools are already in a panic about the changes underway, and there’s a general expectation that support for key tools like NGP VAN and ActionKit is going to inevitably decline as usage rises with the 2024 political calendar. Most Democratic and progressive technology experts believe Bonterra will do its best to keep these tools afloat and functioning through the end of the election. But after that, all bets are off. “In 2025, will this all fall off a cliff?” one top progressive tech leader asked rhetorically. “Definitely,” was their answer. Or as another put it, people are feeling “VANxiety.”

Chelsea Peterson Thompson, the general manager of NGP VAN, recently spoke with me on the record about these concerns, and pushes back strongly against them. Asked about the staff cuts made by Bonterra that set so many alarm bells ringing, she says, “Last year, we, like many others, had to make the tough but strategic decision to reorganize our workforce to make sure our political customers have the exact resources they need in a critical election cycle.” She says Bonterra is committed to supporting NGP VAN into 2025 and beyond. “It’s fairly common to see anxiety in our ecosystem, particularly in an election year,” she told me. “We don’t expect election-related anxiety to go away. That being said, NGP VAN has always operated in order to prove ourselves every election cycle and will continue to do so.” She added, “Come fall, I certainly hope that our clients see the outcomes they expect and feel more comfortable with us.”

How did we get here? How did the progressive movement come to be nervously dependent on core technology owned by an overseas private equity fund? How bad is this situation? And what can be done going forward to change things for the better? Experienced technologists and campaigners across the progressive ecosystem have been discussing these questions in private for some time now. The following report is my attempt at surfacing that conversation into public view. It offers three things: a) a history of the evolution of NGP VAN from bootstrapped start-up to private tech conglomerate; b) a discussion of the severity of the challenges currently facing progressive organizations dependent on Bonterra’s tools; c) an exploration of the options going forward.

This report is based on more than two dozen in-depth conversations with people with deep experience in the progressive technology space, along with a review of public reporting and commentary. Some key actors were not available for interviews, but where relevant I have made use of on-the-record interviews they have done with other outlets.

Part One — History of NGP VAN

In 1997, Nathaniel Pearlman founded NGP Software, a package of tools designed to assist campaigns with fundraising and the filing of reports to the FEC, which he has sometimes referred to as “TurboTax for campaigns.”[1] Four years later, Mark Sullivan and Steve Adler founded the Voter Activation Network, a voter file management system.[2] All of these men were pioneers, youngish campaign staff with a bit of a technological engineering bent, who took an existing problem faced by campaigns and built a solution that converted processes that were previously handled on paper and index cards into digital services facilitated by the internet.

For Democrats working on state and local races in Iowa, where Sullivan started out[3], VAN was an especially compelling tool. That was not only because it made door-knocking more efficient and allowed live sharing of information about voters by different campaigns, but because it tracked absentee voting records in real-time, giving Democrats a critical edge and helping them do well in 2002, an otherwise dismal year for the party’s candidates around the country. One additional innovation that this early version of VAN offered: it gave the party the control of the data generated, instead of keeping it in the hands of the private vendors who were then servicing the campaign sector. As Daniel Kreiss noted in his essential 2012 book on the rise of networked politics, Taking Our Country Back, “Sullivan and Adler intentionally wrote their contract so that the Iowa Democratic Party owned the data after the election and had the ability to control access to it.”[4] This became the template.

In 2004, about ten other state parties hired VAN to offer them the same services, as did the independent voter outreach organization Americans Coming Together, which was targeting voters in 13 states. That was the year that Howard Dean’s presidential campaign broke fundraising records through its innovative use of the Internet, further advancing the appeal of technology-based solutions for political campaigns. By 2006, VAN had 22 state Democratic parties as clients. In 2007, the Democratic National Committee put out a request for proposals in advance of the 2008 presidential election, seeking a technology provider that could service a national operation alongside all fifty states, and VAN won the contract. It was granted an effective monopoly. A whole generation of Democratic campaigners would grow up on its main software tool, Votebuilder.

Many other movement organizations also came to be dependent on it for their organizing programs due its centrality in the ecosystem. There’s an old saying about technology that is true here: “first we shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” As one veteran movement technologist said to me:

“We, as an ecosystem, are continuing to innovate how we do organizing because we have to. The way we do voter contact and outreach has to be different in 2024 than it was in 2004. But the too-big-to-fail tool that we depend on to do it doesn’t have incentives to continue innovating with us. And so, it’s not only the case that the tool isn’t meeting the needs of the space, it’s that the tool is so intrinsic to how we do work that it is actually dictating the work, how we do the work, and it is not the way we want to be doing things. We run campaigns and organizing programs such that they fit into NGP VAN. And when the tool is dictating the program, we’ve already in a bad spot.”

Another Democratic technologist echoed this point, recalling that beginning around 2012, “we started saying if it’s not in VAN, it doesn’t exist.”

In 2007, Stu Trevelyan was brought in by Pearlman to run NGP. He had experience in the early political tech consulting world, having started the firm CTSG with Dan Carol in 1995, along with some more recent experience in and around Silicon Valley and the nonprofit technology sector with a company called Kintera (that later became part of BlackBaud, the largest provider of digital technology services to nonprofit charity organizations). In 2009, Pearlman sold most of his shares in NGP to Trevelyan. In late 2010, NGP and VAN merged as equals, becoming NGP VAN, with Trevelyan stepping into the role of President and CEO of the combined company of 130 staff. In 2014, it was renamed EveryAction, highlighting the name the company was already using for a suite of tools cloned from NGP VAN that it was selling to the much larger nonprofit market.

