Run for Something’s 2021–2022 Strategic Plan

When we launched Run for Something on January 20th, 2017, it was nothing more than a wild idea to recruit young people to run for office.

Four years later, we’ve identified 67,000+ young people who want to run for office, endorsed nearly 1,500 and elected nearly 500 — mostly young women and BIPOC leaders, and 21% LGBTQIA+.

Our alumni have passed Medicaid expansion in Virginia, brought ambitious climate policies to New York, expanded access to the polls in Harris County, TX, gotten police officers out of schools in Denver and Minneapolis, tackled the housing crisis in Pennsylvania, helped tens of thousands of Floridians navigate a broken unemployment insurance system, ended LGBT conversion therapy for minors in Michigan, and so much more. They have meaningfully and intentionally made life better for millions of Americans.

With four years under our belt, we’re just getting started. Each year, we release an updated strategic plan — laying out what we accomplished, what we learned from our successes (and failures!), and what we aim to do in the year to come.

Go down memory lane: 2017 Plan | 2018 Plan | 2019 Plan | 2020 Plan

This kind of open-book policy remains too rare among Democratic political organizations (and even more rare among Republicans). But we do it anyway, because Run for Something’s core values demand it.

We claim ourselves to be “Bold & Fearless; Open & Honest; Supportive & Respectful; Progressive & Diverse; Long-term & Strategic” — living those values means laying it all out there is important for transparency and even more important because it’s respectful of you, our supporter. You should know what you’re investing your time, money, and attention in.

In this plan, you’ll find:

  • A recap on what we accomplished in 2020
  • What we learned from the 2020 election results
  • What we learned from our 2020 candidates
  • Our focus in 2021–2022
  • Our program in 2021–2022
  • What we need to get it done in 2021–2022

If you have any questions about what we’re up to, what we’ve learned, or how you can get involved, just email us anytime: hello@runforsomething.net.

(And if you want to run for office, sign up now. We want to help you!)

2020: What we did, in spite of it all

During a truly unprecedented year, Run for Something had even more unprecedented success. A few of the highlights:

  • Our candidate pipeline grew from 45,000 at the beginning of the year to now more than 67,000 young people who’ve said they want to run for office (and 5000+ of those folks have signed up since Election Day 2020!!!)
  • We’ve endorsed 1480 individual candidates in all 50 states, including a brand new 2021 class. Of those, we’ve elected 488 people across 45 states. Those winners are 55% women and/or non-binary, 56% BIPOC, & 21% LGBTQIA+. All are 40 years old or younger. There are multiple (2+) RFS alum in 36 of the 99 state legislative chambers and on 28 different school boards/city councils/county boards (and many more who serve on different levels in the same city or county). Check ’em all out on our candidate map, which has been viewed more than 50,000 times!!
  • When the pandemic began, we launched resourcesforcampaigns.com, a hub for candidates with resources from 40+ Democratic organizations that nearly 20,000 people visited. We ran the Armchair Chat series all summer long, reaching more than 2 million viewers.
For more on our program, go to runforsomething.net/how-we-help
For more on our program, go to runforsomething.net/how-we-help
  • Our communications team helped shape stories or get op-eds placed in Teen Vogue, Crooked Media, The Atlantic, CNN.com, The 19th and more. We launched a podcast with Dear Media that is generating thousands of downloads and owning the story of our candidates and alumni.
  • We built or sustained more than 100 partnerships with state, local, and movement groups across the country, because we know no one does this work alone.
  • We set an initial budget of $3.1million, lowered it to $2.2m when the pandemic hit (and cut expenses accordingly), then ultimately raised nearly $3 million anyway, taking us into 2021 with a healthy runway.
  • Our technology team built out an entirely homegrown internal database for managing candidate information, rebuilt the candidate directory on the website so external partners can better surface the folks they’re interested in, and is in the process of automating all of the data pipelines to increase efficiency.

And in addition to all that: Run for Something’s day one vision of “building the bench” is already yielding results. Jennifer Carroll Foy was one of our original endorsements in 2017; she is now a serious candidate for governor in Virginia. We expect at least a half dozen more Run for Something alum to run for higher office in 2022. It’s happening!

