Our 2019–2020 strategic plan
Where we’ve been, where we’re going, and why
When we launched Run for Something on January 20th, 2017, we laid out one goal:
Run for Something will help recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future — the folks we support now could be possible members of the House, Senate, and maybe even President one day. We aim to lower the barriers to entry for these candidates by helping them with seed money, organization building, and access to trainings needed to be successful.
As we look forward to 2019 and beyond, our mission remains singularly focused — not just on building the bench, but on changing the face of progressive politics by quite literally changing the drivers of progressive policies: local candidates are who making peoples’ lives better right this very minute.
With two years of experience behind us, we have built the Run for Something plane while flying the plane (and, to extend this tortured metaphor, sometimes encountered some turbulence) and are now ready to take this plane out for some long-haul missions. As we prepare for the next election cycle and beyond, we’ve refined our goals for the future of Run for Something.
Looking forward, we have three primary priorities:
- Make public service desirable, interesting, and honorable again! Running for office is not something just rich old white men do — and it’s not something only slimeballs do, either. We aim to permanently improve and expand the definition of “politician,” and bring it back to public service.
- Build a long-lasting organization that can recruit progressive candidates for every single one of the 500,000+ down ballot offices across the United States — starting with someone who will run in every state legislative race in targeted redistricting seats in 2020.
- Be the safety net for candidates — from getting folks thinking about running for office to actually launching a campaign all through to Election Day, providing support that allows candidates to run efficient, grassroots-oriented, voter contact-driven campaigns (and not to feel so alone while they do it.)
This very long post (sorry not sorry!) digs into what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, and how the first two years worth of experience informs our future priorities. Below, you’ll find…
- An exhaustive review of what we’ve done over the last two years. We get into the weeds on strategy, tactics, who did what, and how the whole thing operated.
- Where we succeeded, where we failed, and where we think we can improve.
- Where we want to go from here, specifically with 2019–2020 in mind, and an eye toward the future — plus, how much it’ll cost.
Eager to get going? Jump to the section you’re most excited about…
- 2017/2018 recap: An overview
- Recruitment: How we did it & what we learned
- Support: How we actually helped candidates
- Empowerment: How we powered the organization
- Values & philosophies: A big-picture look at what we believe
- 2019, 2020, & beyond: Our goals for 2019–2020
- The 2019–2020 electoral calendar: Just some context
- Recruitment: How we’ll build permanent recruitment infrastructure
- Support: How we’ll help candidates at every step of the journey
- Community: How we’ll build relationships
- Empowerment: How the organization will actually run
- Budget: How much it’ll all cost
- Conclusion: Why it matters (and why you should help.)
It is rare for organizations to get this detailed about what they’ve done —we can’t point to anyone else who’s laid out their strategy so explicitly and articulated their failings so openly.
But we believe this kind of transparency matters: Whether you’re an interested observer, a supporter, a candidate, or a volunteer, you have a right to know exactly what we’re doing with the money we’ve raised, how we’ve met the goals we laid out, and why we’re making certain decisions. Plus: Perhaps our experience will inform someone else’s start-up experience!
Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, hopes, fears, or dreams at email@example.com.
Now, the good stuff…
In less than two years, 30,000 young diverse progressives have told us they want to run for office. We have already elected 200+ of them to local office in 40 states.
Some fun stats:
- 55% of our winners are women
- 50% are people of color
- 16% are LGBTQ
We’ve spent just around $2.5 million (raised from 12k+ donors!) to do it and had the help of 8,000 volunteers.
Over two years, our candidates flipped state legislative seats in 20 states including Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Virginia. At least 10% of all flipped state legislative seats in the 2017–2018 cycle were won by RFS candidates.
Our candidates have immediately made life better for folks across the country — they’re ending police relationships with ICE in Hennepin County, Minnesota, proposing bills to end conversion therapy for minors in Nebraska, passing sweeping election reform in New York and expanding Medicaid to cover 400,000 more Virginians. They’re not just the future of the Democratic Party — they’re the right-here-right-now leaders who are bringing progressive values to life.
And we’re helping them get there. Over the last two years, we have built a program that does two key things: Recruit people to run for office, then support them from soup to nuts. Let’s break those down!
Our 2017–2018 recruitment program was driven by a single premise: You cannot be what you cannot see.
We aimed to tell the stories of “non-traditional” candidates in order to give other people space to see themselves as candidates or elected officials. When possible, we tried to connect the candidate’s story to our organization so potential candidates understood that if they wanted to run, we were the ones who could help them.
We worked directly with reporters and media partners to tell both our story and the story of our candidates. Major press hits resulted both in increased donor and supporter engagement, but more importantly, in increased candidate sign-ups. A few (of the many many) examples…
- Time Magazine’s cover story, “The Avengers”
- HuffPost’s “Crash the Party” series
- Crooked Media — both on Pod Save America & The Wilderness
We are building audiences on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr in order to meet people where they’re at.
- We use Twitter for connecting with journalists, activists, and grassroots supporters. We highlight stories of our candidates, reinforce our core messages about how the political system needs to change, and are a bit more informal (and occasionally, profane.)
- Facebook is for “real people,” so to speak — our audience there is a little older. They love stats, factoids, and engaging candidate stories. We love them!
- Instagram rolled out during the spring of 2018. We used the platform to highlight candidates, doing “candidate takeovers” every week and letting them tell their stories directly.
- We rolled out on Tumblr in fall 2018 and use it nearly exclusively for candidate stories. Young people are the primary users on Tumblr — they’re the kind of folks who should consider running for office.
While generating original content was not our primary communications work in 2017 and 2018, the help of incredible volunteers, we were able to tell some powerful stories.
- Our “Why We Run” series on Medium (and then posted on all platforms and over email) highlighted candidates with Q&As to get at both their backstories as well as how we helped them.
Why We Run (And You Can, Too!)