In retrospect, it seems clear that both Pearlman and Sullivan were more than happy to shift control of their respective companies to Trevelyan. Both companies were bootstrap successes in need of more competent and experienced management, which Trevelyan provided. Plus, as Pearlman and Sullivan both agreed in a 2020 podcast conversation they did about their shared history, Trevelyan “had a vision of … building a much bigger company” than either of them could have imagined. But even then, they probably also had a sense that Trevelyan didn’t just see NGP VAN, which at that point was known as EveryAction, as a big mission-oriented organization that he hoped to run for a long time. As Sullivan said to Pearlman on the Great Battlefield podcast[5], which Pearlman hosts, Trevelyan also “[knew] a lot about growing a business and preparing it to have much greater value.” He added, “I think that I never thought in those terms, but he had sort of a vision of how would you build this into a company that’s really, you know, it’s worth a lot more–things that I just didn’t think about. I usually was busy thinking about how to solve a problem right now or how to get more Democrats elected.”[6]

In 2018, that vision started to take wing. Insight Partners, a VC fund, purchased a controlling stake in EveryAction, though at the time the takeover was described publicly as a “growth investment” aimed at accelerating the company’s “organic growth and acquisition strategy.” The deal was led by Deven Parekh, one of Insight’s managing partners.[7] Parekh, it is important to note, was a well-connected businessman with a solid Democratic pedigree, who made substantial contributions to several top Democratic party committees[8] and bundled at least $200,000 to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.[9] Parekh became EveryAction’s board chair, with another Insight managing partner, Anika Agarwal, also joining its board. Meanwhile, founders Nathaniel Pearlman and Mark Sullivan were bought out. At the time, EveryAction claimed more than 15,000 nonprofits and campaigns as clients, and the new capital from Insight was described as going to help “accelerate EveryAction’s organic grown and acquisition strategy.”

Trevelyan went shopping. In May 2019, NGP VAN acquired ActionKit, a software platform that was originally developed to help MoveOn, the giant online advocacy organization, manage its email campaigns.[10] By this point, ActionKit, whose founder Patrick Michael Kane had grown it organically without taking any outside funding, had 50 to 60 clients, including People for the American Way, ONE, the National Resources Defense Council, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the United Nations Foundation and the National Audubon Society. In June, 2019, NGP VAN acquired DonorTrends, a data and analytics provider that helps nonprofits fine-tune their fundraising.[11] And later that same month, it bought the BSD Tools division from Democratic political tech powerhouse Blue State Digital, acquiring a valuable set of tools focused on one-click fundraising and multi-step contribution forms.[12] With each of these purchases, EveryAction CEO Trevelyan touted how much better its combined offerings could serve good causes, enabling them to achieve higher conversion rates on their fundraising and improve engagement. The company also said its revenue had increased nearly 50% in 2018 and that it was earning revenues of $50 million a year.[13]

In November 2020, just after the election concluded, EveryAction acquired Mobilize, a progressive startup that had taken the event and volunteer management marketplace by storm since its founding in 2017.[14] And the next spring, in June, it acquired Salsa Labs, a software-as-a-service company that was essentially a prime competitor, providing donor management, digital marketing, online fundraising, online advocacy, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools to more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations.[15] As more than one knowledgeable observer commented to me: Trevelyan was buying up his competition and also fattening his company’s balance sheet, to make it more appetizing to a potential suitor. At this point, it had nearly 500 employees and claimed annual revenues of “well over $100 million.”[16] And in the summer of 2021, those efforts were rewarded when Apax Partners gobbled up EveryAction for an undisclosed sum.[17]

It was part of a larger roll-up with two other major acquisitions of the companies Cyber Grants and Social Solutions. In a press release announcing the deal, Trevelyan said that he was “so grateful to the 18,000 amazing non-profits who have honored EveryAction by allowing us to support you and your missions!” and he boasted that the “new company will have combined annual revenue of over $200 million and will be the second largest and fastest-growing social good software company in the world.”[18] According to Bloomberg, the combined deal cost $2 billion, “including debt.”[19] Bloomberg also reported that the combined new company “will have a network of 650,000 non-profits, half the Fortune 500, and over 38 million donors and volunteers.” One thing it would not have was Trevelyan as CEO; he quietly stepped down at the end of November 2021.[20]

Over the following months, many of the other Democratic campaign professionals who had also worked alongside Trevelyan prior to the Apax deal would also depart for other jobs. And it’s this transformation, from a centerpiece of the Democratic campaign world to subsidiary of a foreign conglomerate, that is at the heart of today’s VANxiety.

A Path Not Taken?

One aspect of this situation that has not been reported previously is that the Democratic National Committee had some leverage when EveryAction started talking to large private investors, and perhaps didn’t have to let NGP VAN get bought so easily. Back in 2007, when the DNC picked NGP VAN to be the sole provider of the customer relationship management system providing access to the voter file, it included a clause in the contract that gave the party the ability to either block a sale or to demand a copy of the source code, with the full right to continue to use it in perpetuity. Ben Self, who was DNC CTO when the original contract with NGP VAN was negotiated, told me he had a “non-executed, draft version of the agreement” which “did say that if VAN is ever sold (or provided tools to Republicans), after giving them some chance to cure, the DNC would receive a full copy of all the source code / tools and a perpetual right to use them.”

Two additional sources with direct knowledge of the working relationship between the DNC and NGP VAN at the time of the Insight and Apax deals confirmed that this clause, or a close version of it, remained active. I asked Chelsea Peterson Thompson, NGP VAN’s general manager, if she could shed any light on its contract with the DNC.  She said she couldn’t discuss specifics, bur referred me to a clause in their terms of service, which obliges clients of NGP VAN to not use its tools “for partisan purposes in opposition to Democrats.”[21]

In 2018, when Insight Partners injected millions in capital into EveryAction and took over the company board, and again in 2021, when Apax Partners bought it from Insight, the DNC could have theoretically exercised, in some way, its right to the NGP VAN code. Did Stu Trevelyan notify the DNC of the pending sale, or did they only learn of it after the fact? No one at the DNC now could answer this question when I asked their communications team. Sources I spoke to who were either at the DNC or with NGP VAN at the time could only confirm that a conversation between the two parties occurred, but not its substance.[22]

That said, the DNC’s rights may have been essentially toothless. One source suggested that the clause in the DNC’s contract with NGP VAN, while well-intentioned, had become meaningless, because either stopping the sale or taking a copy of the source code would require tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars that the party simply would never have mustered. Between 2007 and 2019-2021, VAN had gone from being a modest start-up with a relatively simple suite of offerings to company of hundreds of employees with a massive code base to manage. “There was no world in which, and there still isn’t a world, in which someone could take the VAN code and run the tool. The obstacles are insurmountable,” this source told me.

Which raises the question: is there something about the economics of political tech development that makes private equity takeovers inevitable? More on that below.