2020 was really fucking hard. We did amazing work anyway. That’s a credit to the Run for Something team, supporters, candidates, volunteers, and the entire community who’ve kept their eyes on the prize: Sustainable power.

2020: What we learned from the election

In 2020, 44% of the 525 Run for Something candidates on the ballot on Election Day won and 36% of overall 2020 candidates took office. This is a higher win rate than 2018!

We’ve identified three reasons why:

  1. We’ve gotten better at this: better at identifying all-star candidates and better at supporting them so they can run winning campaigns
  2. While there were losses in state legislatures, we had big wins at the city, county, and school board levels of the ballot
  3. We did a lot of work in primaries earlier this year

Beyond the Run for Something successes, however, we took the time to evaluate what happened in the larger context of the cycle: Democrats won the White House, the Senate, and held the House — while failing to flip a single state legislative chamber (and in fact losing two).

Winning the White House and the Senate was a victory by a thousand efforts — and as the expression goes, losing elsewhere was a loss by a thousand paper-cuts. There is no one thing that explains every loss.

However, we have a few hypotheses that we’re taking into account as we look to the future, and we’ll keep re-evaluating these as data and debriefs occur over the next year. None of these reasons apply to every race, nor are they responsible for the entire margin of loss, but in some combination, each played a part in our losses.

  • A Trump electorate is different than a non-Trump electorate (as shown in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 elections and again in the 2021 Georgia runoffs)
  • We were fighting on tough state legislative and congressional districts thanks to 2010 gerrymandering — the map was set against us a decade ago, and we picked off the low-hanging fruit in 2018.
  • Polling was wildly off, affecting resource allocation.
  • Money came in very very late, especially for state legislative races, and much of it was spent on TV/online ads.
  • Not canvassing was the right public health decision at the time, but came with some consequences.
  • The strategy to winning the White House & the strategy to win everything else aren’t always the same.
  • We’re on year 4 of a long-term 40 year plan to build power; Republicans are on year 39.

And that’s on top of: Voter suppression, disinformation, the death of local media, broken social media networks, an opposing party that has no qualms about breaking the rules or straight-up lying, and, obviously, a global pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people, devastating the economy, and has left the entire country in a state of anxiety and uncertainty for what’s going to happen minute by minute.

2020: What we learned from our candidates

After the 2018 elections, we ran an extensive debrief with our candidates in order to identify what they found helpful, what they didn’t, and how to build our program moving forward. It was so interesting, useful, and productive that this year, we did it again!

We partnered with Avalanche, a research firm that applies machine learning to open-ended questions in order to identify trends, and fielded a survey of our 2020 candidates. We wanted to know specifically the challenges they faced, the components of our program they found helpful, and what we could do to support them moving forward.

You can read a memo on our 2020 research here — it’s super interesting!

A few of the highlights that are informing how we refine our program going into 2021–2022…

The key takeaways: Our work matters.

Some trends across demographics:

We’ve combined this research with feedback from dozens of debrief calls with candidates. All of that, plus the 2020 election results, have driven us to identify key priorities for the next two years.

2021–2022: Our focus

We’ve identified key principles for the future of the Democratic Party, which have informed — and continue to inform — how we build Run for Something.

We’ve gone into these at length on both Crooked Media and on the Run for Something podcast if you’re interested in diving in. This is just a summary!

  1. There are no off-years
  2. Resource every state like a battleground state
  3. Chase power, not shiny objects
  4. Win local elections so we can win national elections
  5. Win local elections so we can make people’s lives better
  6. Measure success past Election Day
  7. Commit to diversity
  8. Embrace primaries
  9. Reject the false choice between “persuasion” and “turnout” — do both, all the time!
  10. Even if Trump’s not on the ballot ever again, Trumpism is.

With all that in mind, here’s what we’re doing in the next two years:

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.

All other states have valuable races; we won’t ignore any community, no matter how hard it might be for Democrats to win. Again, we have to organize everywhere, all the time. These priorities were determined after evaluating the municipal elections happening over the next two years and where opportunities arise. There is always time to shift; this is our starting point.