A series of brief Q&As with young people who decided to run for government. Surprise! It turns out, they’re just like…
- We worked with freelance editors to create videos spotlighting various groups of candidates — including our teachers and parents — as well as marking moments in organizational growth, like our 500th endorsement, the surge of volunteers after the Kavanaugh hearings, and National Run for Office Day.
We tested out running in-person recruitment events through our college tour program, which held events in Orlando, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Columbus. Ultimately, results were mixed — we determined we need either staff on the ground or stronger partnerships with local groups in order to yield more productive results.
We also tested out candidate recruitment ads on Facebook and search; our first round of creative ultimately was too expensive to continue running. However, we did have success leveraging paid advertising for additional earned media and social media virality — in particular, around the shooting in Parkland, Florida. After the tragedy, we worked with the Miami-Dade Democratic Party to identify 24 GOP state legislators with NRA A/A- ratings who did not yet have opponents at the time. We ran a print ad and the first-of-its-kind TV ad recruiting candidates to run in those 24 districts; ultimately we found folks for 19 of the 24 seats, including two who we endorsed. Partners on the ground reported back our efforts were critical to filling out the slates for these races.
Finally, we launched National Run for Office Day (NROD) through our 501c4, Run for Something Action Fund, primarily because we hate taking vacations the week after Election Day, but more importantly, because we wanted to build off the momentum of Election Day and immediately get people thinking about the next step. NROD 2017 and NROD 2018 combined recruited more than 10,000 people to think about running.
Impact & immediate learnings
A Data for Progress study on our recruited candidates taught us a few key points about this pool:
- 10% of the folks recruited actually get on the ballot, giving us a good sense of how big we need our top-of-funnel to be in order to yield actual candidates.
- White men are the mostly likely to sign up, but women of color are the most likely to actually get on the ballot, meaning our pipeline and proactive outreach to underrepresented communities is reaching the targeted audience.
- The folks most likely to actually run are the ones interesting in solving problems and can clearly identify that. This informs the kind of framework we should apply to advertising and storytelling moving forward.
- Barely 9% of potential candidates mentioned Trump on their intake survey and only 3% of confirmed candidates did so. 40% of candidates on the ballot mentioned local issues. Again, this informs how we can message to recruit the most likely “real” candidates moving forward.
On a more macro-level, our work made an impact across the Democratic Party. The number of uncontested elections on the state legislative level went down — from 40% in 2016 to 33% in 2018, with Democrats contesting nearly 88% of all seats and Republicans only contesting 79%.
A number of states ran full (or nearly full) slates, including North Carolina, Ohio, and Colorado, and others like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Arizona ran record numbers of diverse slates. Those are worms you can’t get back into the can (or whatever the metaphor is.) Moving forward, any state party or caucus that takes steps back in recruitment will be rightfully held accountable.
We built our support program informed by three main principles:
- We do not have to do everything ourselves, especially when other people are already doing it or do it better.
- Support should be as accessible to as many people as possible, in whatever way candidates need it. We might not know the best way to help them!
- As they say in the critically acclaimed ABC show Lost: Live together, die alone. As applied to our work: Running for office is really hard, but you don’t have feel so lonely when you’re doing it.
Our pipeline is structured to take the initial massive number of potential candidates and winnow it down (partially through self-selection, partially through our own screening) to a more manageable number that allows us to engage deeply with candidates one-on-one while still be working at scale. It intentionally prioritizes women, people of color, and other underrepresented communities.
The screening process
Once someone signs up at runforsomething.net, they’re invited to join a weekly conference call run by one of our regional directors — the call goes over what Run for Something does for folks (and what we don’t do), and begins to answer initial questions nearly every potential candidate has: how to pick what office to run for, how much it might cost, where to find filing deadlines, etc.
At the end of the call, potential candidates get tracked into our queue for screening calls. We have approximately 300+ volunteers who do regular 1:1 calls with potential candidates. Those volunteers are similarly on-boarded through a conference call and are provided with an extensive guide on how to have these 1:1s along with being paired with an experienced volunteer who can answer any questions or coach them through the process.
Those calls screen for four key criteria:
- Progressive, whatever that means wherever they live — we believe in basic progressive values, but do not demand purity to any particular policy, nor do we have a strict litmus test. Our candidates are running for too many offices and we work in too many states (i.e.: all of them) to do that.
- Authentically rooted in their community — this doesn’t mean born-and-bred somewhere, but it does mean someone has ties where they’re running, and represents that community in a meaningful and genuine way.
- Willing to work hard and talk to voters — we don’t sugarcoat how hard running for office is.
- Interesting and compelling to talk to — if our volunteer enjoys the conversation, voters probably will, too!
Anecdotally, the calls reinforce volunteers’ faith in American democracy — while the news from D.C. is farcical at times, the calls are authentic insights into what Americans really care about and how people can work together to make a difference.
One volunteer told us the reason she loves RFS more than other groups is because of the direct connection to candidates — it makes the work feel more direct to them, even if it’s just a 30 min call.
Over the last two years, we had more than 2,280 1:1 conversations with potential candidates.
Approximately 70% of the people we’ve talked to have met the above criteria, are under the age of 40, and are running for local office for the first or second time. Everyone we screened was admitted into the Slack team and got regular weekly updates with training information and online resources and had access to the mentorship database — all explained in detail below.
For deeper engagement, we further winnowed this pool down by making endorsements.
Our endorsement application is thorough and asks candidates to align themselves with a series of value statements, along with providing us with a campaign plan, a budget, self-research, and context about their race. Eligible candidates must all be 40 years or younger on Election Day, running for down-ballot office, running for the first or second time, and share our progressive values.
Endorsement applications were reviewed by trained volunteers who did thorough background checks and social media deep-dives. Regional directors did a second review, incorporating anything on the application along with any other information we got from the in-take survey and the 1:1 the candidate did with a volunteer. Operatives on the ground with experience in-state reviewed a third time, and then we made our final decisions.
