Where we started
Five years ago, on January 20th, 2017, Run for Something officially launched into the world as nothing more than an idea, a website, and a strategic plan.
Every year since, in the service of living our values of transparency and accountability, Run for Something puts out an updated plan laying out what we’ve done, what we learned, and what we’re going to do next.
Our work is long-term and strategic; we don’t pivot from cycle to cycle. Instead, we’re always deepening our efforts, refining our program, and prioritizing as the moment requires.
With five great (and hard) years behind us, we’ve done some amazing things, learned some tough lessons, and grown carefully.
As of the end of 2021: We’ve recruited more than 90,000 people to consider running for office, endorsed more than 1800, and elected 637 all-stars to local office in nearly every single state!
All that is just the beginning. 2022 will be a big year for Run for Something and more importantly, for democracy. It’s all on the line.
But before we get into it: As we hit a big milestone in the lifetime of the organization, we want to take a moment and step back to review what we’ve accomplished year by year.
Together, this team — that includes the staff, candidates, volunteers, supporters, lurkers, cheerleaders, and even the haters who make us want to be better — has built something incredible.
In 2017 (also known as year one):
- 15,000+ young people entered the Run for Something pipeline
- We had 72 endorsed candidates, 35 of whom won their elections
- More than 6000 individual donors supported our work
- We engaged 60+ partners, 2000+ active volunteers, and 500+ mentors entered our network
- We invested $200,000 in VA, split across candidates and re-grants to partner organizations who did canvassing in our candidates’ districts
- We held the first ever National Run for Office Day, during which 2500 people signed up to run for office in 24 hours
- We did all this with a team of 5 (by the end of the year) and a $750k annual budget
By the end of year two, 2018:
- The pipeline of potential candidates grew to over 28,000
- We hit 650 endorsements and 200+ wins in 40 states — RFS was responsible for 10% of all flipped state legislative seats in 2018
- We ran first-of-their kind TV and print ads in Florida to recruit candidates to run against NRA-backed opponents
- Our volunteer network now numbered over 8,000
- On the second National Run for Office Day, more than 9,000 people signed up to run
- We commissioned first-of-its-kind research, and learned some fun facts, like that 10% of people who sign up with us actually run for office; that RFS districts have 1% higher turnout on average over comparable districts; and that one the biggest value-adds we can bring to candidates is community.
- Our small team did all this on a $1.6m budget
After two years, we were really cooking with gas. Year three, 2019, ended with:
- 46,000 young people now in the candidate pipeline
- Our lifetime endorsement number hit 953 candidates and 304 winners. We flipped seats on the Indianapolis city-county council, helped the youngest woman ever elected in Ames, IA, and elected the first Somali-American in Lewiston, Maine, among other things.
- We now had 10,000 volunteers working with us.
- We launched runforwhat.net, an innovative public tool allowing people to look up exactly what offices were on the ballot in their community.
- We ran $100,000 of recruitment ads in Texas — ultimately, 20% of non-incumbent Democrats running for state house came through the RFS pipeline.
- On the third National Run for Office Day, another 5000 people signed up with us 40+ partners participated
- Our partnerships continued to grow, as we launched the Grassroots Redistricting Project with Swing Left and Arena, and kicked off focused candidate-recruitment-via-text efforts with Contest Every Race.
- We grew and formalized our alumni advisor program, as every new endorsed candidate got matched with someone who’d been in the same shoes in years prior.
- We engaged every Democratic presidential candidate around signing the Down Ballot Pledge, promising to build the party from the local candidates on up.
- We did all this on a $2.2 million budget.
Then came 2020, year four — an exhausting, overwhelming, exciting, heartbreaking year:
- We ended the year with more than 65k young people who’d entered the pipeline to consider running for office.
- Our lifetime stats grew to 1,480 endorsements, 488 winners!!
- Once the pandemic began, we hosted the Front Row Seat series, spotlighting incredible leaders pushing for local change
- We launched resourcesforcampaigns.com — a hub for COVID campaign strategies — which had 20,000 visitors
- We hosted the Armchair Chat Series — conversations with expert practitioners — that reached 2 million+ viewers
- We expanded our alumni advisor program and built new platforms to promote candidates (like the podcast)
- We raised $100k for state legislative races through RFS Ascend and $100k for Black candidates running for local office through ActBlue tandem fundraising.
