NGP & VAN to Merge: Yay? (Part 1)

By Isaac Salazar on 11.09.10


Last week, NGP and VAN announced in an email (using NGP’s email blast wizard) that the two database software companies would be merging at the end of the year. Democratic tech and data geeks across the country rejoiced as the news spread quickly via twitter. While I’m definitely intrigued at the prospect of finally having these two systems integrated, I’m cautiously optimistic about the resulting product. There are a lot of questions that won’t be answered until after the merger but that doesn’t stop users from posing a few and maybe even making some requests.

What are the data implications of the merger? 

Perhaps the most valuable outcome will be the integration of supporter records. This feature was already somewhat available in NGP via of the VAN API but was somewhat limited by the inability to copy key information such as Activist codes and voting history into an NGP record. Presumably the new database will have standard fields for all of this information.

What about web features?
NGP’s Contribution Web Package does the job as far as contribution and volunteer web forms go. The petition form leaves a bit to be desired but NGP’s strength is really processing online contributions for easy reporting on the back end. VAN on the other hand focuses on volunteer and voter file management on the back end but is lacking user friendly web based forms.

Can you please enable more fields on web forms and/or let users customize them?
On my most recent campaign I attempted to use VAN’s web forms for volunteer sign ups. I didn’t even know they existed until I did some digging. All of our problems would be solved! Volunteers would get dumped directly into My Campaign, presto changeo…perfect right? Well, as I found out too late in the process, certain fields that are available on the back end aren’t available on the front end such as the all important phone bank and canvass shift time slots. If you can’t enable this online, why have it? This feature would have really save field organizers a significant amount of time and drawn more of the web savvy volunteers to sign up. At the end of the day I had to scramble to use a different system that wasn’t a Google form or an excel spreadsheet but that was easy enough for field staff to use. There has to be a better way.

What will it look like to see a donkey driving a van? It should be impressive, but no matter how fancy your voter contact and volunteer management system is, you’ll never really achieve maximum efficiency on campaigns until your field operation buys in to the value of an online volunteer management system and your tech/new media team understands the needs of the field organizers. To complicate matters, the finance staff needs to understand the value of the volunteer who is also a $5 contributor and the field organizers need to recognize the sensitivity of a major contributors’ contact information. More on that in Part 2.


(Full Disclosure: I work for a political committee that is an NGP client and also offers VAN access to campaigns.)