Over the first two years, we received about 1,000 endorsement applications, and endorsed 650+ in 48 states plus D.C. After the 2017 elections and 2018 primaries, we ended the 2018 cycle with 416 endorsed candidates on the ballot on Election Day 2018, with 50% identifying as women and 35% identifying as people of color.
From there, our candidate services program was extensive and included…
Managed by political director Sarah Horvitz, we ran what we affectionately called a “partner-full model.” We worked with a range of groups, from Our Revolution to EMILY’s List to MoveOn.org to DFA to OFA to the DLCC to Emerge America to Onward Together and a vast network of new-ish like the National Democratic Training Committee and old-ish organizations like Planned Parenthood Action Fund. When approaching relationships with other groups, we aimed to get our candidates help in whatever way we could, at little-to-no cost to them. We didn’t care if we got credit for it (although credit is nice!) — more important to us was that candidates were supported, not scammed, and able to leverage our relationships on their behalf.
A few examples of how this played out:
- We co-sponsored trainings with EMILY’s List and heavily recruited women to attend from our lists
- We encouraged women to apply for Emerge’s 6-month intensive candidate training programs across the country
- We worked closely with the National Democratic Training Committee to make sure our candidates had access to their extensive library of free, online, campaign resources
- We recommended candidates for endorsements by groups (like Flippable, Working Families Party, MoveOn, DFA, #VoteProChoice, etc) and people (like President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton)
- One Vote at A Time made videos for more than 30 of our candidates
- Civic Power Media and The Creative Cabinet supported our candidates with creative help
- The Hometown Project connected public figures/celebrities with our candidates
- Get Her Elected, a group of women content creators run by Lily Herman, worked with dozens of our women candidates
- We worked with Mobilize America and text messaging platforms to ensure our candidates received the best tech tools for them to win
Where we didn’t see other groups doing the programming our candidates needed, we filled in the gaps. But we don’t ever want to be duplicative — no need to recreate the wheel. (You’ll see us say that a lot. We mean it. Collaboration = good, duplication = bad.) We prioritized trainings that were either tactical in nature or specific to the level of government our candidates were seeking to fill. For example…
- How to Fight Climate Change as a City Councilmember
- How to incorporate DREAMERs and DACA protections into a local campaign
- GOTV 101 for first-time candidates
- Cybersecurity for small campaigns
Our mentorship network allowed us to scale our efforts so effectively and sustainably. Over time, we built up a database of more than 500 professional operatives and private sector experts who were willing to offer time and talent to campaigns across the country. Some folks are long-time political operatives, others are professionals in the private sector with experience in copywriting, design, public speaking, or marketing. All applications to join the mentorship database are reviewed before accepted.
To be connected with a mentor, candidates submit a request through our website — or a regional submits a request on their behalf — then Flonja Hoxha, our programs associate, finds the appropriate mentor and connects them over email. (A note about this: We tested out various technological solutions to connect candidates with mentors and ultimately, a person doing the matchmaking was the most cost- and time-efficient. Shocking!)
One example of how this worked…
RFS volunteer Randye Hoder utilized her decades of journalism experience and contacts to work with candidates to tell their stories. Candidate Caitlin Clarkson Pereira fought with the state of Connecticut to change state campaign finance rules to allow covering childcare expenses related to campaign activity was picked up in Fast Company and Motherly. Randye also worked with Aisha Yaqoob to write her opinion piece in HuffPo: “What It’s Like To Run For Office As A Muslim Woman In The South.”
Our incredible (and recently promoted!) director of community, Leslie Hauser, was intentional about fostering relationships — both between candidates and volunteers. We tested out a variety of tactics here, the primary ones being Slack and Facebook groups.
All candidates were funneled into Slack after their 1:1 call with a volunteer, where they could connect with each other and ask/answer questions. This was more successful earlier on in the cycle, when candidates had more time to dig in with each other. As we got closer to Election Day, understandably, candidates were less present.
In September 2018, we launched a Facebook group called “Parents Who Run,” where we invited all our parents (men and women) who were endorsed candidates. This was a bit more active, as parents love sharing photos of their kids and Facebook is already a native platform.
Candidates anecdotally told us that feeling part of something bigger — not entitled, not alone, not abandoned — was one of the biggest value-adds we provided. Initial debriefs have also indicated that “friendships with another candidate” were a major source of support and resiliency. This is something we are excited to learn from and scale as we move into 2019.
As mentioned in the discussion about recruitment, we used our social media audiences to amplify our candidates stories and gave them exposure to a national audience. We also regularly pitched our candidates to reporters and worked off incoming requests (i.e. “I’m looking for young women running for school boards in the midwest!” or “I need veterans running for state legislature”) to get more press for our candidates, which the candidates could then leverage into more fundraising and volunteer recruitment.
For endorsed candidates only: Staff support
Our regional directors (Tariq Smith, Derek Eadon, Najaah Daniels, and Amanda Clarke), prioritized their time to work with endorsed candidates in their regions. Once on-boarded in June/July 2018, our regional staff immediately did 1:1 calls with endorsed candidates in their portfolio to audit where they were at and how we could be helpful. In August/September, regional staffhit the road and traveled to meet 1:1 (or 1:few, pending on density of candidates) and help however possible. Sometimes that looked like looping candidates with staff at other groups or reviewing proposals from vendors; other times it was getting new field directors onto VAN, or simply doing a canvass shift with a candidate in their off-time.
Regionals were also our primary points of contact with campaigns, ensuring they were hearing from a singular representative from the organization for all things, ranging from video requests to training alerts to “good luck!” notes.
Important note here: We worked with counsel and followed campaign finance law in each state to ensure we were not overstepping any legal boundaries.
Fund for Something
We raised money through ActBlue tandem fundraising for endorsed candidates in 14 states, in accordance with campaign finance law. We ultimately raised nearly $25,000 split across more than 150 candidates.
While supporters told us they wanted to give directly to candidates, online fundraising testing didn’t bear this out. Some individual donors identified types of candidates they wanted to give to, and we would highlight a variety of folks for them.