- We ran our messaging poll around public safety, helping candidates talk about tough issues
- We built and launched an internal candidate tracking tool to manage the thousands of interactions we have with candidates through and after the endorsement process
- We ran another round of research, debriefing with our candidates and further refining our program
- We did all of that on a $2.6m budget
That brought us to year five, 2021 — which somehow, in spite of the odds and everything going on in the world, was Run for Something’s best year yet.
- Our candidate pipeline grew from 67,000 to more than 90,000–2021 was our best recruitment year yet.
This might feel surprising — but we know (and have been saying since day one) that it’s never been about Trump. Young people have been interested in running for office in order to make change, to stand up for their communities, and fight for their values. A few particular points that spurred recruitment this year:
- The combination of the wins in Georgia on January 5th and the insurrection on January 6th were the 1–2 punch of hope + rage that inspired thousands to raise their hands
- Our revolutionary partnership with Snapchat (!) brought in 5,683 young people
- Run for Something’s alumni recruitment program — in which our previously endorsed candidates help us source new talent — grew stronger and more systematic
- Our work builds on itself: When we help one young person win and then tell their story, dozens more are inspired to sign up themselves.
- We endorsed 412 candidates in 38 states — bringing our lifetime total to 1,813 candidates. Our 2021 endorsements specifically were:
55% people of color
31% were women of color, 23% were men of color, and 13% were LGBTQIA+ folks of color
31% were under the age of 30
15% identified as people with disabilities
14% don’t have 4 year college degrees
5% were veterans
34% were caretakers of kids
61% self identify as coming from a low-income background
29% were immigrants or children of immigrants
82% ran for municipal office, 13% ran for education roles, 4% ran for state legislature and 2% ran for legal positions
13% were Run for Something alumni — meaning we’d endorsed them in a previous cycle as well
- Our programs team made over 1000 contacts with endorsed candidates and engaged 224 partners, including 171 state-level partners and 53 local-level partners.
- We elected 168 people this year — bringing our grand total to 637. Those winners are 56% women, 58% POC, 21% LGBTQIA+!
Run For Something Elected Officials
Check out our list of RFS endorsed elected officials!
Fun fact: Our win rate in 2021 was higher than any previous cycle. Much like in 2020, our candidates won where others lost.
- National Run for Office Day 2021 was redesigned, better than ever, with more events across more partners
- We hosted 50+ best-in-class events (See Yourself Running, Unapologetically Progressive, & more) that tens of thousands of people attended or streamed
- We released research on reverse coattails, proving twice over that local candidates can help lift up the top of the ticket.
- We raised $128,000 in support of 186 candidates, with $112k of that running specifically through RFS Ascend for 26 candidates in TX, VA, and PA — and in addition, hustled up another $60,000 from partners.
- We launched partnerships including with Doctors in Politics to bring more healthcare workers into office, and the Future Winners program with Sister District and EMILY’s List to support candidates who lose in preparing for their next race. We also worked with Nascent Consulting to run trainings on resiliency for RFS alumni who lost but wanted to further engage in their communities.
- Our team launched Run for Something Civics, a new 501c3 effort to bring more young leaders into the process and end the gerontocracy
- We did all this with a $3.1m budget
In 2021, our team spent time evaluating processes, gut-checking assumptions, and ensuring that at every possible checkpoint, we were setting up a program that could continue to scale. We want to go both wide and deep — our work makes the biggest impact when it’s scaled to as many possible places and races as possible while also providing candidates the hands-on services they need.
What we’re up to in 2022
Much like we said in our initial 2021–2022 strategic plan, our focus remains: local, local, local. To quote ourselves:
We’ll be doubling down on our commitment to recruiting and supporting candidates for city councils, school boards, county executives, and every other local position on the ballot in 2021 and 2022.
Our recruitment and support will prioritize local elections because local infrastructure (meaning: candidates + volunteers + data + relationships + communication, all sustained beyond Election Day) is how we ultimately build national power.
After four years of doing this work, we’ve seen that work around municipal elections is one of the biggest holes in the ecosystem. (For example, there’s a national committee for state legislatures; there isn’t a comparable institution for school boards or city councils.)
