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How Rishi Sunak Reimagined The Modern Leadership Campaign

How Rishi Sunak Reimagined The Modern Leadership Campaign

Earlier this month, the Conservative and Unionist Party members selected Liz Truss as the party's leader and the United Kingdom's prime minister.

The other candidate in the race, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, obviously fell short of victory. But in the process, he ran an outstanding and innovative organizing campaign that reimagined what’s possible in a British leadership election.

Disclosure: I worked for Team Rishi in a limited capacity from July 19-24, 2022, primarily providing technical NationBuilder support. This case study isn’t about me and my work: it’s about what Rishi’s in-house team achieved with NationBuilder’s platform.

Key Takeaways from Rishi’s Campaign

Team Rishi leveraged NationBuilder to build an incredible, national grassroots movement. Here are some key stats to put that effort into context:

  1. 10,000 Signups in Week One
  2. Fastest Growing Campaign in Europe
  3. 35,000+ Signups Total
  4. 50,000+ Phone Calls
  5. 1,000,000+ emails sent

That’s a tremendous level of mobilization for a campaign starting from scratch. 

Let’s dig into what they did to earn those results.

Launching Quickly on NationBuilder

When Rishi’s team launched his website, they did it with a native NationBuilder campaign website.

By launching quickly (within a matter of days) and using a native NationBuilder website, Rishi’s team avoided wasting time on importing & exporting data and building integrations between different platforms, like WordPress, MailChimp, and Google Forms.

Screenshot: Rishi Sunak’s Homepage
Screenshot: Rishi Sunak’s Homepage

Making Email List Building a Priority

The primary motivation for using NationBuilder to host your campaign’s website is to leverage its email capture features — and Team Rishi did an excellent job using their website to grow their email list.

The most important thing they did was seize every opportunity to drive traffic back to their site.

In the tweet below, for example, their primary goal was to share the video clip. But they ended the tweet with a call-to-action to join the campaign and included a link to the website (where the signup form was right at the top of the page). 

The results speak for themselves. They built a 35,000+ person email list at neck-breaking speed, which gave them ready access to a base of supporters and volunteers that proved to be a crucial resource to the campaign.

The Campaign That Sent 1,000,000+ Emails

Unlike in the United States of America, where political campaigns are notorious for aggressively using email marketing to drive fundraising efforts, British political campaigns use email much more intentionally — and with far greater engagement per send.

Rishi’s campaign was no exception, which makes their publicly-announced figure of 1,000,000+ emails sent even more astounding.

Screenshot: Rishi Sunak Email
Screenshot: Rishi Sunak Email

Instead of pleading for donations, Rishi’s team sent highly relevant and time-sensitive updates about the campaign’s offline activities.

These emails helped Team Rishi build momentum, activate its supporter base, and leverage key moments to drive growth and action.

Using Online Engagement To Drive Offline Action

Team Rishi’s highly effective use of NationBuilder helped them to scale 1:1 relationships with supporters and channel their enthusiasm into meaningful offline action.

By the end of the campaign, Rishi’s grassroots team had made over 50,000 phone calls and hosted more than 16,000 meetups across the United Kingdom.

On the back end, Team Rishi repurposed photography and narratives from this offline activity into online content, giving his social media channels a sense of momentum and energy. And as I mentioned before, he often ended those social media posts with an appeal to visit his website and join the campaign.

NationBuilder’s Limits

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely thinking, “That’s all well and good, but he still lost. Why is that?”

That’s a fair question, and the answer is simple: NationBuilder, and digital organizing more generally, is not a panacea. 

Rishi’s team ran a fantastic campaign and squeezed an incredible amount of value out of both NationBuilder’s software and their social media channels. But all campaigns exist in a context, and in this year and at this time, the broader factors at play did not favor Rishi’s movement.

I mention this because I think it’s essential for campaigners to be clear-eyed about what is and isn’t within NationBuilder’s (and their digital team’s) ability to control or affect. Like Rishi, you can do a lot right and still fall short. 


In my short time with Rishi’s team, and as I watched from a distance over the several weeks that followed, I was impressed by Team Rishi’s strategic planning, work ethic, and determination to leverage NationBuilder effectively.

Notwithstanding the eventual results, I would recommend their campaign as a case study as an example to anyone aspiring to run a campaign on NationBuilder.