Volunteer support & GOTV
We connected volunteers directly to campaigns both ad-hoc and en masse.
Volunteers would find candidates through our candidate directory online or would email us and ask for help identifying campaigns in their area. From there, we might directly loop them with folks on campaigns. Sometimes these one-off volunteer experiences would turn into ongoing relationships and sometimes they’d even develop into full-time career changes.
For example: Kelly O’Donnell volunteered for NY state senate candidate Andrew Gounardes starting in Spring 2018, was hired on as his field organizer in the summer and ultimately left her career in theater to be in politics full-time — after his victory, she joined his office as his scheduler.
Samantha Paschke started as our volunteer and through the connections she made as a newly mobilized organizer, joined Allison Berkowitz’s Maryland House of Delegates campaign part time as Campaign Manager. Daisy Pardo in San Francisco wanted to help someone locally and found herself doing tons of behind the scenes work for Victor Olivieri. These are volunteers that had not been involved with politics before 2017 in a significant way.
Through our Volunteer for Something hub and taking advantage of our partnership with Mobilize, we funneled hundreds of volunteers into GOTV shifts for candidates.
Volunteers and candidates connected on Slack to get questions about social media, messaging, texting, data, and more answered in peer-to-peer learning where volunteers could use their professional and personal skills and apply them to political world.
Additionally, Run for Something Action Fund sent over 350,000 GOTV text messages in key Democratic areas during GOTV weekend.
Impact & immediate learnings
We did immediate debriefs with all our 2017 candidates. A few things we learned:
- Money wasn’t the biggest value-add we could provide candidates — community was.
- It was so helpful to have someone to ask questions to who didn’t have financial skin in the game — meaning, if they asked a stupid question, we wouldn’t yank our support.
- Two-thirds of our losing 2017 candidates wanted to run again
We are doing intensive debriefs with our 2018 candidates, including qualitative and quantitative feedback sessions, to ensure that our support program is providing candidates what they actually need and not what we think they need.
In December 2018, Ben Theodore joined our team as our alumni program manager. He immediately began doing 1:1s with candidates to identify how we can best support them as they enter elected office or continue their civic engagement after losing campaigns. In January 2019, he launched our alumni Slack team, and will be rolling out an alumni mentorship program. He’ll also be the primary point of contact for organizations that want to connect with our new elected officials, and will be building out additional support efforts for our alum.
Fun fact: Seems like at least two-thirds of our candidates who lose intend on running again!
A note on our 2018 goals:
When we kicked off 2018, we laid out two big goals: We would recruit 50,000 candidates who want to run and endorse 1,000. These were numbers that, to be quite honest, we’d ambitiously picked out of thin air. We did not hit either of them, and we want to be transparent about why:
- 50,000 candidates was a lot! Our pace of candidate recruitment stayed relatively stable throughout the months (about 1,000 a month) but especially as the 2018 elections crept up, folks focused on those. We also found advertising for these leads — particularly if we wanted good leads — to be prohibitively expensive.
- 1,000 endorsed candidates would have been possible had we endorsed all the folks who applied. We would have had to lower our standards, and frankly, would have had to engage more deeply with candidates who didn’t meet our “hell yeah!” test. We had to make a decision: Meet our arbitrary goal, or miss it but maintain the quality of race we aspired to engaged with? We chose the latter, and will happily defend that.
Eight members of our staff were on the programs team, focusing on candidates, volunteers, and political work. The rest of the team focused on raising the money, telling the story, and building the tools so the programs team had the space, money, and flexibility to recruit and support candidates.
The communications team, lead by Lesley Lopez, chief communications & marketing officer, focused on recruitment and candidate amplification as laid out above. She had support from Tyler Goodridge, our Digital Communications Manager, who joined in spring 2018. Along with press, social media, and message strategy, they worked with a network of designers along with video freelance editors and interns and volunteers who helped manage things like Instagram takeovers and keeping Tumblr updated.
Our fundraising program was run by development director, Robert Wrasse and supported by Marsha Gonzalez, Senior Events & Special Projects Manager, and Chief Operating Officer Seisei Tatebe-Goddu.
Over the first two years, we raised $2.5 million from more than 12,000 donors. The money came in through three primary sources:
- Major gifts from folks including Reid Hoffman, Chris Sacca, New Media Ventures, Onward Together, and partners across the progressive movement. Some of this funding was program-specific; others were general operating funds.
- A focused online fundraising program that raised a steady amount of money with an average gift hovering below $45 and included merchandise sales.
- More than 25 small/medium-sized fundraising events across the country in New York, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Madison, Sacramento, and London. Events ranged from meet-ups with $35 or free tickets to $50,000 events with catered food, alcohol, and large host committees.
- One big event! Party for Something, held in D.C. in June 2018, where Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren all spoke, along with Virginia Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. We played cornhole! It was fun, and just as important, the event raised nearly $250,000. We plan on doing it again, so get psyched.
We aimed to build a balanced fundraising base — we did not want to rely on any single individual high-dollar donor to fund our program, nor did we want to rely solely on small donations, which come in waves and can be less predictable to budget around. By being 100% transparent (for example, through documents like this one) and perhaps verging on over-communicative, we aim to treat all donors equally (and with a mountain of gratitude).
Our technology has developed dramatically since day one. We launched with a Squarespace site and a mess of Trello, Slack, Google docs, ActionNetwork, ActBlue, and Zapiers which connected the tools together. That mess has stayed relatively consistent over the course of the last two years, with the addition of AirTable. In February 2018, RagTag rebuilt our website to its current iteration.
In September 2018, we brought on Justen Fox as the Director of Technology and Product, with both short-term and long-term goals. In the immediate present, he built a tool that allowed us to easily monitor all 416 endorsed candidates on Election Day. In the long-term, he’s developing a product roadmap specifically geared toward building an in-house constituent manager database and a hub for all candidate resources and training materials. These things are hard, but we’ll get there.