We’ve worked with candidates in all 50 states + D.C. — that won’t change! See the map at runforsomething.net/map

Our program can best be understood by breaking the candidate journey in multiple stages:

STAGE ONE: Potential candidates — that’s anyone we might be able to encourage to sign up on our website expressing interest in running for office.

We want to reach as many people as possible — especially young folks, BIPOC leaders, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, folks in rural communities, and those with unconventional/nontraditional backgrounds who might make great public servants. Our communications team is primarily responsible for this outreach, alongside our partnerships efforts.

To reach more potential candidates, we’re growing our owned, earned, and paid media programs. We’re expanding our digital ads program beyond the usual suspects, exploring paid ads on Reddit, Snap, and more.

We’ve transitioned our SMS program to a new backend service and will be prioritizing both SMS list growth and engagement in the next year.

Our podcast, launched in late 2020 with Dear Media, will continue to highlight candidate and alumni stories, encouraging listeners to run for office.

STAGE TWO: Pipeline candidates — we define this as anyone who’s signed up on the website as a candidate, whether or not they’ve officially filed to be on the ballot yet.

Prior to 2020, our pipeline included: A 7-day series of emails with information on training and resources, a weekly candidate email with updated info, the weekly candidate intro call, and 1:1 candidate outreach with volunteers. In 2020, we added: Clearer intake to capture when people are running, email reminders to apply for the endorsement, the Armchair Series and resourcesforcampaigns.com, and the beginning of a relational recruitment model (scroll down for more on that.)

In 2021, we aim to add: SMS support to the 7-day welcome series, adding demographic info to the intake form, broadening our relational recruitment effort, and introducing office hours with regional directors.

Starting in 2021, the community team will own this stage of the candidate journey — this will allow the regional team to spend more time working directly with endorsed candidates (which, as we learned in the debrief survey above, is extremely valuable).

STAGE THREE: Endorsed candidates — the all-stars who are selected after a rigorous application review process and work directly with our regional team.

Over our first four years, we’ve built a candidate-support program that is both deep and broad, as well as adaptive. In 2020, we endorsed 666 (!) candidates across all 50 states plus Washington, DC. Most of those folks were matched to an alumni advisor — someone who had run before — to help navigate the challenges of being a candidate. Every candidate was also connected to one of our regional directors for hands-on candidate support.

Of those we endorsed, over 400 candidates had a 1:1 with a member of the regional team. In total, our team had nearly 1,000 individual conversations with candidates about topics ranging from writing a campaign plan to budgeting to voter contact in a global pandemic.

Before 2020, our candidate resources also included: the online hub, a weekly email, the candidate slack, our mentorship network, and Mobilize volunteer apps. In 2020, we added: resourcesforcampaigns.com, the Armchair Chat series, additional amplification of volunteer opportunities, deeper mentorship and volunteering, the candidate map with volunteer links, and a partnership with Red2Blue that expanded texting capacity.

In 2021, we aim to add: Collecting volunteer and ActBlue links earlier in the process so we can amplify further, establishing office hours with regionals, and reallocating regional directors’ time to better serve candidates.

Three other initiatives we’ll work on in 2021–2022:

  • Candidate intro calls specifically for BIPOC candidates (broken out in groups as appropriate), addressing challenges unique to these folks
  • Peer-to-peer relationship building between candidates in smaller groups — in addition to the 1:1 alumni advisor relationship and the 1:many construct of the Slack and Facebook groups
  • Led by our political team, we’ll build partnerships with 80+ state and local organizations, identify 40+ new local partners and vetting leads, 100+ priority recruitment opportunities, and continue building with aligned issue/movement-based organizations.

STAGE FOUR: Alumni — any endorsed candidate who’s already gone through their election, win or lose.

Our alumni network now includes nearly 1,500 people who’ve run for local office and nearly 500 who’ve won. We’ll keep building out our program for this incredible team of leaders (elected and not). For those who are governing, we’ll be facilitating connections as possible where we see trends and needs. For those who came up short the first time but are running again, we’ll be there to support them with the specific challenges second-time candidates face. We’ll be working with the entire alumni network to identify future candidates, as these are the folks who know best what someone needs in order to run a campaign.

