2019 was all about building, refining, and preparing our organization to scale. (It was also about electing another 96 people across 29 states and recruiting an additional 15,000 people to run for office.)
In just three years, more than 46,000 young people have told us they want to run for office. We’ve endorsed 953 all-stars and elected 304 people across 49 states + DC. Our elected officials are 54% women, 47% people of color, and 18% LGBTQ.
In 2019, we spent $2.2 million, bringing our grand total over three years to ~$4.7 million — we’re spending around $15,000 per winning candidate. Nearly 10,000 volunteers and 14,000 donors have contributed to our success.
We helped flip five seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council to cement Democratic control and make it a majority-millennial body. We helped flip the Virginia state house to give Democrats control of the state government for the first time in a generation, elect the first Somali-American and youngest woman ever to the Lewiston City Council in Maine in the face of racist trolls, and supported one of the youngest women ever elected in Iowa to the Ames City Council.
As we go into 2020, our mission stays the same as it was day one: We’ll continue to be one of the few national organizations for young people thinking about running for local office.
With the unique circumstances of this year, we’re being strategic about how our work ladders into larger goals and helps win sustainable power for Democrats. Our party can’t settle for just trying to win the White House — we’ve got to do it all and do it more efficiently and at a bigger scale than ever before.
*Due to the unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Run for Something team has put together a strategy to continue to support our candidates during the epidemic. Take a look here.*
Below, we lay out what we built in 2019, our theory of change for 2020 and what we’re going to focus on this year.
It unfortunately continues to be exceedingly rare for organizations to get this detailed in public about their strategic plan. But transparency matters: You deserve 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.
If you want to dive in, our 2017, 2018, and 2019–2020 strategic plans are available for your perusal. The 2019–2020 plan in particular is worth reading for a deeper background on how our program is structured — given how detailed that is, we didn’t want to be too repetitive this time around.
Run for Something’s 2019–2020 strategic plan
Where we’ve been, where we’re going, and why it matters.
2019: What we did well & what we can improve upon
At the end of 2018, we made an intentional decision not to scale down for 2019. There’s a reason most organizations reduce their staff and program in off-years: It’s hard as hell to raise money. Accordingly, we were in a tenuous financial position from January through mid-March. But thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to stay open and thank goodness we did, because our 2019 candidates (including the 96 who won!!) needed the help and our program is stronger in 2020 for it.
A very TL:DR of how our candidate program works: Potential candidates sign up on our website, join an introductory conference call, then get connected to a trained volunteer for a one-on-one call. After that call, the candidate is accepted into our program and has access to trainings, resources, our mentorship and alumni network, and can apply for our endorsement. Endorsed candidates are who our staff works directly with, who we track for election results, and who we engage with after their election. Check out How We Help for more details.
How We Help - Run For Something
We provide a safety net for new and exciting progressive candidates - at all stages of their journey - to help them run…
In 2019, we focused particularly on recruitment, building up internal infrastructure, and learning as much as we can. A few of the highlights:
- Our 501(c)4, Run for Something Action Fund, launched runforwhat.net — an amazing new tool that allows potential candidates to enter their addresses and identify the offices they might be able to run for. The tool has generated more 14,000 unique potential candidate sign-ups alone.
- We refined our pipeline to get more people moving from the top of the funnel (raising their hand on our website) to actually running for office. We’ve built out a series of automatic emails to onboard candidates with better expectations about our program up-front, kicked off a candidate texting program, and continue our weekly candidate updatse with training opportunities and resources.
- There is still room for improvement: There is significant drop off between that initial sign-up and the first conference call; that automated email series (introduced at the end of 2019) will hopefully reduce those rates.
- We tested out a paid ad campaign that included spending $100k+ in Texas, generating nearly 1500 leads in Texas on top of thousands of more from the last three years. We learned a lot about what kind of creative works and what really doesn’t. (For example: Search ads are super effective; display ads and banners are extremely not.) As a result, 20% of the non-incumbent Democrats running for state house came through our funnel.
