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Mobile Canvassing Startup Organizer Changes Leadership, Integrates With NationBuilder

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, October 3 2013

Organizer enables campaigners to 'cut turf' by precinct, and managers to track their progress

Organizer, the Democratically-oriented mobile political canvassing software startup, signaled a new strategic direction earlier this week when it casually unveiled the news that it has appointed new leadership in the form of Bay Area politico Chris Kelly, at the same time that it announced a closer integration with NationBuilder.

Kelly, 43, an early investor in San Francisco-based Organizer, has assumed the position of CEO, a post that he quietly took up a couple of months ago. Ralph Garvin, Organizer's founder, is still a major shareholder and consultant to the firm, but he left earlier in the summer to create another startup that's currently in stealth mode.

"Having someone of Chris' connections and stature sitting in my chair is really an exciting thing," Garvin said in an interview. "He's the personification of the intersection of tech and politics -- if you took tech and politics and made it a person, you'd have Chris Kelly."

Kelly is an active angel investor in the Bay area, and Facebook's former chief privacy officer. He also ran for the position of attorney general for California against Kamala Harris in 2010. Though he lost that race, he remains active in Democratic politics, and is the chairman and board member of the New Leaders Council, a volunteer organization of Democrats that aims to train next generation leaders in the realms of Democratic politics and advocacy (it's not affiliated with the Democratic party, however.) He's also a former Clinton Administration White House staffer.

Nate Bosshard and David Kittay (father of Organizer's Co-Founder Bear, who is no longer with the company,) Slow Ventures' Dustin Moskovitz (a Facebook co-founder) and Founders Fund are also investors.

The tighter collaboration with NationBuilder is a result of Organizer's use of NationBuilder's new application programming interface. The API enables both field canvassers and campaign managers' information gathering and management activities to flow seamlessly and in real-time between the two pieces of software. Before the creation of the API, users had to manually upload voter canvassing spreadsheets and surveys between the two programs.

The closer coupling of the two companies' software and data means that managers back at campaign headquarters can not only track what's going on out in the field, but they can also follow-up more quickly with NationBuilder's voter contact tools with either an e-mail or a phone call to voters who've indicated to field canvassers that they're willing to volunteer, donate or otherwise help a campaign, said Ian Magruder, Organizer's director of business development.

In an interview, Kelly downplayed any change of direction in the company's strategy. However, the integration with NationBuilder also means that Organizer is changing the way it's pricing its product. Magruder declined to reveal specifics, but he said that subscribers to Organizer's mobile canvassing system would now pay a set-up fee in addition to a monthly subscription fee per device. They no longer have to pay a fee to subscribe to the system's management console, however.

The goal, Kelly said, is to broaden the base of Organizers' users, and then to upsell them professional and custom services, such as helping them to design custom surveys.

Though Organizer has won praise from those who signed up to use it, other prospective clients had balked at its expense. The NationBuilder collaboration is an attempt to make the system more affordable for smaller-scale local political campaigns, many of which rely on NationBuilder to manage their field activities.

Organizer is one of a number of increasingly sophisticated mobile canvassing tools available on the political technology market today. Moonshadow Mobile in Eugene Oregon makes a mobile canvassing system called Ground Game, and Voter Gravity in Purcellville, Virginia offers a mobile canvassing system for conservative campaigns. Democratic software company NGP VAN also offers its own mobile canvassing tool called the MiniVAN.

This article has been updated to clarify that NLC is not affiliated with the Democratic Party.