Operations & expenses
Our Chief Operations Officer built and oversaw all operations for the organization, with a focus on legal, compliance, human resources, internal infrastructure, and all the bumps and obstacles that come with scaling a team from 5 people in January 2018 to 17 people in December 2018. (A note that in 2019, we’ll be re-organizing slightly to bring on a director of operations and, eventually, a chief of staff.)
Legal hurdles were particularly tough to overcome, as we navigated managing both a non-federal political action committee (Run for Something) and a 501c4 (Run for Something Action Fund), and ensuring we were on the right side of both federal law as well as state campaign law for every state we were engaged in.
Our team is entirely remote — in January 2019, we have staff in New York, Maryland, D.C., North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, California, and Pennsylvania. The staff is two-thirds women and 43% people of color. Most had previous political experience, some did not.
Our expenses over the first two years included:
- Staff — including health care and benefits
- Travel — fundraising trips, in-region travel for regionals, and the cost of bringing a remote team together regularly
- Legal fees
- Video production
- Merchandise production and shipping
- Fundraising and event expenses
Values & philosophies
Before we get into what we want to accomplish moving forward, it’s worth taking (more than a few) paragraphs to articulate the “why” — meaning, the underlying values and principles driving our decision making. These principles are consistent from we first launched Run for Something, and are further informed by two years of doing the work.
First, we believe that the progressive movement should prioritize running good people, running them locally, and running them everywhere.
Breaking that down…
We believe just as we did on day one that “good candidates” don’t look or sound like any single archetype. We’ll continue to prioritize recruiting and supporting candidates from diverse backgrounds (meaning race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, occupation, and more); who have strong rationales for running; who want to do something, not be something; who emphasize voter contact and local issues in their campaigns; and who are willing to do the work.
On the flipside of that, we will continue not to care whether or not our candidates can raise a bunch of money from day one — a metric that, when used in isolation as a measurement for viability, is problematic on a multitude of levels.
We will continue to focus solely on local elections, defined as state legislative races and below. We believe in this guardrail for four key reasons:
- Local and state government directly affects people’s lives — it’s critical to have good progressives in those offices, making those decisions.
- Most local elections are manageable, affordable, and can be won purely on hustle by the right candidates.
- Our future presidents, governors, and members of Congress will come from our bigger pool of present-day state legislators, city councillors, and school board members.
- Running strong local candidates who do aggressive voter contact will spur more voter turnout, helping Democrats at every level of government.
We will never expand our work up the ticket to include statewide elections or federal races. While those are important too, we’ve got a lane and we’ll stay in it.
Finally, we believe in running good people everywhere. We invest in people, not in geography. We’ve worked with candidates in every state and in every kind of community — from inner-city to rural western counties. We are willing to risk endorsing candidates in “deep-red” districts and the bluest of blue districts.
There is some nuance here: We will prioritize our staff time and resources toward redistricting states in 2019/2020 (more details to come; read on), and we’ll certainly help state caucuses or other organizations recruit for specific races as needed. However, a mentality of “these races only and absolutely not others” is not and will never be our mission.
Second: This work cannot be cyclical in nature.
After two years of Run for Something, we’ve determined effective candidate recruitment takes approximately 18 months, at least — from beginning the conversation about running for office all the way to Election Day. That means we need infrastructure to constantly scout and encourage new candidates to run all the damn time, not just in even-numbered election years or in the 2–3 weeks leading up to filing deadlines.
Additionally, the best and strongest campaigns come from having a lot of time to do the work — meaning they get started as far as a year out from when voters go to the polls. We intend to build a year-round candidate support apparatus that allows us to help candidates at every stage of their efforts. (We’re already getting part-way there — some of our early 2019 endorsements are of candidates who we’ve been working with for over a year.)
Third: We have to trust voters. (Even when — and perhaps especially when — it’s scary.)
Run for Something is not primarily a voter-facing organization. We are here for candidates. We want them to have every resource they need to reach voters.
Our goal with endorsements is not to tell voters who to pick when they go the polls. Instead, our goal is to empower candidates — who are the best possible messengers for the values we share — to connect with voters efficiently and effectively. Our endorsement is an asset candidates can use as leverage to get even more resources and talk with even more voters.
Fourth: We don’t believe in recreating the wheel.
This one feels pretty obvious, and we say it a lot, but it’s worth spelling out: Resources are limited and the progressive ecosystem is full of people doing amazing work already. We don’t need to be duplicative. Recreating others’ work and slapping our logo on it is a waste of our time and disrespectful to our peers.
Where other organizations are doing great work (say, running trainings or directing volunteers to campaigns), we’ll play matchmaker with our candidates so everyone can benefit.
Fifth: Community matters. We really are ~stronger together.~
Politics is hard, demoralizing, and can be an absolute grind — and running for office especially can be lonely. But we’re all part of something big. This is a movement of people coming together, whether as candidates, supporters, donors, volunteers, stakeholders, political partners, or whatever other label you want to use, all to do something powerful together because that’s the only way change happens.
We believe in the power of community, and we’re going to do our best to cultivate one that is meaningful, effective, and at least a little bit fun.
Sixth: We stay in our lane.
A list of things Run for Something has no plans of changing or including in our scope of work:
- Federal races
- Expanding our age limit — we’ll keep our focus on young people
- Officially merge with the Democratic Party
- Advocate for specific policy positions
That doesn’t mean these things are not important, nor that someone else shouldn’t do them. But we can’t do everything well, and we’re not going to try. That’d be silly.
Finally, our core values as an organization.
Every member of our staff tries to live these values every day — they drive our organization’s culture and operations. While we don’t always succeed, we’re doing our damndest.
Bold & Fearless
- We have big dreams and are unafraid to pursue them.
- We have a high risk tolerance; we’re not afraid of fighting the system when fighting is necessary. We’re not afraid of primaries either.
- We’re willing to fail; we’d rather fail than avoid challenge.
Open & Honest
- We believe in radical openness; we never shy away from challenging dialogue.