- We held in-person recruitment events in Indianapolis, Albuquerque, and multiple cities in Texas, bringing interested candidates and volunteers together to amp up and inspire each other.
- Everyone celebrated the third annual National Run for Office Day — including 40+ partner organizations and nearly every presidential candidate. More than 5,000 people signed up to run for office around the holiday.
- We coordinated with Contest Every Race in TX, NC, GA, VA, CO, and MS, sending thousands of text messages about open races for municipal office to encourage candidates in our pipeline to file to run for office.
- We launched the Grassroots Redistricting Project, a collaborative effort with Swing Left and Arena to focus our energies on recruiting, staff, and supporting state legislative races key to combating gerrymandering after 2020.
- Our alumni began recommending and connecting us with prospective candidates, creating a new “good ole boys club” but instead made up entirely of young people, women, and people of color. You love to see it.
We also refined and focused our support program, built out our volunteer network, and expanded how we engage with alumni:
- Despite being seriously understaffed in 2019 (our regional team was 2 members instead of 4), our staff supported candidates in 276 elections in 2019. Our close partnership with the Indiana Young Democrats spurred recruitment and allowed us to endorse 34 candidates in Indiana, 15 of whom won. Fun fact: In 2019, we endorsed the most candidates in Indiana (34), followed only by Virginia (33).
- After joining candidate intro calls and hopping on the phone with one of our volunteers to talk about their campaign goals, volunteers now share out 3–5 alumni and networking contacts for the candidate to contact. These contacts may help advise on running for office now, or provide an opportunity to volunteer on a campaign to prepare for an their own future campaign. This is an immediate resource!
- After receiving an endorsement, all RFS candidates who request it are matched with an alumni advisor who’s gone through a similar race or is in a similar stage of life. Alumni are also connected to each other post-election as needed when problems and questions come up. These relationships have been an absolute delight to watch flourish. For example…
Tracee Miller (an elected school board member in St. Louis) connected with Jessica Hembree in her (successful) run for Shawnee Mission School Board, discussing strategy in a non-partisan race, time management, and balancing personal commitments with the rigors of the campaign.
Kelly Kraus Mencke set up a weekly phone chat with Emily Holmes during her successful run for North Strabane Township Supervisor, discussing topics such as family balance, organizing her volunteers, having tough conversations with voters at the doors, and more. From Kelly: “Even if Emily and I couldn’t connect, I called her every week at the same time. Sometimes we talked, sometimes I just left an encouraging voicemail. It was nice to be a cheerleader and I loved getting to know Emily!”
Yadira Caraveo and Alice Mann were connected just recently, since they’re both state representatives and grappling with the same challenge of balancing full-time work as physicians with family/legislative/campaign needs.
Eli Sabin, who was elected to New Haven Board of Alders as a local college student, was connected to Rigel Robinson, who was elected to the Berkeley City Council as a local student. Rigel could advise on how to hit the ground running as a newly elected official and the importance of being the representative of the local student population
- In 2019 we saw so many previously endorsed RFS candidates step up to run again: 55 alumni applied for endorsement for a second run for office — 12 ran in 2019 (9 won, 5 of whom were incumbents and 4 who won for the first time — Tay Anderson, Daniel Wood, Tommy Butler, Josh Cole — and so far, 43 will run in 2020.
Outside of the program, our empowerment team — which includes operations, technology, communications, and fundraising — made huge progress in 2019:
- We reconfigured our operations department, building out sound financial management systems, refreshing onboarding processes, feedback loops, and always improving the diversity of our hiring process. (Fun fact: On average, the final stages of our most recent hiring rounds were 67% people of color and 50% women.)
- Our tech team of one — with the support of an incredible volunteer who dedicated countless hours of his time for free — built out a homegrown database (affectionately named Deb, after his plant) that will allow us to better track how multiple people within the organization are working the thousands of candidates that are part of our network.