The new conglomerate company was soon rechristened Bonterra, to evoke the “foundation of all good works.” Around that time, in March 2022, EveryAction’s then-president and general manager Amanda Coulombe gave a reassuring interview to Pearlman on his Great Battlefield podcast, promising that NGP VAN would “stick around.” Addressing Pearlman’s audience, she said, “whomever is a customer client, I’m making sure they know and understand that nothing changes about their contract. Nothing changes about who they’re dealing with.”[23] She added, “There’s a firm commitment to hey, this is a big important part of what this even larger enterprise is doing, and frankly it would just be crazy to change that. And there’s no desire whatsoever to change that….NGP VAN will continue to be serving explicitly Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations that align with our acceptable use policy. And that’s not changing.” Indeed, at the time, Coulombe posted an announcement on the NGP VAN website, outlining a development plan that included “investing in NGP VAN’s foundational platforms,” developing new solutions focused on its core progressive political client base, and innovating in order to broaden access to its tools.[24] Something else was actually on the horizon.

The first CEO of Bonterra, Erin Mulligan Nelson, had been CEO of Social Solutions prior to the Apax rollup. She lasted in her new leadership role less than a year, departing in December 2022. She was replaced by an interim CEO, Mark Layden, who had been serving as Bonterra’s Chief Strategy Officer. He had been CEO of CyberGrants, the corporate social responsibility platform that was the third leg in the Apax rollup.[25] A month later, on January 12, 2023, Layden sent a companywide email telling staff that, in its pursuit of “long-term, efficient growth,” ten percent of the company would be fired. That included about 40 employees working for NGP VAN and EveryAction. One NGP VAN employee told Akela Lacy of the Intercept that Bonterra had internally discussed failing to reach its target growth numbers at the end of the last quarter.[26]

Six months later, in June 2023, an outsider, Scott Brighton, assumed the helm as Bonterra’s CEO, promising a 90-day review of the entire company’s businesses.[27] Brighton’s previous experience was as the CEO of Aurea Software and Artemis International, where he developed an expertise in growing cloud-based software companies. True to his word, when his 90-day review was completed, Bonterra downsized again, letting go of another twenty percent of its headcount—200 people on top of the 150 cut in January. This time the knife was not wielded as evenly, with at least half of the relatively small ActionKit team let go. (A subsequent public pressure campaign led by MoveOn and 20 other ActionKit clients led to the rehiring of two senior engineers.[28]) Tara Harwood, a lead quality assurance engineer at ActionKit who was among those laid off told the Intercept’s Lacy, “I really think that Bonterra is a menace to the sector.” She added, “They don’t care about the movement,” she said. “Bonterra’s not in it to get Democrats elected, to provide the progressive movement with tools.”[29] Not everyone agrees with that critical assessment, but questions remain about Bonterra’s long-term commitment to the movement tech it owns.

At the time, Bonterra CEO Brighton put a different spin on the changes underway. In a blog post the day after the company-wide layoffs were announced, he expressed his “100% commitment” to NGP VAN and said that it would be reorganized as a “separate, independent business unit” with its own “mission and product vision, leadership team, product roadmap, and 100% fully dedicated staff. …focused exclusively on serving the needs of the Democratic and progressive ecosystem.” Regarding the staff cuts, he described them as a “regrettable” aspect of a “broader reorganization of Bonterra that is designed to break down organizational silos and focus on the needs of our social good customers.”[30]

Knowledgeable observers from the Democratic tech ecosystem had different interpretations of this “reorganization.” Some took it as a sign that Bonterra was preparing to unload NGP VAN, because it had discovered that the political tech side of its business was not as profitable as it had expected, and that it was mainly a source of bad publicity. Others speculated that it was done to build a firewall between the unionized shop of NGP VAN and other non-unionized Bonterra units. There are rumors that Bonterra is planning to shift NGP VAN onto the Amazon Cloud service during 2024, which could make it more versatile but also adds to some people’s “VANxiety” about the platform’s reliability.

Asked today about these cuts and the reorganization of NGP VAN inside Bonterra, general manager Chelsea Peterson Thompson insists that all is well. “It’s always been the case that we need to deliver the receipts every election cycle,” she says, adding, “We exist to help Democrats and progressive causes win.” Regarding the reorganization and perceived shifts in NGP VAN’s priorities, she commented, “We are doubling down on what we do best: Organizing, fundraising and compliance, and digital engagement. Where others do it better, NGP VAN will partner and/or integrate their tools so that our clients have access to the very best technology possible.”

She also dismissed concerns that NGP VAN might stop innovating. “We welcome new technology and competition,” she said. “Anything that helps Democrats and progressives win is directly in line with our mission.”

Part Two – How Serious a Problem is This?

There are good reasons to worry about the current situation. But knowledgeable observers do not agree about whether it is a five-alarm fire or something more manageable. The Bonterra/NGP VAN/EveryAction/ActionKit/Mobilize dilemma also reveals some deeper challenges facing Democrats and non-partisan advocates alike regarding how to build and sustain critical tech infrastructure over time.

Worst-case scenarios first. There appear to be three to consider.

  1. First, despite everything NGP VAN leadership is saying, Apax/Bonterra could sell NGP VAN or any of the other platforms under discussion here to an adversary of Democrats or the left. A Russian oligarch or a deep-pocketed American right-winger could decide that a great way to damage democracy and/or help elect more MAGA candidates would be to pay Bonterra an exorbitant sum and then shut the software tools down or try to corrupt their data. But one has to assume that the people running Bonterra don’t want to risk the company’s desired reputation as a benevolent provider of tools for the entire nonprofit sector on such a move. And, as I will discuss further below, there are alternatives to the NGP VAN software suite. A crash transition to different tools and different ways of managing voter files would not be easy but neither would it be an apocalyptic disaster. That said, this scenario seems highly unlikely. The DNC says it is confident that the legal protections in its current contract with NGP VAN are sufficient to protect its interests and that it has taken the pro-active steps needed to reduce any risks or dependencies on outside vendors. Non-profit and advocacy organizations may be in a more vulnerable position.
  2. Second, Bonterra could decide to maintain the core NGP VAN product suite at least through the 2024 cycle and possibly longer, but other critical products, most notably ActionKit, will be allowed to fall by the wayside. This scenario appeared to be underway last fall when half of the small ActionKit engineering team was let go, but after a public pressure campaign, two senior engineers were rehired. Chelsea Peterson Thompson says NGP VAN is “growing ActionKit” and “actively investing in it,” not only recalling employees but also opening additional roles and “making it a truly cross-functional product and integrating it across NGP VAN.” Still, organizations like MoveOn, which are heavily dependent on ActionKit, having built many customized operations centered on its platform, are taking no chances and being forced to invest heavily in finding or building alternatives. Fortunately, prospects on that front appear positive.
  3. Third, Bonterra could continue to maintain these core tools, but innovation, maintenance, and customer support will all be decline. Given that Bonterra makes money from each of these software platforms, it is incentivized to maintain existing customer relationships, but it may not choose to invest in improving them. One of the experts I spoke to noted that in the product road map that Bonterra has shared for NGP VAN, there’s no mention of how it might be integrating new advances in artificial intelligence into its tools. So, it is quite possible if not likely that the advocacy sector’s continued reliance on NGP VAN and the other associated tools owned by Bonterra will become an albatross around its neck. On the other hand, Thompson insists that “we have a robust roadmap leading into the election” and says new features will continue to be released across all their products “as we get closer to Election Day.” She adds: “Since the beginning of the year, we have added 4 new members to the NGP VAN team, we currently have 4 open new roles, and are in the process of adding additional roles in 2024. All positions are dedicated entirely to NGP VAN.”

