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Spreadsheets vs. CallHub – understanding how to make outreach operations seamless

Published: Mar 30, 2020

Did you know that you could use up to 1.04 million rows and 16.3 thousand columns in an excel worksheet?

The sheer number is enough to impress you

However, for statewide or countrywide political campaigns dealing with millions of contacts, it may not be as impressive.

While there can be hacks to get around this, for most cases spreadsheets will fall short to handle a large list of supporters.

But where spreadsheets may fall short, a CRM used in conjunction with CallHub can run your campaigns in a more efficient manner.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at how this helped Democrats Abroad overcome these challenges associated with spreadsheets. 

A brief about Democrats Abroad

Democrats Abroad is the official Democratic Party arm that works to mobilize the votes of Americans living outside the United States. 

They comprise of 44 country committees spread across Europe, America, Middle East, Africa, and Asia, keeping Americans abroad informed of their rights and helping them participate in the U.S political process.

Democrats Abroad have over 150,000 volunteers spread across 190 countries over the globe, continually trying to reach out to the estimated 6 million voters abroad. They leverage phone banking for voter outreach to increase voter turnout abroad. However, they also use social media campaigns and emails to support their outreach efforts. 

Challenges Democrats Abroad Faced (and how they were solved)

Democrats Abroad are always on the lookout for ways to improve. Since they work with enormous datasets and a vast number of members, making operations as seamless as possible is crucial for them.

In 2016, Democrats Abroad made a shift from using spreadsheets for voter outreach.

They began using NationBuilder (a constituent relationship management system or CRM) and CallHub (a comprehensive communications platform) for calling. 

CallHub NationBuilder integration
CallHub provides easy integration with NationBuilder

Here are a few challenges that Democrats Abroad were able to overcome using this:

Challenge 1: Data Storage

Democrats Abroad have a massive contact list to maintain. Apart from the basic contact information (name, phone number, email, address, etc.), a lot of other data too had to be collected and stored for future use and reference. 

For example, if a volunteer called a voter and was asked to call back later, this data would have to be stored as a reference for future (volunteers) callers.

The challenge with spreadsheets

In spreadsheets, the data was stored in cells. Each row had information associated with an individual voter spread across columns. The storage structure was similar to the example below:

Voter information spreadsheet
Source: Time Atlas

While this worked fine with a smaller scale of operations, it became quite complicated as more and more details kept piling up.

The problems related to this model of data storage were as follows:

  • Overwhelming lists – Whenever new information about voters had to be added, managers would have to create new columns. Adding columns for new data types ultimately made each list exhausting and complex. 
  • Increased Manual Labor – New data from volunteers was collected on printed spreadsheets (as we’ll discuss in the section below).

    This meant that every time a volunteer got back with it, someone would have to manually create another column and enter data individually in the central spreadsheet. 

The solution

The NationBuilder and CallHub integration helped Democrats Abroad tackle this issue by bringing a database into the picture. 

What is a database

To give you a brief insight, you can imagine the data being stored in NationBuilder as given in the image below:

Data storage in NationBuilder
Brief of data storage in NationBuilder

You can also think of tags as virtual sticky notes for each individual. 

Democrats Abroad organizers began with defining these tags at the start of each campaign. 

Since CallHub integrates with NationBuilder seamlessly, it imports these tags to the calling dashboard.

Whenever a volunteer made a call, he/she could simply tag contacts accordingly. This data is then automatically stored in the relevant cell in the database. 

To give you an example, these are the steps involved in this process:

Step 1: Defining tags in NationBuilder
Creating tags in NationBuilder
Step 2: Importing tags from NationBuilder to CallHub
Importing tags - NationBuilder to CallHub
Step 3: Click “Add Tag” to tag the contact
Contact options - CallHub
Step 4: Select the tag to be added

This tag system helped Democrats Abroad by:

  • Automatically syncing data – The tag that was assigned to each contact now didn’t have to be entered manually. As the tag was added in the dashboard itself, it reflected in the CRM.
  • Keeping data clean – The data was no longer presented as a complex table. It was presented in a much more organized way with the tags acting as identifiers for each contact, similar to the image below:

Challenge 2: Data collection

Once a volunteer calls a voter, details related to the interaction are noted. Based on this data, future interactions are planned to nurture these prospects.