- We tell the truth, even when telling the truth is difficult.
- We’re transparent.
Supportive & Respectful
- We’re here for the candidates and we put their needs first.
- We meet people where they are, with warmth and without judgment.
- We work hard while respecting people’s lives outside work.
Progressive & Diverse
- We support Democrats that share our values and want to run for office.
- We value cultural competences and strive to exemplify it in all we do.
- We believe in diversity and seek to build a team that demonstrates diversity across race, class, geography, professional background, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Long-Term & Strategic
- We’re committed to our goals and will make short-term sacrifices in service of our long-term goals.
- We take principled stands, but don’t believe it’s our job to be the “purity police.”
- We invest in talent, both at RFS and in the field.
- We build infrastructure designed to last beyond individual election cycles.
2019, 2020, & beyond
After two years of testing out our big idea and figuring out how to scale it, we’ve landed on a big, ambitious goal that will continue to be our organization’s guiding north star:
Run for Something will be the premiere local candidate recruitment and support institution across the Democratic party and progressive movement.
We’ll be the best place to go to for:
- Any young progressive thinking about possibly running for office
- First or second-time 40 and under candidates
- State and local parties when they are looking for young and diverse candidates
- Organizations who train candidates
- Donors who care about recruiting and supporting local candidates
- State and local party infrastructure that is unable to provide resources to candidates outside of their top targets
- Reporters, content creators, artists, and anyone else looking to tell interesting stories about the present-and-future leaders of the Democratic Party
In 2019 and 2020, we’ll focus on three goals:
- Run candidates in as many races as possible! By the end of 2020. Run for Something will build something that has never existed before on the left: Candidate recruitment infrastructure that is massive, permanent, year-round, and (eventually) across all 50 states.
- Support candidates at every step of their campaign — we’ll have folks signing up with us who are three weeks out from Election Day and folks who are three years out from Election Day. We want to be able to provide what candidates need when they need it. We want to build on the success of our support program in 2017 and 2018 to take the work to the next level.
- Continue building an organization that can do this work sustainably (and have fun, too!)
Big picture: The organization’s work doesn’t change. What does is the structure within which we do the work and how we prioritize our efforts.
Let’s dig in…
The 2019–2020 electoral calendar
Building an electoral organization doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our work is keyed around elections — so accordingly, it’s worth considering the calendar over the next two years and take into account what’s going to be happening.
2019: While most folks might consider 2019 an “off-year,” there are elections in…
- Governor: Kentucky (R), Louisiana (D), Mississippi (open seat)
- Legislature — Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, New Jersey (all election days are 11/5 except LA)
- Major municipal elections in at least 20 states, including: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin
One of our immediate action items: Run for Something will keep a running list of all 2019 elections and filing deadlines. (This is harder to find than you’d think!)
2020: Don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet, but there’s going to be a presidential election in 2020! It‘ll be wild. There will also be congressional elections.
But equally as — if not even more — important, there are state legislative elections in 44 states. It is absolutely critical that Democrats win state legislatures in 2020 ahead of the 2021 redistricting process. If we don’t, it won’t matter who wins the White House. Republicans will draw districts after the Census to ensure they maintain a stranglehold on governing for a generation or more.
Filing deadlines for 2020 elections will kick in as early December 2019, so working backwards, we plan to begin recruiting for 2020 in the spring/summer of 2019.
Additionally, there will be states with key redistricting imperatives in 2020. We plan on working in each of those states where a legislative chamber flip can make a difference. Those states, as defined by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, include: Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Run for Something will spend the next two years building permanent, year-round, candidate recruitment infrastructure in all 50 states. In 2019 that means we will pilot our innovative candidate recruitment model in a handful of states that have later filing deadlines, like Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa, and Ohio.
We’ll take the learnings from those states and spend the rest of 2019 investing in 5–7 states with chamber flip opportunities in 2020. We’ll recruit candidates to run for every single seat currently occupied by a Republican, which includes races that are considered “flippable.” Recruitment will also begin in states with early filing deadlines like Texas and Illinois.
In 2020, we will build on our successes and expand our candidate recruitment efforts further. We will focus our efforts on “flippable” districts as well as those that are traditionally ignored by the party infrastructure. While we will be recruiting for local offices as well, at the end of 2020 we will roll-out a program to systematically recruit candidates for city and county offices, especially focusing on races where Republican candidates were recently unopposed.
We’ll pilot and build a series of ongoing programs in 2019 to test different recruitment methods and determine what works, looking at qualitative and quantitative data and engage with academics who are experts in what it takes to convert someone into a candidate.
As in most efforts, tensions exist between time, quality, and quantity. To account for time we plan on rolling these programs out in a systematic way that allows us to learn and expand.
While quality candidates are important, our goal is volume: These programs will aim to generate large numbers of individuals interested in running for office. Those individuals will get narrowed through our candidate pipeline until we come to the folks who are interested in running either in 2019 or 2020.
Relational candidate recruitment
TL;DR: We’ll assemble, train, and set loose an army of volunteers who are trained to go into their communities and recruit folks to run for office.
Who: The Director of Candidate Recruitment will oversee the program and be supported in volunteer management by the Director of Community, individual Regional Directors, state recruitment associates, and the Alumni Manager. We will start by recruiting from current Run for Something volunteers, community members, and former candidates. The Director of Community as well as Regional Directors will be responsible for recruiting additional volunteers.
What: We’ll build a curriculum based on best practices in relational organizing as well as executive recruiting to train volunteers. We’ll also develop sample materials and online tools to support the volunteer outreach. The team will follow the snowflake model of organizing, with strong recruiters taking on additional responsibilities and recruiting additional folks to become a part of the program. Eventually, we envision volunteers administering the trainings and executing most of the work, though we understand that will take quite a bit of time.
Why: We know a few things about recruiting candidates. The first is that women and people of color need to be asked multiple times. The second is that the ask is particularly effective when it comes from someone who is in your personal network.