Assuming that the first scenario is highly unlikely, what remains is still a troubled landscape. Of the nearly 30 experts I spoke to, the general consensus is that tools that are critical to many important advocacy organizations, community groups, and voter engagement groups are likely to decline in their reliability and utility, starting now in 2024.

Core Challenges

One fundamental challenge with the field of progressive tech infrastructure are the unique qualities of this corner of the larger tech market. While there are many consumer- or business-facing products that organizations use for a variety of core functions (think of human relations management and payment platforms like JustWorks, or customer relationship management tools like Salesforce and Hubspot, or money processing platforms like Stripe or Square, or team management tools like Slack), there are a host of activities that are quite specific to the political/civic engagement arena that are not serviced by such tools.

If the political market was bigger, there might be more capital flowing towards it seeking returns, but one hard truth about this sector is that it’s relatively small and not likely to get much bigger, since the number of elections doesn’t vary much and most advocacy organizations operate at a steady state. The kind of fast or exponential growth that excites venture capitalists doesn’t happen here. The whole political industry is also highly cyclical due to the two-year election calendar and filled with clients like candidate campaigns who often fail to pay their bills in a timely way, or not even that if they end in debt. While every presidential cycle is a driver of investment and innovation, that’s not a reliable source of ongoing income. And while it makes more sense to develop tools for advocacy and community organizations that run on a more long-term and typically stable pace, that sector also isn’t very big. Government is a far bigger buyer of information technology than non-profit advocacy organizations, and far more investment has flowed toward gov-tech than political- or civic-tech since the turn of the 21st century.

Finally, like the larger tech industry, political tech changes rapidly, as do the products that consumers use and the behaviors that they adopt as they use those products. Unfortunately, the relative lack of investment in political tech doesn’t matter to a campaign volunteer who doesn’t understand why the canvassing tool she is trying to use on her phone takes seconds to update, or has a confusing interface, or drains her battery too quickly. And as soon as the major political tech providers manage to catch up to industry trends, tech takes another leap. (And no, I didn’t ask ChatGPT to write this paper.)

The Innovation vs Protection Paradox

One way that Democrats and progressives have navigated these challenges since 2007 has been to give a tech solutions vendor like NGP VAN a de facto monopoly position in the field. When the DNC and the Association of State Democratic Parties picked that company to be their sole provider of software for managing how they, and their state and local candidates, would access the voter file, a standard was set that not only allowed a host of actors to learn how to make best use of the NGP VAN toolset, the company also benefited from not worrying about being suddenly displaced by competition.

This protected position was very good for NGP VAN as well as for the national and state Democratic parties and political professionals. Since the DNC voter file was continuously enriched with fresh data as campaigns engaged with voters, that file—and access to it—got even more valuable over time. Knowing how specific voters in a particular district had responded to various messages or candidates is gold for campaigns. And for campaign professionals, once you knew how to use VAN’s tools, you had a necessary and portable skill that you could take wherever you went in the politics business.

But at the same time, being a protected monopoly also gave NGP VAN the freedom to innovate less.[31] As one Democratic tech veteran commented to me, “It really was that interpersonal relationships with the leaders at the Association of State Democratic Committees and with the DNC protected NGP VAN from feeling the critique of the movement for a very long time because ultimately most people, if they had a problem with any of the companies, they literally had Stu’s, cell phone number, right? They could just call somebody and they would figure out how to fix it.”

For many years, NGP VAN took advantage of this privileged position to lock out competitors by denying campaigns access to its application programming interface (API) if they were also using any tools they deemed competitive. As Brian Young, the founder and CEO of ActionNetwork, an online organizing platform built in partnership with the labor movement, told me, “Their API never really worked to integrate with other tools very well. So, it disadvantaged tools like us in that space.” He added, “The fact that VAN was kind of the de facto CRM database of our movement has limited a lot of the ways that we can approach advocacy and building power, because it’s all around an extremely inflexible limited data model of people.” Eventually these kinds of concerns about VAN’s closed API led to open criticism from a coalition of tech upstarts in 2017, and ultimately that policy was changed.[32] There are other problems that also accrued from the lack of competition that go beyond the scope of this report, but simply put, since price competition and service competition were not things NGP VAN or the other equally privileged providers of core tech services to the party had to worry about, costs across the field were not been apportioned properly and quality control lagged. If users were themselves paying directly for the tools and data, both would likely be better.

It also doesn’t help that the primary buyers of core political tech infrastructure who in theory are in the driver’s seat when it comes to demanding quality and accountability from tech and data providers—the national party and the state parties—themselves experience very high levels of leadership turnover. Since the DNC signed its first contract with NGP VAN, it has had eight CTOs, roughly one new one every two years.[33] State parties are also thinly staffed and have had little support, until recently, handling basic tasks like maintaining and upgrading their core tech infrastructure (kudos to Martha Laning of the State Parties Advancement Network and Nicole Aro of STAC-Labs, who work closely with dozens of state parties on these challenges).

