Run for Something went into 2023 with big ambitions. As we laid out in our 2023 strategic plan: “We’ve gone wide — now it’s time to also go deep.”
Good news: We did it! We’ve grown leaps and bounds, learned a ton, and had our biggest and best election year yet, laying the groundwork for an even more effective 2024 (and beyond).
As we do every year, in the spirit of full transparency and accountability, we wanted to share with you our 2024 strategic plan.
This plan first includes a look back at what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve learned — then looks ahead to what we’re going to get done in 2024.
TL;DR: We’re continuing our broad and deep work with young diverse progressives running for state and local office — especially for school boards, local election administrator roles and positions that may affect abortion access — because it’s never mattered more.
Short-term, it will be critical for the survival of our democracy to have incredible local candidates knocking doors, talking to voters, and generating excitement (also known as “reverse coattails”) during an election that may otherwise feel like a bit of a downer.
Long-term, we’re continuing to build the recruitment and support infrastructure that will enable sustainable power at every level, and stop extremists from taking over schools, cities, and state capitols.
What We Accomplished in 2023
2023 was our organization’s best year yet. (2022 was our best year before that — and 2021 the best year before that. A cool thing about this work: The longer we do it, the better we get at it.)
Run for Something endorsed 416 candidates with elections in 2023: 50% Women, 53% BIPOC, 27% LGBTQIA+, and 20% RFS Alumni. 226 of them won across 50 states — a win rate of 54%!
Get to know some of our amazing winners:
- Justin Douglas, Dauphin County Commissioner, PA — flipped the Dauphin County Commission by less than 200 votes, turning the county commission majority Democrat for the first time in a century, and ensuring that pro-democracy folks will be running the 2024 election in this critical PA county;
“Earlier this year, when Run for Something, an organization that recruits and supports young candidates, reached out and asked if I would consider running for office, a big part of my decision was the reality that county commissioners have a role in overseeing elections. Free, fair and accessible elections are the bedrock of our democracy.” — Justin Douglas
- Carrie Budzinski, City Council, Livonia, MI — mother of two children and the first Black candidate elected to City Council;
- Brandon Sakbun, Mayor, Terre Haute, IN — beat a Republican incumbent to become the youngest mayor in the history of Terre Haute at 27 years old;
- Madison Irving, School Board, Three Chopt, Henrico County, VA — defeated a book-banning, anti-vax incumbent, flipping the district;
- Amelia McMillan and Ben Walker, School Board, Central York, PA — both endorsed candidates won against book-banning extremists and flipped the district’s school board from red to blue;
- Juan Jaramillo, City Council, Revere, MA — first-generation Colombian-American, and the first Latino and only non-white official serving on the city council in Revere;
- Neil Makhija, County Commissioner, Montgomery County, PA — the first AAPI candidate elected to county commissioner in PA history, another key victory for democracy in 2024;
- Catherine Fray, Town Council, Carrboro, NC — the first non-binary candidate elected in North Carolina (as far as we know); and
- St. Paul, Minnesota, will have an all-women and all-millennial led city council that includes RFS winners Nelsie Yang, Hwa Jeong Kim, Saura Jost, and Cheniqua Johnson.
Meanwhile, RFS alumni continued to win their races for higher office, bolstering the progressive bench, including:
- Danica Roem, State Senate, VA — the first openly transgender Virginia State Senator in history;
- Sara Innamorato, County Executive, Allegheny Co, PA — a HUGE win for democracy, as the position oversees election administration;
- Jennifer Carroll Foy, State Senate, VA
- Schuyler Van Valkenberg, State Senate, VA
- Leanardo Williams, Mayor, Durham, NC
- Heela Capell, Judge, Kings County, NY
We’re especially excited about our work in Virginia, where we endorsed 45 candidates — the highest number of RFS endorsements in Virginia yet! — and helped flip the state House of Delegates and hold the state Senate.
35 RFS endorsed candidates were on the ballot in November, with 19 candidates securing wins. Five of those wins were in key battleground Virginia legislative races.
Shoutout to our States team, whose engagement with Virginia races in 2023 was extensive, including connecting RFS endorsed candidates to each other, linking candidates to earned media opportunities, and fundraising support.