- Our communications team kept Run for Something in the news through projects like the Down Ballot Pledge (which nearly every presidential candidate signed) and stories in the press, including NowThis videos, stories in Rolling Stone, Washington Monthly, Vanity Fair, MTV.com, MSNBC, and Crooked Media. Our Facebook reach increased by nearly 50%, our Twitter impressions went up by nearly 20%, and our Instagram audience grew by nearly 100% over this point in 2019. We launched an SMS program to begin connecting with supporters where they’re at.
"The greatest defeat in history." | Crooked Media
Democrats win big victories in Virginia and Kentucky, a new Crooked Media/Change PollerCoaster 2020 survey shows…
- We set out to raise $2.2 million in 2019, we exceeded that by raising $2.6 million and started 2020 with a surplus. We hosted 20 fundraisers across the country last year, including a big Party for Something, where Stacey Abrams and Rep. Ayanna Pressley wowed the crowd with their remarks. Our donor list grew by 10% over 2019 as we keep building a balanced revenue base.
2019 set us up for a successful 2020 in which we can do meaningful work at scale.
2020: Our theory of change
We’ve been saying this since day one: More people running means more voter turn-out, especially amongst hard-to-reach communities.
In 2018, we were able to prove that. Our research found when a Democrat is running for state legislature in a race that was previously uncontested, Democratic turn-out went up by 1 percentage point.
Democrats' myopic focus on just winning the White House
Amanda Litman and Ross Morales Rocketto write that Democrats need to change course and focus their resources on winning…
And while anecdote is not data, we’ve heard from countless groups who organize communities of color in particular that local issues and elections are more meaningful drivers of engagement than national elections.
Finally, rigorous research studies have shown that the only thing that beats person-to-person communication in terms of getting someone to vote is when one of those people is a candidate themselves. That’s one reason (but not the only reason!) why the average Run for Something candidate knocks on anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 doors themselves — many many candidates knock on much more than that, depending on how big their race is and how much lead-time they get.
Local election stakes are tangible, the candidates are relatable, and the issues are personal. Voters who might not show up the top of the ticket in 2020 — whether it’s because they’re not enthusiastic enough about the nominee or they just don’t think their vote matters in such a big election — could be brought in and convinced they have power by engaging through a local race.
TL;DR: Local candidates are like super-charged field organizers with personal skin in the game — and if these candidates win, they become public servants who can use their power to make a meaningful difference for their voters.
No matter what happens with the White House, we’re going to want more Democrats in state and local office.
If Trump wins (ugh): We’re going to need Democratic state legislatures to take action on a range of issues, including protecting a woman’s right to choose, expanding gun safety regulations, combating voter suppression, and ensuring that after the redistricting process, Democrats can maintain their hold on the House in 2022. Democratic municipal offices can create sanctuary cities for immigrants, transition energy usage to greener sources, adapt building codes to mitigate carbon emissions, and more — Democratic school boards can institute policies to protect trans kids from bullying and revise school curriculums to keep conservative propaganda out of our classrooms.
If a Democrat wins the White House: All of those things are still true and then some! The presidency is by definition a limited source of power; a Democratic president is going to need governing partners at every level of office in order to both enact and sell their policies.
And no matter which party wins the White House, we’re going to need to win in state legislatures in order to have a seat at the table for redistricting after the Census in 2020.
And further out, there will (hopefully) be elections after 2020. We can take advantage of a year like this to build party infrastructure in places it didn’t exist before. Infrastructure doesn’t pop up overnight, and it certainly doesn’t get built without a candidate to serve as the galvanizing force.
2020: Our priorities
Broadly, our national recruitment effort pushes on, using press, social media, and relying on our alumni network to keep bringing new candidates into the fold.