But innovation is happening. Starting in 2017, Higher Ground Labs — a progressive tech incubator/accelerator founded by Betsy Hoover — has marshalled more than $50 million in several investment rounds to back some 70 start-ups serving the broad political organizing ecosystem. Several of them, like OpenField and including Universe, Winnable, and Sosha, offer the same services now offered by Bonterra’s suite of tools, but often in ways that are more flexible and up-to-date. “Entrepreneurs have been building alternatives to pieces of the Bonterra infrastructure for years,” Hoover points out. “Their work puts us in a better position to manage this transition if we need to.  Technology has changed so much in the last 20 years that Bonterra has been our system of record – it is ok for us to trust these new solutions.”

Indeed, a new generation of tech leaders who have cut their teeth working with first-generation tools like VAN are now deploying modern alternatives. Says Ari Trujillo-John, a twenty-year movement veteran who is the founder of OpenField, one of those alternatives, “VAN is very good at turning out people to vote who are registered to vote and who are probably already willing to vote.” But that’s not enough, she argues. “It is not good at helping us to earn the right to organize folks like [civil rights organizer] Bob Moses would have said. It’s not good at building over time, expanding the electorate, expanding the base, or motivating people on issues.”

Part Three – What is to be Done?

Over the course of this research, I have encountered a variety of perspectives about the state of progressive movement tech. At one end of the spectrum are people who believe it is vital now to somehow claw back NGP VAN and ActionKit from Bonterra, by raising a fairly large sum of money and using an existing or new entity that could own and operate them on behalf of the whole sector. On the other end are people who believe there are already a slate of workable alternatives and that it is about time everyone stopped relying on NGP VAN’s relatively dated software suite. In between are people who don’t think it’s financially feasible to pry these platforms away from Bonterra, but who also think that there are important gaps in the current infrastructure that need to be addressed, and that ownership and governance are key questions to elevate alongside sustainability.

One thing everyone seems to agree about: despite the billions that the party committees, campaigns, and advocacy organizations spend on paid advertising and digital media, there isn’t enough money flowing in a consistent way to shore up movement tech’s core infrastructure. But even on that topic, disagreement arises; some believe the “incubator-accelerator” model of drawing private capital towards innovative political tech startups is succeeding as a way of building the next generation of tools, while others say that model is an inherently bad fit for developing and sustaining movement tech.

First, a bit of good news. The challenges presented by the Bonterra takeover are not immediately life-threatening to most advocacy and movement organizations. For example, in December, State Voices issued its recommendations for the tools and technologies that its affiliated organizations could use for the 2024 election cycle and most of them are outside the immediate orbit of Bonterra.[34] Most important, for organizations that need to access, use and store voter data, State Voices recommended two tools that could well make NGP VAN irrelevant: OpenField and CTA PAD. OpenField is a distributed canvassing app similar to MiniVAN, the backbone for campaign field operations, but designed to do more than just turn out people who don’t move frequently and are already registered to vote. And CTA PAD is a centralized data warehouse built by the Community Tech Alliance that groups can use to securely store and manage data, another key function provided by NGP VAN’s Votebuilder.

Those two functionalities—a tool that makes it easy for organizations to collect and manipulate data about individuals to facilitate outreach and manage relationships, and a data warehouse for securely storing that information and potentially sharing it across organizations—are at the heart of the current dependency on NGP VAN. (Access to a master voter data file is provided by either TargetSmart or Catalist, rival companies that were not directly affected by the Bonterra roll-up.) Again and again, what I heard from experts in the middle of the messy transition now underway in progressive tech is that if the movement can develop and sustain alternatives that provide those core functions and if they do so in an interoperable fashion, it will be able to weather any decline of NGP VAN.

Arthur Thompson, the DNC’s CTO since 2022, told me, “The Democratic Party has a state-of-the-art data infrastructure that allows us to reach our voters, provides critical information to campaigns and state parties, and sets us up to win from the local to the national level year after year. Our data and tools are some of our strongest assets for campaigning, so we bake in redundancies and take careful measures to ensure they are secure and resilient to any potential risks.” Indeed, the DNC has an in-house large technology department which has invested heavily in recent years in reducing risks and dependencies in its data and tool portfolios and in developing its own capabilities for expressly partisan uses and storage of voter data. But the DNC is a cash machine. The same is not true for tech organizations focused on the non-profit side of the progressive ecosystem.

Interoperability, which means that key players all provide easy-to-use open APIs to their systems, is central to this future vision. No one wants to see a repeat of the 2007-2023 monopoly model of tech infrastructure that the DNC took with NGP VAN. And indeed, late last year, the Association of State Democratic Committees quietly ended its insistence that campaigns only use VAN to access their voter files. Rising alternatives include OpenField, Universe (which focuses on down-ballot campaigns), Civitech (which offers a “campaign in the box” suite of modern tools) and Votivate (which was developed by an affiliate of the Working Families Party to offer to endorsed candidates who were locked out of VAN access by state parties, and which is now launching an AI-powered array of next-generation tools for campaign managers and field operations[35]). Speaking for NGP VAN, general manager Thompson said they were committed to working “hand in hand” with all their clients to deliver what they need to win, and that they were “happy to play in an ecosystem that is working tirelessly to improve on itself.” She added, “If single point vendors and voter tools can do that, then it’s a win for us all.”

There may also be positive news on the horizon for organizations dependent on ActionKit., a new movement tech development venture based in India, is close to deploying an ActionKit alternative it is calling BeCause., a sister organization to MoveOn that was launched in India in 2012, will be its first user. As Avijit Michael, a founder of Jhatka who is now leading the effort, told me, ActionKit has long been an extremely expensive proprietary option for organizations based in the developing world. “Why don’t we develop here?” he asks, noting that the cost of top software development talent in India is less than one-tenth what it costs in the United States. Assuming the first version of BeCause succeeds, Michael says that MoveOn is considering investing in the startup to assure that version 2 will be designed to meet its needs. This could be a major boon for the entire advocacy sector in the US.

Still, there are thousands of campaigns and organizations that are reliant on Bonterra’s offerings, and the cost of training tens of thousands of staff and millions of volunteers on new and unfamiliar tools is seen as prohibitive by some. NGP VAN is also battle-tested and its code is unlikely to fail in the final weeks of the election cycle, something no other new platform can promise. And because of its long-time dominant position in the field, NGP VAN’s choices about how to define particular kinds of data and metrics function as de facto standards; a switch to a more competitive landscape means that what one provider defines as a “door-knock” may not match precisely with what another provider says. These are the main reasons why one school of thought insists that somehow, the “movement” should buy NGP VAN from Apax. An optimistic estimate of what this would cost is $50 million, based on declining revenue expectations, one expert suggested. Others thought that Apax wouldn’t sell for anything less than $100 million. No one offered first-hand knowledge of what the overseas hedge firm really wants were it to unload NGP VAN.

