For the Love of Jazz… and NationBuilder

This is not another forced attempt to write an agency blog post about LOVE and fish for visibility in the days leading up to a creative’s worst nightmare, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. So relax your shoulders and let your guard down. We won’t be shoving inspirational quotes or lovey-dovey pictures into a slideshow.

This is simply the story of how, without warning and with little resistance, we fell in love with NationBuilder...

First date

I could start by recounting the moment when we first saw NationBuilder on our screens and swiped right. I could also explain how our first messages went, and how we eventually decided to meet for “coffee”. But that’s just logistics. We all know that what matters after you find a match is whether you discover any chemistry beyond your initial reaction to their 3 or 4 carefully selected profile pictures.

Sorry (not sorry) for the Tinder analogy. You see, deciding to develop a website on a particular new platform is not unlike finding that “special one” on a dating app. You get pulled in by the visuals, then you get curious reading their mission and values, and then you find out if you speak the same language before you decide to explore further.

And boy was there chemistry. I won’t go as far as to claim that NationBuilder made us believe in love at first sight, but I must admit that choosing the platform was a no-brainer: our team had an itch to find a way to work with cause-based organizations, to produce campaign sites for advocacy groups we personally care about, but without having to build all the engagement and fundraising plumbing from scratch. We also have a soft spot for client service teams that treat you like family. Enter NationBuilder.

“Skyrocket and NationBuilder have changed their relationship status”

Choosing to become a NationBuilder Architect makes perfect sense for an agency that wants to work with progressive causes or NGOs. In just a few years, NationBuilder has managed to become the web’s preferred tool for organizing campaigns online and building an audience. Take the most recent provincial elections in Ontario and British Columbia as an example: 14 of the winning mayoral candidates built their campaign websites on NationBuilder, including the elected mayors of Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria. But aside from helping candidates win elections, the numbers tell an even better story: NationBuilder helps build communities. Take a look at how many volunteers were recruited, funds raised, and supporters engaged in 2014.

So with those kinds of numbers in our favour, we became Certified Architects and put our crush for NationBuilder to the test by building our first political campaign site: One Surrey. Our client’s campaign was successful in connecting their candidate to her community and spreading their ideas to a wide audience. Although they didn't win the election, by any measure of aesthetic subjectivity, they had the best-looking website of that electoral race (of course I’m biased). Oh, if only design was all that mattered to win elections...

But wait a second. This post began as a love story and now I’ve strayed into politics. *switches playlist to jazz*

A Love Supreme

As happens with the best love stories, you need a certain set of circumstances to turn a crush into something deserving of that special 4 letter word. Our “special circumstances” were a little thing called Coastal Jazz—you know, producers of one of the most massive jazz festivals on the North American West Coast.

We first approached Coastal Jazz out of curiosity. We had a feeling their online experience was up for an upgrade, and we wanted to work with one of the leading cultural institutions of our city. After a few conversations with the Coastal Jazz team, we realized that theirs was not just a music festival website. If we were to build their new site, it needed to evolve beyond a site to promote and sell tickets for a summer jazz festival, and become the place for a community of music fans to connect and discover music year-round. In other words, fans of live musical performance in Vancouver needed a place to call home.

And as our team sat at a meeting table one sunny October day (we get those in Vancouver...sometimes) to discuss ways to bring fans together, what tools would be best to promote events and raise awareness about music series, or how to allow fans to share artists’ stories, our Director of Strategy stated simply, “This calls for NationBuilder."

Wait, the most powerful campaign tools... for a music festival?

With our brains exploding, we suddenly realized the tools needed to grow a festival audience into a music community and keep them excited all year are not that different from those we used to convince electors to support a political platform.

  • Database management, check
  • Integration with social channels, check
  • Newsletter sign-ups, check
  • Tracking of members’ activities, check
  • Ability for fans to invite and recruit friends, check
  • Volunteer sign-up, check
  • Identify and reward most active members, check
  • Permission levels to empower a team of site administrators, check
  • Easy to use content management back-end, check


So what happened next? Well, we went on a bunch of dates, of course. We took Coastal Jazz to our favourite places and showed them our best side. Our conversations got deeper and we put each other on speed dial. And after a few episodes of “No, you hang up… no, no, you hang up”, we gave birth to this:

As soon as our baby went live, an interesting phenomenon occurred at Skyrocket. The probability of getting high-fived randomly by a co-worker increased by about 50%, and a quick glance around the office told a clear story: we were all just staring at the same website, smugly grinning at ourselves for building this beauty and (also smugly) showing how NationBuilder can be used to reinvent any type of organization.

This project was all about bringing people together towards a purpose—fans, volunteers, supporters. In our case, it brought our team, our client and the NationBuilder platform together…

For the love of jazz.

P.S. This article was written while listening to Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane live at Carnegie Hall, 1957... obviously, on repeat.



The Coastal Jazz site has received Special Kudos from the CSS Design Awards!

PLUS, our love letter got some love!

We have entered a new era of engaging and collaborating with all of our stakeholders thanks to the genius that is this collaboration! Thank you to Skyrocket for taking us to an amazing new world and NationBuilder for the guidance along this journey.

To say we are thrilled with the results of our work with Skyrocket and NationBuilder would be an understatement.


Judie Dahl Marketing Director Coastal Jazz and Blues Society
What a beauty. Vanity aside, we're digging the organizing happening on the inside.

Glad we both swiped right.

Jusleen Sodiwal

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