It’s good for politics to win local elections: Starting locally is how we ladder up to winning bigger offices in red states. First we flip a school board, then a city council, then a state legislature, then a bunch of them, then a House seat. It takes time. Wins beget wins. Wins also beget power, which lets you control the rules. (Think: Election administration, voter access, etc.)
The GOP understands this, which is why they’ve been doing it for decades, funded with sustained investments from the Koch brothers and their network.
It’s also good for policy: The pandemic & uprisings over the summer both proved what we’ve always known: Local government really matters, especially on issues like police brutality, affordable housing, and education. Even in cities that are governed by Democrats, it matters which Democrat.
Democrats don’t have a branding problem. The government has a branding problem. Democrats are the party of government, and right now, people hate government. We have to elect good people who actually produce results, talk about those results non-stop, and restore some faith in this system.
And finally, it’s good to invest in local politics for no other reason than because the Republican party is absolutely doing it. More than 500 Republican state legislators and countless more local electeds participated in the insurrection of January 6th, and contributed to the big lie around a “stolen election.” We have to take them on and beat them at every level in order to keep these extremists out of office, prevent them from normalizing their policy positions, and keep them from rising the ranks to higher office.
All that’s to say:
That doesn’t mean we’ll stop caring about state legislatures. State legislatures are super important! In the past, our endorsements have been around 60% state leg and 40% everything else. Moving forward, we’ll try and swap that ratio, or maybe even make it closer to 70/30.
But when we make decisions about how to allocate our staff’s time and our resources, we’ll focus both primarily on local races.
We spent 2021 internally building capacity and designing programs to double-down on that focus, with an eye toward two categories of races in particular: Local election administration roles and school boards.
Why local election offices…
We’re working to recruit and support candidates for local election administration roles in key districts across the country because these are the positions that will determine whether or not democracy survives past 2024.
Practically, local election administrators quite literally determine how elections are run. The United States does not have one federal election; we have thousands of town and county elections, often but not always happening at the same time.
We’ve been engaging in these races for years — in 2019, we partnered with Let America Vote specifically to recruit and support local election admin roles — and we’ve learned a lot about how to support candidates in these particular types of races. We’re taking that knowledge and putting it to work.
We’re planning for both wide and targeted recruitment, staffing up to run a cohort program specifically for these candidates, and investing in support for folks both before and after election day to ensure they’re ready to do the job and handle the pushback they might experience.
We’ve already gotten a preview of what happens when conspiracy theorists and extremists win these positions:
- In CO, a county clerk gave conspiracy theorists unauthorized access to the county voting systems, allowing them to share the copies of voting equipment hard drives to spread disinformation
- In MI, a town clerk who believed in conspiracy theories refused to allow a vendor to perform routine maintenance because the clerk falsely believed the maintenance would erase old data that “prove the machines are rigged”
And we’ve seen what happens when good people take these offices: Polling places are opened on native reservations where tribal members previously had to take 2–3 hour round trip drives to vote, mobile polling places are opened to allow for more accessible voting, and more.
These positions have the bully pulpit: The people who take it can use it for good, to restore faith and trust in the system and bring transparency to the electoral process. Or they can use that same bully pulpit to undermine democracy itself.
In 2022, 2023, and 2024, thousands of these positions are on the ballot — and the folks who win (especially in 2022 and 2023) will be integral to determining the outcome and faith of the 2024 election.
Experts have said it over and over again: The only thing that can stop the anti-democracy movement is a pro-democracy movement even stronger, more energized, and more willing to do the work by running for office themselves.
Why school board races
Much like local election administrators, we’re deepening our engagement on school board races for both proactive and defensive purposes.
As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic but even long before that, it really really really matters who sits on school boards — school boards are making decisions about what’s on the curriculum, how we treat our teachers, and how kids are being kept safe.
Ralph Reed, the former leader of the Christian Coalition, said in 1996: “I would rather have a thousand school board members than one president and no school board members.” The far right has long understood: Control how kids get educated and you control what the country becomes.
Beyond what the positions do, these races are training grounds for national activists, and centerpieces for national debates. While it’s unclear how much of an impact the argument over Critical Race Theory (CRT) directly had in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election, it’s self-evident that the protests at school board meetings and broader conversation around education created the environment and organizing muscle for Republicans to capitalize on.
