With municipal elections set to kick off across BC and Ontario in mid-September, candidates for city council, school board, park board, and other municipal offices are looking for free and affordable tools to use to support their campaign efforts.
Thanks to strict campaign finance laws in BC and elsewhere, municipal campaigns have to work with tight budgets – and make wise choices in building their “tech stack”.
At Metric, we work with a wide variety of tools to support our political and advocacy clients. We’ve put together a list of tools that we think municipal campaigns might benefit from this fall, and why we would choose them.
On cost versus usability
There is no perfect tool for campaigning – every piece of technology has benefits and drawbacks.
With that in mind, we have prioritized tools that are free (or quite cheap), with a heavy emphasis on ease of use, and working well with other tools in the list.
In short – campaigns should be in the business of campaigning, not supporting a lot of technology. As a result, we are recommending tools that are simple to use over ones that might be more powerful.
A note on security
With our recommendations for subscription services, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the importance of security. Hacking and data theft incidents are on the rise, and there is a chance that any candidate might be targeted by foreign state actors, criminals who want to hold your data hostage or a rival campaign.
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security has produced a guide for political candidates that’s worth taking a look at.
Here are three simple recommendations we would urge every campaign to follow:
- Don’t share logins for anything. If multiple people need access to a Twitter account or email tool, use LastPass or a similar tool to create and share a secure password that your team can’t see. Their autofill tool keeps your logins secure – and can even audit your passwords for free.
- Use 2-Factor Authentication. This might be the single most important thing you can do. We strongly recommend using Google Authenticator or a similar tool rather than text message 2FA – but this helps to safeguard your accounts in the event that a login is compromised. Set this up on every system and social account as soon as possible.
- Lock your devices and always delete downloaded data. Make sure everyone who has access to campaign tools has a password on their laptop and mobile phone, and make it clear that any downloaded list has to be deleted as quickly as possible. Stolen devices account for a large number of security breaches.
Team Internal Communications
- Slack (free*). A mainstay of workplace communications, Slack is an instant messaging platform that many organizations and campaigns use to replace the bulk of their internal emails. It’s instant, offers great apps on desktop and mobile, and includes a free tier that you can sign up for instantly. https://slack.com/
- Squarespace ($23 USD/ mo, $29.70 CAD/mo). Websites are a critical part of every political campaign – but when your budget is limited, we don’t believe they’re something you should spend a lot of time and money on.
Tools like Squarespace (and Wix) allow anyone to build a drag-and-drop site from any number of beautiful templates – enough to give you a basic candidate bio, some information on your positions, embed a video if you have one, and create volunteer signup and contact forms with zero technical skills. While you can certainly do much more with a website (and Squarespace will allow you to do more), our suggestion is to keep it simple. https://www.squarespace.com/
- WordPress ($14 USD/mo, $17.90 CAD/mo). We’re big fans of the world’s most popular website content management system – and use it for many of our client projects. While slightly more complex than Squarespace, WordPress is much more powerful and supports a wide array of themes and plugins (including an Action Network Plugin). WordPress.com offers simple plug-and-play solutions on a monthly plan. https://wordpress.com/
- Canva (free*). Canva is a free web-based graphic design tool with a myriad of built-in templates, fonts and images that lets you rapidly create everything from social media content to videos to leaflets without any special software. While not as powerful as Adobe Indesign or Illustrator, Canva offers a very shallow learning curve and will give even the most low-resource campaign great-looking graphics in no time.
Canva also offers a paid tier with additional templates, stock images, and fonts starting at $13USD/mo / $16.60CAD/mo. https://canva.com
- Gmail (free). Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Gmail accounts are free, help ensure high deliverability, and you can create an account dedicated to your campaign ([email protected]). Gmail allows you to send an email to up to 500 recipients in a single send (don’t forget to BCC everyone!), and using powerful plugins like Yet Another Mail Merge ($25USD/yr / $31.95CAD/yr) you can get powerful analytics and use custom merge tags from Google Sheets. https://gmail.com
- Action Network (free* or $10/month depending on need). Created by the American labour movement to power progressive campaigns, Action Network has expanded its offering significantly in the last few years and has recently launched in Canada in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress.