Thanks to the incredible efforts of our candidates and alumni, we stopped Governor Glenn Youngkin’s abortion ban in its tracks and will continue to protect access in the last state in the South.
Overall: We won 54% of races for the year — 226 wins total in 2023. That includes 186 wins on election night this November.
All of this means: Run for Something has now elected more than 1,000 people since its founding! This is a huge milestone for us.
Recruit, Invest, Support, Empower
Our pipeline of candidate signups grew by 15,115 or 22.62% in 2023 — a slower year than usual but one in which we learned a lot about what kind of recruitment tactics work in this political environment.
For example: In Northwest Arkansas, we kicked off the Recruit, Invest, Support, Empower (RISE) pilot program. A “train the trainer” program, we first identified key local leaders who could be powerful nodes for recruitment, then brought them together for a series of trainings. Paul Kim Bradfield, our Southern Regional Director, ran several workshops across Northwest Arkansas, and also did extensive 1:1 work with participating partner organizations. The first two workshops focused on candidate recruitment tactics, tips, and troubleshooting. The third helped prepare our partners for supporting the candidates they’ve recruited to run.
Over the course of 7 months, RISE participants produced over 850 prospective candidate contact attempts, over 170 prospective candidate meetings, and over 500 prospective candidate leads.
RISE had a 100% participant retention rate — with all 8 of our initial participating partner organizations staying active and two more added mid-program.
Overall our pilot partners recruited 38 candidates in the program, 15 of whom are under 40. This is an especially incredible achievement considering the filing deadline was so early: November 14th, 2023 — almost a year before Election Day. We expect the number of candidates to only grow from here, as we continue to recruit 2024 candidates for municipal and school board filing deadlines in July.
This is a long-term investment: The RISE program participants in Arkansas now have the knowledge and tools necessary to recruit and support local candidates, build a pipeline, and sustain the recruitment effort for the long haul.
More broadly: We’re already seeing the fruits of our labor in candidate recruitment. In nearly every state with filing deadlines so far, we’re seeing a record number of candidates filling out state legislative slates, including Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina. That means more people running more local grassroots-driven campaigns which means more voter contact where it counts: At people’s doors.
These full slate sof candidates will help the entire ticket — the president, Senate races, and more — win big in November.
On the volunteer side: In 2023, nearly 1,500 people joined our volunteer network, which provides critical support to candidates wherever they may be in their journey. Every week, Run for Something volunteers speak one-on-one with prospective candidates about their plans to run for office, offering guidance and answering questions along the way. For those further along in their campaigns, volunteers engaged in phone banks and canvasses for our endorsed candidates, as well as serving as mentors in specific skill areas.
“The opportunity to work directly with candidates, especially those who still need a nudge to run, is so incredibly rewarding. So many of them just need someone to tell them they can do it. I love hearing their confidence grow, and seeing when they actually step up, run, and often win!” — Chelsea, RFS volunteer
Year 2 of Clerk Work
In 2022, we launched Clerk Work, a critical program to save democracy from the ground up by electing pro-democracy leaders to the positions that actually oversee elections.
RFS played a role in recruiting 233 candidates throughout 2023 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.
We continue to refine our recruitment methods, and are adjusting, as what works in one state may differ from the next. Broader recruitment tactics like mass texts or phone banks were more effective than we expected this time around — we believe this stems from improved scripts, more efficient targeting, and additional follow-up from our teams on the ground for those expressing interest. This tactic has been critical in building the pipeline, especially in places that have relied on a single activist list for engagement.
Of the folks recruited, we won 138 races throughout 2023, including 34 wins against anti-democracy candidates — a 59% win rate (our best yet!).
Within that bucket, we developed the Democracy Defenders program to target our support for Clerk Work candidates who needed a little more of a boost. This program mirrors the candidate services we provide endorsed candidates — we’re able to help them with key strategic imperatives like developing a field plan, composing salient messages, or building a GOTV plan.
We had 47 Democracy Defenders across our core states of Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan — 15 of these candidates prevailed in their spring general elections and 12 won in their fall general election. In total, 13 of the 15 Democracy Defenders (87%) faced off against anti-democracy candidates and won!