This is one part a messaging fight and one part an infrastructure fight: We have seen Q-Anon and far-right extremist candidates attempting to take over our schools district by district. Ballotpedia tracked over 300 races with anti-CRT (or mask or equity) candidates and found they notched at least 92 victories. Even one win for them is dangerous.
In 2022 and beyond, Run for Something is digging in on school board races and cultivating more talent. If funding permits, we’d like to do more in-depth message research specifically for candidates on how to talk about the high-stakes emotional debate on education and then partner with organizations across the ecosystem to train candidates on de-escalation at the doors.
Overall goals for 2022
Recruitment: We’d like to grow the Run for Something pipeline by at least 25,000 in this calendar year, exceeding 2021’s numbers and compounding on our own work — we’ll know we succeed if we end December 2022 at 115,000 or more people having raised their hands to run for office.
As we build out the Run for Something network (which includes Run for Something Action Fund and Run for Something Civics), we’re thinking more holistically about the lifecycle of a RFS candidate. We break it into four parts:
- “I might want to run for something” — Run for Something Civics programming, including broader media inspiration, narrative storytelling, and outreach through in-person and online events
- “I definitely want to run for something” — Run for Something & Run for Something Action Fund programming, including a welcome series, introductory conference calls and 1:1 conversations with volunteers, events to inspire and educate on how campaigns work, and online candidate resources
- “I am running for something” — Run for Something endorsements and support from regional directors, alumni advisors, and mentors
- “I ran for something” — Run for Something Action Fund and Run for Something Civics programming, including transition guides, support for governance, mentorship opportunities, and preparation for future civic leadership
Support: We aim to endorse 700 candidates in 2022. If our win number stays approximately the same, we could elect or re-elect more than 300 young people this year. Ambitiously, we’d love to end the year with 1,000 young people elected over the lifetime of Run for Something. (We’ll see! Only so much of that is in our control but we’re going to try.)
Of our endorsed candidates, we’re aiming to support, at minimum, 25% LGBTQIA+ candidates, 50% women candidates, and 50% candidates of color.
Within that: Based on previous benchmarks, we aim for at least 22% of our candidates to identify as Black, 22% to identify as Latinx/Hispanic, and 10% to identify as AAPI.
While we work in all 50 states, our regionals have identified some priorities for helping guide decision-making around their time and resources.
Our tier one states include: Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia,
Our tier two states include: Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, Montana, Alabama, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maine.
In tier three, we’re working in California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts.
Empowering the program: Communications is woven into the program, playing a key role in both recruiting candidates (through press, social media, ads, and over entry-points) and supporting candidates by telling their stories. We’re building out technology that can continue to scale as our team and impact grows. Our operations team is expanding and improving processes to ensure that while our budget and size of team may grow, our culture remains intact, our budget stays in line, and our program stays compliant with the law. Our development team is going to raise all the funds we need to get all this done. Every department at Run for Something has specific diversity, equity, and inclusion goals as relevant to their function and holds ourselves accountable to them.
Expansion: We have additional programs around local election officers, school boards, and state-specific work that we’re eager to dive into if funding allows. If you want to know more, just email us!
How much all this costs:
At bare minimum, our budget for 2022 across the Run for Something network is at least $6.3 million. This is a big jump from previous years — but the moment demands nothing less than everything we’ve got.
What the next five years could be:
If democracy survives past the next two years, we have such a beautiful vision for what it could be in five or ten years time.
We want to ask every young person in America to run for office. We want to do it many times over.
We want to 10x our pipeline and engage more than 1 million young people thinking about running for office — since we know that 10% of our pipeline actually gets on the ballot, that’s 100,000 young people throwing their names into the ring.
We want to see Run for Something alum running for Congress, governor, Senate, and maybe even president.
But first, we have to make sure democracy lasts past the 2022 and 2024 cycles — and that requires winning big on the local level in order to win big on the national level.
We’ve spent the first five years setting up an organization that can do this work at scale. Now it’s time to execute on that.
You can help.
Run for office. It’s never too early (or too late) to get started.
Where Can I Run - Run for Something Action Fund
Use this tool to find out when, where and how you can run for office.
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Let's win sustainable power for progressives
If you have questions about other ways to support Run for Something, email us at hello at runforsomething dot net. We’re here to help.