But as we think about how to spend our funds, time, and staff efforts in 2020, we have a laser-focus on recruiting candidates in the key states Democrats need to flip state legislative seats in: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. While the Texas and North Carolina filing deadlines have already passed — check out what we did in Texas! — we’re working with partners to identify any gaps they’re seeing and find more candidates for state legislature and municipal office as needed.
And it’s worth noting: We’ve already endorsed 9 candidates for Texas state legislature and 4 candidates for North Carolina state legislature. We’re not waiting!
We want to recruit candidates like it’s going to be the highest turn-out election of our lifetimes, then target our support like every race will be a nail-biter.
Recruitment is always happening — if you’re reading this, you should run for office! — so any chance we get, we’ll keep telling the stories of our candidates and alumni in order to encourage more people to run themselves.
We’ll continue providing candidates the resources they need — behind-the-scenes mechanics, tactical support, advice, mentorship, access to trainings, and community — no matter where they are in the campaign journey. It’s possible we could endorse 1000 candidates in 2020 alone, doubling our lifetime number of endorsed candidates.
But like recruitment, we have to focus our staff time and resources. Given the bigger picture of this cycle, we narrowed our focus into two buckets:
- Candidates for state legislative seats we need to win for redistricting purposes (MN, WI, TX, FL, GA, NC, OH, & PA). It is likely that many of our candidates are running for longer-shot races within those states and won’t be at the top of the target list for most organizations. But we believe good candidates running strong campaigns can turn a race competitive (and truly, if we’ve learned anything over the last three years, it’s that anything can happen).
- Candidates for local office in key battleground states for the presidential election, Senate races and gubernatorial races, including — but not limited to — Maine, Montana, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Michigan. This map is flexible; as we see great candidates pop up in districts that overlap with a vulnerable House seat, or as the battlegrounds adjust over time, we’re nimble!
Given the scale of this year’s elections, it’s entirely possible we endorse 1000 candidates in 2020 alone, doubling our lifetime number of candidates.
To be clear: We are absolutely not ignoring anyone, anywhere. Our staff will continue to support candidates in red states, blue states, purple states, and everything in between. We are a national organization with a long-term 50-state vision. But with unfortunately limited resources right now, we need to focus in on where our efforts can multitask.
Run for Something was created in the wake of the 2016 election, but it was never a resistance organization. We’re building long-term infrastructure meant to scale and last. In 2020, we’ll keep building an organization that can stay open into 2021, 2022, and beyond.
Specifically, we’re continuing to build:
- Program that is efficient and designed for scale.
- Operations processes that promote a positive, inclusive team culture and make our entire team happier, stronger, and more effective.
- Technology that can scale and allows our staff to do more with less.
- A communications strategy that reaches people where they’re at and gives them meaningful ways to engage with our organization — whether that’s by running for office, volunteering, or donating.
- A fundraising program that is balanced, focused, and ambitious (but realistic). We want to end the year with money in the bank so no matter what happens on Election Day, we can stay open to help 2021 candidates & beyond.
2020: How we do it
Our staff remains stable from 2019 into 2020. The team is split up evenly between program and empowerment — four regional directors, a program assistant, a community director, an alumni program manager and a final position to be filled — are supported by a two-person operations team, a technology & product director, two people focusing on communications, and two people who raise the funds needed to keep the whole organization open.
To fully fund our program this year (without adding any staff or running any additional recruitment programs) and end 2020 with enough in the bank to stay open into 2021 no matter what happens, we need to raise $3.2 million.
Your $5 (or $500,000, or $5,000,000) investment in this effort will efficiently and effectively build sustainable power for Democrats more. You’ll help win elections up and down the ticket, build party infrastructure, and dramatically change the status quo of who makes up our government.
If you want to help:
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Let's win lasting power
Run for Something elects young diverse progressives to local office to help Democrats build permanent power for the…
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In 2020, it’s never been more important to run great candidates at every level of office. If we invest wisely, we have a chance to build lasting power and win the White House. Let’s go!