Prior to 2020, the alumni program included: the alumni advisor program, a monthly alumni newsletter, participation in events, the alumni Slack team, 1:1s with alumni for resources, and a transition program for post-election day.

In 2020, we added: tracking of alumni press clips, more alumni engagement with RFS events, the RFS network Slack (candidates + alumni), tech improvements for the alumni advisor program, and planning of the Community Leaders Workshop, a program specifically for candidates who lose but want to stay engaged in public service.

In 2021, we’re aiming to add: Actually running the Community Leaders Workshop in the end of January, expanding on alumni-to-alumni matching, legislative and press tracking, an alumni advisory board for further feedback and engagement, and expanding relational recruitment after a series of pilots.

What is relational recruitment? As a national org, we recognize our limitations of knowing what is going on locally. Local partners and alumni have the local knowledge — so how can we work together to identify open offices and possible candidates?

Our solution: Taking the relational organizing model to recruitment and creating “relational recruitment.” In targeted geographies, identify local catalysts — local partners or alumni who are willing to talk 1:1 with RFS pipeline candidates in the targeted area — who can have conversations with local potential candidates and report back to RFS about what they learned and what they think. They’ll also help us gather data on what offices they are interested in and what help they need.

For example: An alum in Pennsylvania expressed interest in recruiting candidates for their county. We worked with that alum to identify election opportunities on the ballot in 2021, heard from 15 pipeline candidates serious about running this cycle, and then connected them with that alum and three other RFS endorsed candidates.

In 2021, we aim to get 32 total alum to participate in relational recruitment programs.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion goals

Our 2020 class was our most diverse yet. We’ll continue working through strategic partnerships and outreach to ensure our local leaders (who make up the bench of future national leaders) are reflective of the American people.

In 2019, we endorsed 276 campaigns with 2019 elections. In 2021, we aim to endorse 400 candidates with 2021–2022 election dates.

Those endorsements will aim to be:

  • ≥50% BIPOC
    — ≥20% Latinx candidates (17% in 2020)*
    — ≥25% Black candidates (25% in 2020)*
    — ≥8–10% AAPI candidates (6% in 2020)*
  • ≥50% women
  • ≥25% LGBTQIA+

In order to support all this candidate-centered programming, our technology team will continue building out our homegrown internal database that tracks candidate interactions, and will further optimize the candidate recruitment site so we can grow our pipeline. Our communications team will keep telling the story of our organization and our candidates/alumni community in order to recruit more folks like them, and to encourage folks to support our work. Our people & operations team will build on the last four years of organizational culture to keep Run for Something nimble, sustainable, and in line with our values, along with ensuring we’re financially secure and on the right side of the law. Our development team will keep raising the money we need to keep this whole thing afloat.

2021–2022: What we need

When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, too many Democrats (both funders and operatives) scaled back their engagement, assuming that with a Democratic president, the job was completed. We cannot repeat that mistake again. We have to invest in long-term sustainable infrastructure in all 50 states — both inside and outside the party — in order to fight and beat Republicans at every level.

Unlike most electoral organizations, Run for Something is not planning on contracting in size or scope, because every year is an “on year” and every month is “an election month.” We intend to scale strategically and intentionally, as we work towards one day having permanent recruitment and support programs in all 50 states. Our fundraising, communications efforts, internal processes, and technology will all continue to be built with the long-term goals in mind.

In 2020, we spent $2.6 million. In 2021, our very conservative budget is $3.2 million. That allows us to have the staff to endorse ~400 candidates in 2021 and build out what you’ve read about above, and then plan for ~700 endorsed candidates in 2022.

The dream: If we can raise double that in 2021, and then sustain it in 2022, we can work with more than 1,000 candidates and grow our pipeline to exceed 120,000 potential candidates by the end of 2022.

If we do that, we can expect to elect around 700 new people (on top of the 486 we’ve already got in office). We can also begin setting up state-based permanent infrastructure that will even more deeply embed on the ground.

Be a part of this work. Join tens of thousands of people and make a donation to Run for Something today. (Even better: Make it monthly!)

If you want to host an event, learn more about our program or big plans, or have questions about anything at all, email us: hello@runforsomething.net

Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help? hello@runforsomething.net