Given that general understanding that this long-serving toolset may be approaching obsolescence, the words of Julia Barnes, the CEO of The Movement Cooperative, are worth hearing in full:

“If we have the chance, I would be in the camp of ‘the movement needs to buy back NGP VAN’ because even if it is an archaic codebase, and they have stopped meaningful development on a lot of the tools that are actually good, like ActionKit, it’s better we own it than somebody else. And if we’re going to put this thing out to pasture, we should do it on our own terms. We should benefit from the 20 years of support, development, and learning that we have all funded for that company. And we should build the next thing or the next set of things from a place where our data and our trajectory off of that platform is protected. I would also add that we have an entire generation of data staffers that is aligned with them and they have done us good service and deserve to continue their expertise divorced from the politics of ever-increasing profit demands.”

The Movement Cooperative is a centralized data infrastructure and technology hub for the movement made up of about one hundred progressive groups that share costs for software tools and data. Barnes adds, “I am interested from the perspective of The Movement Cooperative in finding a vehicle or vehicles that can be funded through zero return philanthropic investment or direct investment from movement partners, similar similarly to a co-op, where the movement venture fund that that would create has the opportunity to build and invent the core infrastructure from a nonprofit model, so that we never have to question the financial viability of our most essential tools.”

What is the core infrastructure that such a co-op would support? Barnes rattles the answer off easily. “A data warehouse, a voter file, a CRM, a canvassing functionality, a phone functionality, an email functionality. We have to have all of that, and it has to be in designed in a way where it has an open API, where it can talk to all of the tools that people want to sync in, where the users get to determine what aspects of their own data are important, as opposed to that being designed by the company.”

Can this be done outside of the for-profit model of tech development that has mostly shaped and driven the field? Barnes doesn’t equivocate. In her experience, leaving tech development to the handful of six or seven wealthy individual investors who currently drive Democratic tech feeds an ultimately destructive cycle. Startups get seed investment that carries them through their first two- or four-year political cycle, and they scale quickly to prove their viability. Then, both to satisfy their initial investors and to keep attracting other capital, they either must apply the competencies they have demonstrated in the field of politics to the larger market, or they have to acquire other functionalities to keep expanding, or they need to find a buyer. A movement cooperative that owns, sustains, and develops core tech infrastructure, Barnes argues, “is the only way that this doesn’t become a cycle every ten or fifteen years for the movement where we have to wrench back control from the for-profit capitalist approach that has been incubated in our incredibly small and never-growing market.”

Right now, there are basically two ways that progressives are sustaining existing shared tech infrastructure and capacities. The first is what one veteran technologist I spoke to jokingly referred to as “Robin-hooding from billionaires.” Benevolent donor-investors like Reid Hoffman, Eric Schmidt and Laurene Powell Jobs along with the Mind the Gap donor network have done the lion’s share of this kind of funding. In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, when anti-Trump passion ran high and a lot of people were sensitized by Hillary Clinton’s loss to tech deficits allegedly or actually faced by progressives, money flowed easily. Now it is flowing more fitfully. Money from newer moguls comes with risks too; in 2022 FTX crypto-whiz Sam Bankman-Fried paid $5 million to purchase a promising Democratic voter analytics start-up called Deck from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who himself had bought it in 2017 when he dallied briefly with entering politics. In the wake of Bankman-Fried’s implosion, Deck fell into legal limbo, caught in FTX’s bankruptcy proceedings, and then shut itself down.

To its credit, Higher Ground Labs has built a pool of about 150 limited partners that has allowed it to raise $50 million to invest in dozens of promising startups. But its model still sends those start-ups into a political tech marketplace with all the challenges described above.


The other alternative is exemplified by the ownership and management models that have carried ActionNetwork and Catalist for more than ten years. Due to Internal Revenue Service rules, ActionNetwork is actually two entities—a 501c4 nonprofit corporation called ActionNetwork governed by a board, which in turns owns a C corporation called ActionSquared that is the software company with all of its intellectual property and base of customers, which pays taxes on the revenues it earns.[37] ActionSquared has a cooperative platform development committee that makes long-term decisions about what products the organization should develop and sustain, and long-term contract partners of ActionNetwork like the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Central Labor Council and (a large progressive blogging community) have seats on that committee. This partnership ensures that their needs will be prioritized, making their contractual relationship with ActionNetwork mutually beneficial.[38] OpenField, which is a much younger company, has a similar model, with a group of movement investors sitting on the board of a C corporation who have the explicit power to veto any sale, and a platform development committee who the company is accountable to for development decisions.

Catalist’s ownership model is slightly different. The company, which provides access to the voter file and also conducts critical research about voter behavior that it shares across the entire ecosystem, is an LLC that is owned by a purpose-driven trust. The trust is managed by a board of directors which includes some seats that have traditionally gone to representatives of labor unions like the NEA and SEIU.[39] The trust’s by-laws explicitly prevent Catalist not just from selling data or services to Republicans, it is blocked from getting involved in commercial activity and can’t be bought or sold. Those constraints haven’t prevented it from finding a viable business model, but they have kept its leaders from pursuing the always-seductive opportunities of profiting from serving the much larger private sector.

Conclusion: Towards Sustainable and Secure Movement Tech

Organizers, activists and the institutions that house them and channel their energies need technologies that they can count on to be reliable, versatile, affordable and secure. While the larger commercial tech sector will always meet some of those needs (and come with its own risks–see Elon Musk’s purchase and debasement of the “digital public square” that was Twitter), the civic and political engagement field has unique requirements. Unfortunately, that field is not now and probably will never be big enough to justify large-scale capital investment. Besides, as we have seen, the venture-capital model for early-stage companies in the movement tech field either creates unrealizable expectations and pressures for fast growth or drives these companies away from their core missions toward the needs of the larger private market for tech tools.

Expectations created by the larger commercial tech sector also deform the field of movement tech in one more subtle way. Users of tools made by companies like Meta, Google, Twitter/X, Amazon et al have come to expect to pay nothing for those services, not realizing that when an online product is free that is because they, the users, are the product being exploited. The online advertising market is worth tens of billions to these companies. And while movement tech is centered on helping organizers and activists make smart use of individual data, these organizations often promise to keep user data private and ethically shouldn’t get into the business of exploiting their users’ data by selling it to third parties.