One of our key Clerk Work wins: RFS alum Sara Innamorato, who will take over as Allgeheny County Executive, in the area including and surrounding Pittsburgh, PA. Sara prevailed in a crowded and very competitive Democratic primary, then beat a Republican opponent who had a documented history of anti-democracy behaviors. Sara will oversee the election in a county of 1.2 million Pennsylvanians.
Finally, stepping back: Since launching the Clerk Work program in 2022 we’ve helped recruit 466 candidates — as far as we know, this is the most successful office-specific candidate recruitment effort in the history of Democratic politics.
Looking ahead: We now have a great list of motivated people and a good sense of what tactics work where. This puts us in a strong position to keep defending democracy in 2024 and beyond.
Laying the Groundwork for Our 50 State School Board Strategy
Run for Something is not new to the fight for school boards — since 2017, we’ve endorsed 354 education-related candidates and elected 182 — a 51.4% win rate. In the last few years in particular, we’ve refocused our efforts on school board races, in large part due to the rise of groups like Moms for Liberty and GOP investment in these critical races.
We’ve worked with more and more school board candidates and identified new ways to recruit them and help them in their elections.
We ran a particularly exciting school board pilot program in Pennsylvania: In partnership with local organizations, our PA state director, Melanie Rose, and her team ran three intensive in-person school board trainings in Pennsylvania for possible candidates. Of the folks who attended, 52% filed to run for office! Of those folks, every participant under 40 filed to run and was endorsed by RFS. And of those folks — 83% of them won, with one race too close to call.
This includes flipping the Central York School Board, which has been a hub for book bans, and Moms for Liberty Extremism. This election flipped the school board from red to blue and two RFS endorsed candidates, Benjamin Walker and Amelia McMillan won!
More broadly, in 2023’s November elections, RFS school board candidates had a win rate of 72%, more than double Moms for Liberty’s win rate of 32%.
Seeing the energy around these races, in late 2023, we launched our 50 State School Board Strategy, a multi-million dollar pilot program to recruit and support school board candidates in 2024. We plan to scale this successful work in 2024 and have already begun to recruit and endorse 2024 candidates (and even have conversations about 2025!). Scroll down for more on all this.
Where We Fell Short in 2023
It’s extremely unusual for political organizations to talk about the ways they fell short. But we see this as important for transparency and accountability. It’s not that we don’t want to make mistakes — rather, we want to be making new mistakes instead of repeating old ones, and the only way that can happen is through self-reflection.
(1) We set out to endorse 650 candidates this year. We fell short here — a few of the many questions we asked ourselves as we debriefed:
- Was 650 too high given it was an odd-numbered year? How do we need to think about this goal in the future? Answer: We will re-evaluate in 2025, and: We feel confident about our goal for 2024, given the scale of elections in the year.
- Is this because we were more rigorous about the quality of candidates we endorse? Answer: Upon further review, yes, which is good!
- Are we doing everything we can to make the endorsement application accessible for candidates, while still gathering the information we need to make thoughtful decisions? Answer: There’s lots of room for improvement here, which we’re already implementing for 2024, including moving to a monthly endorsement cadence to create more opportunities, re-doing the application to make it more streamlined, and refining our outreach to candidates.
Ultimately, endorsing a fewer number of races meant our Campaigns team could spend more individualized time with the folks we supported, and more of them won than any year prior. This is a good thing!
(2) Our 2023 budget was $17.8 million. Like most of the progressive ecosystem, we did not raise it. We think there were a few factors here — including the psychological reality that winning elections is great for democracy (and definitely preferable to the alternative!!) but bad for fundraising to win the next one.
Our wins (and the defeat of many election-deniers) in last November 2022 let everyone take a big sigh of relief. With a few extra guardrails now around the 2024 elections, it was very tempting to take a step back from this work.
In addition, many donors (small and large!) have been digging deep to support progressive causes throughout the dumpster fire that was the Trump years, and we get it; everyone needs to take a step back sometimes to regroup.
But the crisis that American democracy is facing isn’t over. It’s time to step back into the arena.
We’re so grateful that a stellar 2022 fundraising showing kept us afloat, but we can’t run this work in the red for much longer. If you’re reading this far down — please support this work! We need you more than ever. Give today.