Goal: 40% of our candidates on the ballot in 2020 will come from this specific program.
TL;DR: Regional Directors will develop individualized plans that include events and meetups with on-the-ground partners, 1:1 meetings with potential candidates local community leaders, and direct interaction with state-based recruitment groups and caucuses.
Who: The Director of Candidate Recruitment will oversee the program, which will be executed by the Regional Directors and state recruitment associates. They will receive support from the Director of State Programs and be supported by the Political Director. Regional Directors will engage with stakeholders like state and local groups, current RFS volunteers, national groups, local/state Democratic leaders, former RFS candidates, and others.
What: The specific mix of activities will differ by state and region, however, they will include in-person events and trainings, meetups and house parties, network analysis of states and individual areas where we need to recruit, networking with connected leaders, and being a part of any events that are being hosted by local groups. Regional Directors and their staff should be fully integrated into the civic life of their states.
Why: We know that Regional Directors will be able to build their own programs to recruit candidates, and we also know that it is important for folks on the ground to take the lead. Part of the purpose of this program is to pick up individuals who will be missed by the Relational Candidate Recruitment program specifically through in-person events, traditional networking with community leaders, and working hand-in-hand with local organizations who are engaged in similar work.
Goal: 30% of our candidates on the ballot in 2020 will come from this program.
Paid, earned, and owned media
TL;DR: We’ll run candidate recruitment digital ads, generate earned media stunts, and through both earned and owned media, amplify ongoing efforts on the ground. We’ll also tell the stories of our candidates, as part of the “you can’t be what you can’t see” directive.
Who: All of this work will be overseen by the Director of Candidate Recruitment, who will work closely with the Director of Communications and Marketing, Digital Communications Manager, and the ads agency.
What: In addition to the digital ads and stunts, we’ll conduct regular recruitment webinars that have significant political or movement leaders joining as a way to draw participants.
The ad program will work off the hypothesis that you cannot simply serve a recruitment ad to someone once and expect them to sign-up. We need to form relationships with folks through consistent repetition and then bring them in by asking them to run. Additionally, Regional Directors will work with the communications team to lay out at least one recruitment stunt in their region per quarter.
On top of these tactics, we’ll also add a larger content series that includes an expanded video and audio storytelling program, interactive quizzes, etc. The idea is to amplify candidate stories with the ultimate goal of moving folks to run themselves.
Why: To get the individuals we want to run for office, we need to ensure folks make it into the top of the funnel. These tactics are intended to capture folks that local networking will miss, we also know that some of these individuals will decide not to run this cycle or at all. However, about 10% of our current pipeline has or is running, so if we can capture thousands of folks a the top, we know that will help us find hundreds of folks. We will also be able to reach individuals in more rural areas more efficiently through these methods as well.
Goal: 30% of our candidates on the ballot in 2020 will come from this program.
Support candidates with institutional, tactical, and operational support from pre-filing all the way through Election Day, no matter where in the campaign cycle they’re at. Through a combination of a permanent regional director program, a proactive mentorship network, an enhanced candidate resource hub, and deeper partnerships, we’ll make sure our candidates have access to any and all guidance they might need for as cheap as humanly/legally possible.
Candidates will continue to have direct points of contact with regional staff to support their efforts however they need — whether that’s reviewing campaign plans, making introductions, or simply being a sounding board after a tough week on the trail.
We’ll transition our mentorship program from a passive database into a proactive program that candidates get access to as soon as they sign up. We’ll also build out better feedback loops and expectations management for mentors.
Our communications and technology teams will build out a candidate wiki — a central hub for all the resources, templates, and knowledge that our candidates, mentors, and volunteers have generated or used over the cycles.
We’ll deepen our integration with core training organizations like NDTC, Emerge America, EMILY’s List, and others, to ensure RFS candidates get the training they need.
Other tactics we might explore:
- Access to tools that may be helpful to candidates, like Mobilize, peer-to-peer texting, website templates, and the voter file. In a dream world, Run for Something would have licenses to the tools and be able to direct candidates to what makes the most sense for their campaigns
- Earned and social media support in an operationalized way that also allows for spontaneity
Through a multi-touch communication and organizing program, we’ll break down any distinction between online and offline organizing, and will always endeavor to meet people where they’re at. We’ll bring people together as one movement of folks excited to run for office themselves, or elect and support young progressives running for office, because good politics should be treated like a team sport. Anyone interesting in getting engaged will have a place to plug in.
Programs might include:
A road show — These are NOT trainings, nor are they fundraisers. Instead, they’ll be community gatherings where we talk about what running for office is like, what you need to run, how you recruit folks in your own community to run, and what some of the first steps are. They’re fun! We might have a nominal fee (like, $1? $5?) or they might be free. TBD.
Get-togethers — these would be a series of regional convenings with current candidates, alumni, volunteers, etc. where folks could get together, network, share information/resources, etc. Again, these are not fundraisers or trainings. Just a chance to get to know people doing similar work in your area.
Organizational volunteer program — the community team will manage and organize volunteers who then run key parts of RFS operations, like candidate screening, internal projects, vetting, etc.
Moderating candidate Slack — continue to encourage discussion and candidate back-and-forth through our Slack, and explore other online forums where RFS could cultivate community.
Candidate matchmaking — connecting candidates currently running with others who are going through similar problems, so they can share best practices and commiserate together
Alumni program — we want continue to be helpful to candidates who win and also help them continue to build community through Run for Something. The alumni program manager will be responsible for determining the shape of this. This program could include a training for former candidates who want to become operatives.
RFS Leaders (a 501c4 program) — a leadership development program specifically for candidates who have run and lost, and likely will not run again
RFS Fellowship (a 501c4 program) — a program to hire candidates to conduct research for Run for Something, with an emphasis on those who may not have the flexibility to run without a stabilized income stream
Our communications, fundraising, technology, and operations teams will scale up to meet the demands of the expanded recruitment and support programs (as laid out above).