Millions of individuals rely on movement technologies on a daily basis, but few have any understanding of what it costs to build, maintain and extend them. So how shall we pay for movement tech?

One idea that kept arising over the course of my research was the notion of a movement tech trust, set up and governed by key movement stakeholders, that would support core infrastructure. “Just two percent of the $1.5 billion that is going to be spent on paid media for the 2024 presidential election would sustain us for three or four years,” Kat Atwater, the founder of the Community Tech Alliance, a provider of data infrastructure, told me. But there’s no obvious or reliable way to get the mega-donors who put up the lion’s share of that money to set aside a small portion for tech. And no one has yet found a way to get the millions of small donors who now contribute billions to political and civic engagement organizations and campaigns to also support movement tech.

But imagine if every time someone donated via ActBlue, a box popped up that offered them the option of adding a few dollars to a Movement Tech Trust Fund. Or, whenever a volunteer finished a canvassing shift, the app on their phone thanked them for their time and then asked for a small contribution towards the upkeep and development of similar tools. Or likewise, at the end of a virtual phone bank, a voice message played reminding the volunteer that the tool they just used was supported by the Movement Tech Trust and asked for a small gift. In 2020, more than 15 million individual donors gave money to campaigns and organizations via ActBlue. Millions volunteered to canvass and phone-bank. So, at least in theory, there’s a resource base to be tapped.

It’s time to develop a different model for funding movement tech. Otherwise, what happened with NGP VAN and Bonterra won’t just be a cautionary tale from the past. It will be a harbinger of the future.

[1] VAN/

[2] Adler sold his half of VAN to Sullivan in 2005 and went on to build a conservative competitor, rVotes.

[3] Sullivan had previously worked for Senator Tom Harkin, and in 2002, he was asked by both Harkin and Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack to solicit and vet proposals from companies that could build an internet-based voter file that they could share and ultimately make available to all other Democratic campaigns in the state. He ended up recommended himself for the gig.

[4] Daniel Kreiss, Taking Our Country Back (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p 102.

[5] The Great Battlefield, Episode 525, October 16, 2020. VAN/

[6] Sullivan continued, “We started a little company as you know, and it’s just you or you and one or two other people. You play every single role and what happens over time as that company grows as you shed roles and you have you bring in a person who kind of takes over database stuff and a person who takes over hardware and infrastructure and then those things become departments. What I found is I, you know, kept giving away parts of my job until the point where I almost didn’t really feel like I really needed to do anything anymore. And I, you know, the last couple years I spent in the company before I really decided to step away.”



[9] In 2015, Parekh was appointed to three-year term on the board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation by President Obama. In 2020 he was appointed by President Trump to a similar term on the board of the International Developemtn Finance Corporation.







[16] Ibid.

[17] It’s a safe guess that Apax valued EveryAction at roughly 5x its annual revenue, which would imply a purchase price of $500 million.

[18] Stu Trevelyan, “Doing More Good with Social Solutions, CyberGrants, and Apax!” EveryAction blog, August 3, 2021,

[19] Liana Baker, “Apax Merges Software Firms for Non-Profits in $2 Billion Deal,” Bloomberg, August 3, 2021,

[20] Trevelyan announced his retirement “from 26.2 years” in the field at the end of November 2021

[21] From NGP VAN’s current terms of service, which have remained unchanged since Bonterra’s acquisition of the company in 2021: “Business Ethics. You, as a material part of this Agreement, acknowledge that we conduct our business based on a set of values and guidelines for action and behavior regarding people (including, without limitation, customers, employees, communities impacted by our business activities, and our shareholders), and you agree to similarly conduct your business by not focusing on (i) denying rights to the LGBTQ community; (ii) denying rights to reproductive choice, (iii) denying racial justice, or (iv) denying climate change. You also agree to make contributions or other payments to candidates for any political office, or government officials or other persons charged with similar authority only in accordance with applicable law. In the event that you are deemed by NGP VAN, in its sole discretion, to be using the Solutions for partisan purposes in opposition to Democrats, NGP VAN reserves the right to terminate this Agreement or restrict access to services.”

[22] My efforts to get a definitive answer to this question were inconclusive. Neither Trevelyan, nor Raffi Krikorian or Nell Thomas, who each served terms as the DNC’s CTO during this period, responded to my requests for comment.

[23] VAN-everyaction/

[24] Amanda Coulombe, “3 Ways NGP VAN is Investing, Innovating and Evolving for 2022 and Beyond,” March 16, 2022, VAN-investing-innovating-evolving/

[25] “Bonterra Announces Leadership Transition,” December 22, 2022,

[26] Akela Lacy, “Inside the Slow Implosion of the Democratic Party’s Vaunted Campaign Tech Firm,” The Intercept, January 24, 2023 VAN/

[27] “A Letter from Bonterra’s New CEO, Scott Brighton,” June 12 2023,


[29] Akela Lacy, “As 2024 Looms, Democrat’s Campaign Tech Crumbles Under Private Equity Squeeze,” The Intercept, October 5 2023, VAN-actionkit/.

[30] Scott Brighton, “A Letter from NGP VAN’s CEO,” September 6, 2023,

[31] Will Conway, “Why the NGP VAN model hurts democracy,” Medium, December 21, 2015. Conway, who was then working for NationBuilder, a non-partisan competitor to NGP VAN, connected a serious security breach that led to the Bernie Sanders campaign accessing proprietary information belonging to the Hillary Clinton campaign to NGP VAN’s insulation from competition. He wrote, “They have a clear hold on their focus market, Democratic politics, so they have absolutely no incentive to improve their product.”

[32] See

[33] Ben Self (2005-2009), Josh Hendler (2009-2011), Bryan Whitaker (2011-2013), Andrew Brown (2013-2017), Raffi Krikorian (2017-2019), Lindsey Schuh-Cortes (acting CTO 2019), Nellwyn Thomas (2019-2022), Arthur Thompson (2022-present). To be precise, the role was only elevated to “Chief Technology Officer” in 2017.

[34] See

[35] See “AI is on the verge of changing the practice of campaigning itself,” (The Connector, January 24, 2024).