Action Network unites email marketing, text messaging, sophisticated automation, event management, and sign-up actions into a single platform that easily integrates with popular campaign tools as well as any website platform.
It’s our go-to digital toolset at Metric, and we highly recommend it. The free tier allows you up to 10,000 email sends per month, and the paid tier starts at $10 USD/mo / $12.78CAD/mo) and adds many powerful features.
It also offers donation pages and donation processing using the Stripe payment processor. https://www.actionnetwork.org
- Nationbuilder (starting at $41 USD/mo / $54 CAD/mo). Launched in 2011, Nationbuilder has become quite popular among Canadian non-profits and political campaigns of all stripes. It was recently used by the Pierre Polievre campaign to sign up tens of thousands of members to the Conservative Party.
The toolset combines a website builder, bulk email and texting, voter contact and donation processing into a single, easy-to-use platform.
Sounds great, right? Well, we have a love/hate relationship with the platform.
The good: it does everything in a single tool.
The bad: it doesn’t do any of those things especially well.
Our advice is to choose tools that are easy to use and do a few key things really well. Action Network or Mailchimp are superb email marketing tools. Squarespace is a very simple, powerful website builder.
That said, Nationbuilder is a powerful toolset that may be the right fit for some campaigns. https://nationbuilder.com
A note on text messaging in Canada.
Text messaging rules are quite different in the US and Canada. Peer-to-peer (P2P) texting took off in the US 6-8 years ago because bulk texting to people who had not opted in wasn’t allowed – and P2P got around this limitation. In Canada, political campaigns are permitted to send automated text messages to people who haven’t opted-in – however, service providers like Twilio, and industry groups like the CWTA may not allow this – so buyer beware.
- Action Network ($50 USD/mo / $63.88 CAD/mo). Action Network offers a powerful text-messaging service (they call it mobile messaging) that combines bulk texting, automated follow-up and supporter journeys, and the ability to manage individual conversations with supporters.
We love the toolset – and the cost makes it accessible to any size of campaign. https://actionnetwork.org/partnerships#sms_table
- GetThru ($100 USD setup, $0.08 USD per message / $127.75 CAD setup, $0.10 CAD per message). GetThru is a peer-to-peer texting platform that enables you to reach out to a large number of supporters or voters to initiate real conversations.
While P2P isn’t required in Canada the way it is in the US, P2P remains a popular alternative for campaigns that have built text messaging lists to use for voter engagement and turnout. https://www.getthru.io/p2p-texting-politics
- Community ($99 USD/mo / $126.50 CAD/mo for 1000 subscribers). Community is a new kind of texting platform – specifically created to build community, rather than broadcast your message. Used by many celebrities, Community creates an individual phone number your supporters can text, enables a conversational flow by using AI to cluster messages, and allows you to send a common response.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was the first Canadian politician to launch his Community number back in 2021 – and since then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden have also joined the platform. https://community.com
- LastPass.com (free*). With data breaches on the rise, security is more important than ever even on the smallest political campaigns. As you create accounts for you and your team to use, we strongly recommend using secure passwords (NOT FirstLast2022) stored in a secure password management system like LastPass. Their free tier can be shared by multiple staff/volunteers, but we recommend paying the $4USD/mo / $5.10CAD/mo for the family plan that allows up to 6 individual users. https://www.lastpass.com/
- FreeConferenceCall.com (free*). While Zoom, Teams, and Hangouts have become the norm thanks to the pandemic, sometimes you just need a simple conference call. FreeConferenceCall.com offers a simple free (or pay what you can) service to keep your team connected in a low-tech way. https://www.freeconferencecall.com/pricing