These notes typically include information like prospects who didn’t answer the phone, individuals who might have moved to a new constituency, number of other eligible voters in the household, etc. 

The challenge with spreadsheets

A majority of these volunteers worked from home. To give them a list of volunteers to call, organizers would curate a list for each on a different spreadsheet (different from the central spreadsheet). 

A print out of this sheet was then given to volunteers who would make the calls whenever convenient. Volunteers would then take notes on this spreadsheet and hand them back at the organization headquarters later. 

The challenges with this method of collecting data were:

  • Untimely responses – Most volunteers took days or even weeks to hand back the spreadsheet.  Sometimes, they didn’t even get back leaving organizers clueless about whether the calls were made or not. 
  • Data inconsistency – Even when volunteers got back, there was no consistency in the way data was collected by them.

    For example, some people jotted the information on the spreadsheet using a few keywords. Others made notes using sentences to explain the call on a separate sheet, like in the example below. 

    This inconsistency added to the efforts of the organizers to read through and feed this data to the central spreadsheet.
Data collection inconsistency - spreadsheets

The solution

Data collection became a breeze for Democrats Abroad with the integration of CallHub and NationBuilder. 

With CallHub, the agents (volunteers) added to the platform could connect and start making calls easily from their browsers. This could be done from anywhere. 

Since all operations were now online, the organization could:

  • Assign contacts to volunteers through CallHub itself. No more print outs were needed. 
  • Details of the calls were now collected as tags which eliminated data inconsistency. 
  • For specific details, volunteers could also record calls and make text notes right from the calling screen.
  • Data collected on the CallHub platform reflected in the CRM in real-time thereby solving the untimely response issue.

Challenge 3: Data segmentation

Before volunteers began their calling campaigns, campaign managers would have to first segment the extensive contact list. Each list was then assigned to different volunteers.

Every segment of contacts was accompanied by a script that was specifically curated for that segment of voters. 

For example, for voters who weren’t aware of the voting process, a script with details about the process was provided.

The challenge with spreadsheets

With each round of calls made, the lists were filled with more data for further segmentation to improve communication. 

However, as the list became larger and complex (as mentioned in the first section), filtering specific data became quite complicated. 

The problems Democrats Abroad had to face were:

  • Lack of Expertise – While initial segmentations were quite straightforward, nested segmentations were hard to achieve.

    Organizers had to implement a complex formula to achieve this segmentation which in turn required high expertise in excel.

    A majority of these times, the organization didn’t have this expertise at their disposal.
Filtering in spreadhseets with formula
Source: Exceljet
  • Difficulty in maintaining scripts (for segments) – After the first barrier of segmenting your list, the next step was to have calling scripts related to those segments ready.

    These scripts couldn’t be added to the spreadsheet by any chance. Hence, keeping track of them was quite difficult.  

The solution

With information stored as tags and NationBuilder’s suite of tools, the CRM allowed organizers to: 

  • Filter data using tags. It was as simple as selecting an option in a dropdown menu.
  • Create custom filters using simple logic statements thereby eliminating their reliance on complex excel formulas.
  • Another great feature of the CRM is that it allows you to create custom paths/journeys based on tags (like in the example below). These paths make it easy to map out calling scripts for each point on the journey.

For example, in the image above, the calling script for “Brad Johnson” will be more about inviting him to an event. To create a phone banking script for “Omari Averette”, on the other hand, you will have to focus more on inviting him for a 1:1. 

CallHub automatically pulls these phone banking scripts and displays them to the volunteer making the call. The script displayed to the volunteer is based on the stage the voter is in the journey. 

Challenge 4: Volunteer Recruitment and Management

Democrats Abroad have volunteers working from around the world. Typically, volunteers are the staunch supporters from the contact list. 