[36] Theordore Schleifer, “Tales for the S.B.F. Bankruptcy Black Hole,” Puck, August 22, 2023,

[37] See

[38] Young explains further how the arrangement allows ActionNetwork to do long-term planning. “A lot of the questions about software development aren’t a yes or no whether we should build that thing or not, or is that what we should build right now? Is that the priority right now as opposed to all these other things we could build? Having a one-year contract makes those questions into a yes or no. Yes, we’re going to build that in this one year you’re with us or no, we’re not. Whereas long term contracts really help people focus on the tool overall.  So, this year, we’re going to build this, but then next year we can get to this. So, we’re going to do long term contracts with these groups, and they really control the future of the tools.”

[39] See


Who uses NGP-VAN?

NGP-VAN is ubiquitous among Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations, as well as nonprofits, municipalities and academic organizations. A web search for the phrase “powered by NGP-VAN” returns thousands of results. Apart from high-profile users like the Democratic presidential campaigns of recent years and many state and local campaigns, it is used by such entities as disparate as Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters, the City of Philadelphia’s election board for poll worker management, Emerge America’s candidate recruitment program, Voices for National Service, the BlueGreen Alliance, the Lawrence (Kansas) community shelter, #HateWontWin, the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Veterans R&R.

What does VAN do?

VAN powers an online customer relationship management (CRM) tool called Votebuilder. Using it, organizations gain access to their state’s voter file, which includes data about each registered voter, including their contact information, demographics, district or precinct identifiers, voting history and contact history. Organizers use the tool to do many things: create lists for kinds of voter contact (phone-banking canvassing, mail, etc.), manage relationships with volunteers, and share information. While some data in VAN is kept exclusive to the organization collecting it or working with it, such as responses to survey questions, other data is shared across organizations (such as marking a voter as deceased, “do not call,” “do not walk,” “do not mail,” “wrong number,” and moved).

VAN has many sophisticated features. For example, it enables organizers to see where voters are on a map, to help them make walkable turf lists for canvassing. It allows users to share lists with each other, so organizers can share turfs. It supports a mobile app called MiniVAN that enables paperless canvassing along with scripts for volunteers, survey questions and the like. Campaign managers can receive real-time updates as MiniVAN users sync responses from voters they have door-knocked. VAN also supports a virtual phone bank (Open VPB), which enables managers to make call lists and scripts, and which enables users with a computer and an internet connection to make calls and report results. It also can be used to create and manage events, including statuses for hosts, attendees and such things as RSVPs and cancellations. The tool also has a robust reporting function that enables managers to create customized reports on the progress of their campaigns. The tool suite also has other features, like Call Time, which helps candidates and their teams track fundraising efforts.

At a higher level, VAN enables state parties and civic engagement tables to manage access to voter data, and to segment information appropriately across different levels of responsibility. And with so many users, VAN offers a FastAction ID option that securely stores user profile information and enables quick processing of check-ins, donations and other common user actions.

What does NGP do?

NGP supports fundraising by campaigns and organization. It stores donor information, manages call time, processes contributions online, and for campaigns that are required to do public reporting to federal, state or local agencies, it generates and files those reports. Campaigns and organizations can also use it for email fundraising and action efforts, and it includes powerful tools for A/B testing. NGP also has a website tool with flexible design options that make it easy for users to run and maintain their sites.

Training staff and volunteers on how to use NGP-VAN appropriately is one of the most important elements of the tool’s usage. It has dozens of adjustable features, including branched scripts, canvassing, counts and crosstabs, creating lists, creating events, creating scripts, cutting turf, data sharing, distributed canvassing, editing user profiles, exporting data, list-pulling and -splitting by district or precinct, MiniVAN manager, MiniVAN scripts, quick mark, survey creation, and uploading data. A list of VAN training modules alone maintained by STAC Labs’ Progress Wiki has dozens of discreet sections.

Who uses ActionKit?

Beyond political campaigns, just about every nonprofit advocacy organization with a sizable online membership relies on ActionKit to engage their folks, leverage their influence and raise money. The biggest of those is probably, the 25-year-old online advocacy group that initially incubated the development of ActionKit to help it manage its gigantic email list, which now numbers around 8 million. Other prime users outside of political campaigns and committees include, All Out, Be a Hero, Color of Change,, Demand Progress, Dream Corps, Everytown for Gun Safety, Faithful America, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Free Press, Green New Deal Network, Indivisible, J Street, Mercy Corps, MPower Change, Moms Rising, Oil Change International, One, Represent.Us, The Story of Stuff Project, Ultraviolet, Win Without War, the Women’s March, and Zazim.

What does ActionKit do?

It is advocacy, fundraising and online organizing software that is enables a wide range of activities that can be done with large lists, including personalization, segmentation, A/B testing, rapid message delivery (hundreds per second), message optimization, secure fundraising, internal notifications, creation of microsites, online petitions, action tracking, calls or letters to elected officials or custom targets, event creation and management, built-in geocoding, and intensive data and analytics support. While there are other software tools that offer similar services, ActionKit is unique in that it allows groups to segment users by congressional district.

It works through all the major donation platforms and also syncs with Salesforce, another dominant industry platform for customer relationship management. It also integrates easily with other commonly used tools including Mobile Commons, Action Sprout,, Actblue, Relay, Mobilize America and Control Shift. It has built-in translation tools for Spanish, French and Portuguese and can accommodate others.

Who uses Mobilize?

More than 3,000 campaigns, non-profits, advocacy organizations, unions and other groups use Mobilize for event and volunteer management. They include the Human Rights Campaign, Crooked Media, the National Education Association, the New York City 2000 Census, NextGen America, the Sierra Club, the AARP, Meals on Wheels, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, All on the Line, the Women’s March, the Fairness Project, When We All Vote, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

What does Mobilize do?

Mobilize software makes it easy for any organization to set up single and recurring events, sign up and engage volunteers, turn volunteers into event hosts, and track and optimize volunteer engagement. It integrates easily with many other prime tools in the progressive ecosystem, including Actblue, EveryAction, Phone2Action, and ActionKit. Launched in 2017, it quickly became the main platform for event and volunteer management, and now boasts a universe of more than 5 million unique users. As a result, any organization using mobilizes also benefits from significant network effects, as volunteers are shown recommendations about upcoming events near them or on topics that match their interests.