Action Network Help & FAQs

Using custom shapefiles for custom targets and districts

Typically, custom targets are targeted by ZIP/postal code, which means when an activist fills out your letter campaign with their address they will be matched to the nearest target(s) based on ZIP/postal code. Targets with no ZIP/postal code will be matched to all activists. You can read more about ZIP/postal code-based custom targets here.

We also offer the option of uploading shapefiles to do this targeting instead. Shapefiles are machine-readable descriptions of shapes on a map. For example, shapefiles could describe the states or regions of a country, or districts for members of parliament or school board, or media markets, or really any area or set of areas that you can draw on a map.

Using shapefiles with custom targets, we'd match an activist based on their address to certain shapes, and thus the custom targets you've uploaded connected to those shapes. In this way you can match targets to activists based on custom geographies, enabling activists to write to their school board member based on those district lines, for example.

To get started, first you have to obtain the shapefiles for the geographies you want to use in the proper format. We need shapefiles in the GeoJSON format, a common shapefile format. Typically you'd obtain these shapefiles from a government institution that governs the area on question. For example, shapefiles for US states and congressional districts are available from the US Census. Shapefiles for the city of Chicago's wards for city council are available from the city. Some searching should turn up a source for the shapefiles you need. If you can't find the files in the GeoJSON format, you can typically find free online tools to convert from other formats to GeoJSON, such as this one.

Once you have your files, take note of the identifying characteristics of each shape, typically in the "properties" object in each JSON block. We'll use parts of that to create unique IDs for each shape, which we'll give back to you so you can identify each shape in your custom targets list you upload. For instance, the city of Chicago's wards have this as their properties:

"properties": {

We might then take that and make a unique ID for this shape that would be "chicago_ward_12".

Once you have your shapefiles, email them to us at We'll then upload those files and give you back unique IDs for each shape. 

Next, you can put together your custom target list as described here. However, you'll use a slightly different sample file, which you can download here. Instead of filling in ZIP/postal code for targets, you'd fill in the geoid column with the shape's unique ID. In this way you'd match a specific shape to a specific target, saying this target represents this district, for example. You can match more than one target to a shape by entering that unique ID in the geoid row for more than one target.

Finally, upload your target list and use it in a letter campaign. Activists will be matched to targets based on where their address falls within the shapes you've uploaded, matching activists to their district or other custom geography.

Using custom shapefiles for custom targets is a feature only available to paying partners. To become a partner, please visit

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