Looking Ahead to 2024
Before getting into the 2024 vision, we like to come back to our values. Everything we do — from the program externally to the way we operate internally — is driven by these principles:
Who We Work With
Run for Something will continue focusing on our core communities — people traditionally left out of leadership, including:
- Young people — defined as folks 40 years old and younger, and especially prioritizing 18–30 year olds
- People of color, further broken down by community affiliation/identification
- LGBTQIA+ people
- People who have never run for office before (or otherwise meet our established criteria for endorsement)
- Community leaders who have not previously considered electoral politics as a way to make change
We are always seeking to lift up people from communities that others ignore or those with experiences many others dismiss — that could mean people from rural areas, or with a history of incarceration, or artists, or, or, or (listing them out would surely be incomplete).
Said another way: What is the experience or perspective that historically might have been disqualifying but now is understood to be a value-add to someone’s leadership? Those are the people we seek to bring into the fold.
With all that grounding us, here’s what we’re going to do in 2024:
2024 is a make-or-break year for American democracy. (We know you’re tired of hearing that. We’re tired of it, too! Blame the anti-democracy movement — not us.)
Run for Something’s work to recruit and support diverse local leaders to run for state and local office is more important than ever in this environment. In 2024, we’re digging deeper in more local races than we ever have before. That’s important on its own, but here’s a fact: the doors our candidates knock and the voters they talk to could be the deciding margins in the Electoral College, House, Senate, and other major top-of-ticket races (and of course, the wins we notch can make a meaningful difference in people’s day-to-day lives.)
We’re not changing what we do. (FWIW, we’ve never changed what we do!) Rather, 2024 is about taking the well-oiled machine we’ve been building over the last 7 years and putting it into action when it matters most, while ensuring the organization has the resources we need to exist and sustain this work into 2025 and beyond — because we are optimistic that democracy will survive into 2025.
The two big buckets of work:
We’ll grow our pipeline and fill available seats by testing and iterating our recruitment tactics.
That will include focused efforts, like expanding on the pilot RISE program we ran in Arkansas in 2023, where we trained partners on the ground how to recruit candidates and connect them to the broader ecosystem.
It will also include innovative paid advertising campaigns, focused press and organic social campaigns, the re-launch of National Run for Office Day through Run for Something Civics (stay tuned!!), and deeper and intentional cultivation of folks already in the pipeline to bring them across the starting line to file as candidates.
Our Organizing and Recruitment Associates have been up and running for a year+ now — they’re perpetually learning from each other on the best ways to have 1:1 conversations about running for office, and standardizing the playbook for candidate recruitment. And because they have long standing relationships from their years of advocacy, they have been successfully brokering retirements where it makes sense to make space for new representation.
We’ll also continue to leverage our alumni network (now 3000+ strong!) to do relational recruitment, as they’re the best messengers on how running for office is absolutely a step anyone and everyone should consider.
We aim to endorse 850 candidates nationwide — a 40% increase over our 2020 goal. Those candidates will continue to be at least 51% people of color, 51% women, and 20% LGBTQIA+.
Reflecting on our learnings from 2023 and the feedback from our alumni, we’re changing some of our endorsement processes to enable more touch-points with endorsed candidates earlier in the process. Thanks to expanded compliance infrastructure, we’ll be able to provide in-kind campaign support to more candidates, deepening our impact in targeted races.
We’re greatly expanding our volunteer program, building more opportunities in more places for our endorsed candidates to be supported through texting, phone banking and canvassing.
Our support program will engage with candidates as full people, not just candidates or politicians — empowering both their campaigns and who they are beyond their campaigns. With the help of our fully-staffed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team, our support program will be culturally competent, empowering our staff to more deeply engage with candidates in an impactful way.
We’re building on existing communications work to further our support of candidates through the press, social media, a training program, and more.
Among other factors, we’re especially prioritizing our time and resources on candidates who directly affect abortion access, who could be driving implementation on climate policies, or who overlap with Clerk Work or the School Board programs below.
In service of those recruitment and support goals…
- We’re sustaining, expanding, and diversifying our partners, which includes more than 500 state and local organizations. We’re improving tracking to create more seamless relationships and running constant feedback cycles to ensure our partners are getting what they need from us and our candidates are getting what they need from our partners.
- We’re building out our internal technology and data infrastructure so our team can work more efficiently and collaboratively, and spend our most limited resource — our time! — on the things that make the biggest differences.