We’ll build a staff based on a matrix reporting structure. In our wildest of wild dreamy budget, our staff is as follows….
Our programs team, managed by the chief programs and recruitment officer, might include: a political director, a recruitment director, a candidate services director, and a community programs director who will drive strategy for their respective areas, along with a director for state programs who will act as traffic cop and strategic lead for a large team of regionals and, if possible, multiple deputies and associates. We’ll also bring on a data director.
Our empowerment teams (communications, fundraising, technology, and operations) will be oriented around the same three goals of recruitment, support, and community. We’ll build out an holistic communications team with in-house video, design, and content creation as well as a robust press relations arm, a fundraising department that does both big dollar development and grassroots online fundraising, a research director, a technology team to build out internal and external infrastructure, and a well-resourced operations team to support the organization’s scale.
This staff could be as big as 45+ people. We can get a lot of it done with 27 people.
It’ll continue to be remote as we’ll have staff across the country. We’ll continue to prioritize hiring diverse talent and investing in people at a point in their careers where we can help them grow, be challenged, and take on new responsibilities as the organization grows, too!
This will be hard and messy, and it will definitely come with some challenges. But we think it’s worth doing anyway, because this work must be done at scale to truly make an impact.
The Board of Directors
We are lucky to be advised by the strategic wisdom and efforts of our governing board. In 2018, that board included both co-founders, along with:
- Pedro Torres-Mackie, the founder and managing director of Quotidian Ventures, an early stage Venture Capital fund based in the Flatiron District of NYC. He started Quotidian in 2010 to invest in passionate entrepreneurs and help them realize their potential to turn innovative ideas into groundbreaking companies, and has invested in 60+ startups with $1.5B+ in realized exits to date. In 2015, he was selected as part of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Venture Capital. Outside his work at Quotidian, Torres-Mackie is a member of the Advisory Board for the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering (BASE), a member of the board of directors at the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an Advisor to Angel List, and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Design Lab.
- Tim Lim, CEO of Lim Consulting Services LLC, which focuses on political strategy, organizational development, and fundraising. Tim most recently was a Partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive (BPI), a full-service marketing agency that works with political campaigns, corporations and advocacy organizations, as well as the President and Founder of Precision Network, a cutting-edge media buying firm.
- Jen O’Malley Dillon, a veteran organizer, campaign manager and pioneer in the use of data analytics to target voters and consumers. She is currently a Partner at Precision Strategies, and most recently served as Deputy Campaign Manager for President Obama’s reelection campaign, overseeing the largest field organization in the history of presidential campaigns, voter protection and education programs, and political outreach, and leading the development and use of data analytics to target, register, persuade and mobilize voters. Before that, she was Executive Director of the DNC. Jen has worked at every level of office — from state senate and mayoral races to five presidential campaigns.
In 2019, we are delighted to add at least three new board members:
- Abby Pucker. Abby is passionate about supporting initiatives at the intersection of tech, media and culture that are driving society to be more inclusive and amplify the voices of underrepresented communities. She has invested in a number of LA and New York based companies in both the media and community spaces and is involved in others in an advisory capacity. Most recently, Abby was leading expansion efforts at Catalyte, a mission-driven for profit company that uses AI to identify, upskill and assemble high-performing software development teams. Her work on mission-driven film and theater projects as an executive producer and producer for the past two years along, with her time in the tech space, spurred on her recent jump from the tech world to entertainment full time as the Director of Business Development at Madison Wells Media, a diversified media company based in LA.
- Emmy Ruiz, an operative and strategist who has worked in Democratic politics for more than a decade. She is committed to working with communities of color and working to change the face of power.
- Teddy Goff, a co-founder and partner at Precision, where he leads our digital practice. Teddy’s team develops strategies and runs programs for major corporations, innovative startups, leading nonprofits, and progressive campaigns. Most recently, Teddy was the senior advisor for digital and technology for Hillary for America. In 2012, Teddy was the Digital Director for President Obama’s re-election campaign, leading the President’s digital strategy and managing the 250-person nationwide team responsible for the campaign’s social media, email, web, online advertising, online organizing, front-end and product development, design, and video presences. TIME described his work as “redefining the limits of viral politics.”
We have three budget scenarios for executing the ambitious program laid out above. It’s important to be clear: If we don’t raise this money early in 2019, we will not be able to do this in any meaningful way. Hiring staff early and starting this work early will be the difference between success and failure; between impact and “doing it because it makes us feel better but it doesn’t actually make a difference.”
A team that will get the job done (but we’re going to be very tired)
- 2019: $3.4 million; 2020: $4.5 million
Two year total: $8 million
Will change the world (but there’s still more to do)
- 2019: $4.63 million; 2020: $6.12 million
Two year total: $10.79 million
All the bells and whistles (I mean this is truly game-changing shit the likes of which we’ve never seen before)
- 2019: $6.21 million; 2020: $8.29 million
Two year total: $14.5 million
After the last two years, we shouldn’t have to argue why this work matters — the 200+ elected officials and thousands more candidates who ran incredible campaigns should speak for themselves.
But just in case: This work matters.
People want to run — they just need an on-ramp. And that on-ramp takes time, people, and money to build; it takes intentionality to get diverse candidates, it takes technology to have the database and relationship-tracking to be successful; it takes advertising to reach people who may want to run but not know who to ask; it takes operations staff and events folks and people to keep the trains running on time to make sure dozens of staff across the country have what they need to Just Do The Work.
2020 is going to be just as extraordinary an election as 2018 — and perhaps even bigger, assuming Trump is on the ballot. If we get this right, we can drastically change the makeup of our government — not just today, but for the future. The folks we work with will go on to run for higher office. But that’s not the primary reason to give a shit: We want progressives in office right-fucking-now to make life better.
We can change the world. If you made it all the way to the end of this doc, you can help.
Help build a Democratic bench
Run for Something is recruiting and supporting under-35 year-old candidates for down ballot races. Join the fun at…