When a member shows their interest in volunteering, their details are collected, and they are later given contacts for calling. 

The challenge with spreadsheets

With spreadsheets, there was a lot of manual labor involved with collating information, as discussed in previous sections.

Apart from that, a lot of work went into segmenting these lists, assigning them to volunteers, etc. Since the whole process was not centralized, that posed some challenges in tracking too.

With spreadsheets, the organization was facing issues like:

  • Increased manual labor – Organizers had to put in a lot of time in filtering lists and sending them out to volunteers. 

    Apart from that, volunteers also had to juggle between managing voter outreach and volunteer recruitment (with respect to entering data and follow-ups).
  • Difficulty in tracking – The lack of a centralized system made it difficult for organizers to track volunteer activity.

    These activities included calling updates, use of campaign funds (for calling and texting), volunteer recruitment, etc.   

The solution

CallHub and NationBuilder proved to be perfect volunteer management tools. Democrats Abroad was able to run and track all activities from one central dashboard. 

This was possible because:

  • CallHub automatically assigns contacts and the relevant script to volunteers whenever they log in. A new contact is provided only when the volunteer is ready for the next conversation. 

    Once they’re done, they can leave the campaign and resume again later. 
CallHub automatic script assignment
Calling script being assigned automatically
  • Volunteers can add relevant tags to contacts interested in volunteering. Organizers could set this tag to automatically trigger a follow-up text or email (for sign up) in the CRM. 

    New volunteers can then sign up without any further assistance and start making calls immediately.
  • The CallHub dashboard allows campaign managers to add volunteer organizers to a sub-account with limited permissions. 

    The campaign manager can then track all recruitment and outreach activity and also allocate required funds, directly from the parent account. 
CallHub volunter activity tracking
Volunteer activity tracking dashboard – CallHub

With a simple centralized dashboard, organizers could focus more on improving voter outreach rather than trivial tasks.

Other benefits

While the challenges above were the primary ones, Democrats Abroad campaigns were improved on other fronts with CallHub and NationBuilder.

1. Efficient real-time data synchronization

The data synchronization between the CallHub dashboard and NationBuilder helped eliminate any manual labor required to move data between these tools.

Data synchronization was also real-time. It reflected in the CRM (NationBuilder) as soon as it was added in a CallHub campaign, and vice versa.

2. Data security and privacy

Democrats Abroad had a lot of personal voter contact information and keeping it secure was paramount. 

CallHub and Nationbuilder employ state of the art encryption and follow strict data privacy norms.

Also, campaign/account managers can set account-level permissions for volunteers, ensuring access to the data they are authorized for.

3. Easy Accessibility for everyone 

A centralized online system made it easy for all volunteers across the globe to sign up, make calls, and record data. 

The CRM also operates faster as it only loads the information asked for and not everything in memory, unlike in spreadsheets. 

Comparison and analysis also became more manageable with CRM and CallHub integration. 

The CRM provided more flexibility in sorting and presenting data in a myriad of ways, unlike two-dimensional spreadsheets.

CallHub, on the other hand, provided managers with a comprehensive analysis of voter activity on the dashboard. 


What would be perfect for you, using a database or a spreadsheet? 

Spreadsheets may get the job done and not even cost much for small scale operations. However, it will never be able to offer sophisticated features required for personalized communications and tracking.

Using a CRM in tandem with a calling platform will be more suitable for large-scale campaigns with huge and complex data reserves. However, this convenience would come at a cost.

While you may be able to get the job done with spreadsheets, a CRM and a communications tool can help you save a significant amount of time. The time that you can use to reach your goals faster and in an efficient manner.

NationBuilder has a tiered subscription model giving you room to upgrade as your list grows. CallHub’s pay as you go pricing also allows you to start small and grow bigger. 

CallHub CRM

This pricing will ensure that you keep building your database with critical information from the very beginning and avoid the hassles of importing your old spreadsheet to a database. All of that, and it will not put a dent in your pocket. 

Interested in seeing what CallHub has to offer you? Book a demo here.


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