Recruitment and support work will cut across two big focus areas:
- Clerk Work, our groundbreaking program to recruit and support pro-democracy leaders for local election administrator positions, will continue as we work in partnership with our coalition members to ensure that any position that could fuck up the election is being held by someone with voters’ best interests in mind.
- Our 50 State School Board Strategy will kick off its pilot year as we build on existing infrastructure to dig deep and work on as many school board races as possible, knowing they will be a powerful driver to get folks to the polls in a year when that might otherwise be the hook.
We’ll aim to do all this with the support of our People & Culture and Finance & Compliance teams, which support our staff as full people (not just employees!), keep our budgets in alignment, and keep us out of jail. (Hopefully.) Our DEI team will shape both internal equity and programmatic initiatives to empower us to work in alignment with our values.
Why This Matters Now
We started Run for Something after Trump was elected — but it’s never been just about Trump. Even with him on the ballot again this year, that remains true. Our work helps stop his campaign, and helps build sustainable power to keep someone like him from ever rising to the top again — because the way to win the big elections is to win the small ones over and over again.
If your biggest political goal for 2024 is to stop Trump, good news: Run for Something’s work is a critical part of that fight and as important, a cost-effective one. Helping us recruit and support local candidates helps Democrats hold the White House.
You can read more about this from Puck News’s Peter Hamby, who goes long about reverse coattails — the data-backed & statistically significant way that local candidates will gin up turn-out for the entire ticket.
Elsewhere, Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times sums it up pretty well: This is the work we need to do if we want to save democracy.
If you’re concerned about state legislatures — about protecting abortion access, voting rights, and so much more, our recruitment effort on that front is already paying off.
Thanks to the hard work of the RFS team & our hundreds of partners across the country, Democrats are contesting every state senate seat and nearly every state house seat in Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio, and are fielding a record number of candidates in partisan races in Arkansas. With each filing deadline that passes, more good news will come.
If you’re concerned about school boards — we’re doing that work, too. In spite of the ridiculous stories coming from Moms for Liberty, they’re not going anywhere and neither are we. Our 50 State School Board Strategy is in full-effect as we run scaled and targeted recruitment campaigns and dig in with school board candidates to make school boards boring again.
When we lay it all out there, it seems like we’re doing a lot — the truth is, we’re doing the same thing we’ve always done: Recruiting and supporting young diverse progressives to run for local office. The work itself hasn’t changed. What we’ve learned over the last seven years is the impact is exponential. This is the nuts-and-bolts of political power that unlock so much beyond their singular stories.
No matter what happens with the presidency, our work does not change in importance.
If Trump wins, our folks will be on the front lines of defense against his administration’s likely dangerous and democracy-destroying actions. Having strong leaders in blue states who can stand up to him and strong leaders in red states who can mitigate harm and push back where possible will be not just necessary — they’ll be life-saving.
And if (when!) Biden wins re-election, our folks will be pushing forward to implement big parts of the legislation passed (see: the Investment Reduction Act, which sent billions of dollars in climate money to be spent by state and local governments 👀) and they’ll be playing a massive existential game of whack-a-mole against the MAGA Republicans trying to stake a claim to power on the local level.
These local offices are the levels of government we need to win at (in addition to the federal offices.) These are the positions that directly affect people’s lives. These are the offices that too many ignore, especially when the presidency takes all the headlines, and these are the leaders that we’re grateful for when the shit gets real.
No matter the outcome in 2024, Run for Something isn’t going anywhere. We need you with us now and into 2025 and beyond.
You can help.
Run for office. It’s never too early (or too late) to get started.
Where Can I Run — Run for Something Action Fund
Use this tool to find out when, where and how you can run for office.
Make a donation right now to Run for Something PAC and take on this fight.
Let’s win sustainable power for progressives
If you have questions about other ways to support Run for Something, email us at hello at runforsomething dot net. We’re here to help.
One last thing: Thank you!
If you’re reading all the way down here, you’re in this with us. You get why this matters. Maybe you’re sharing our stuff on social media and tagging us, maybe you’re emailing our feel-good updates to a friend, maybe you’re contemplating running yourself. Maybe you’re one of our alumni, a long-time partner, or a volunteer.
Whoever you are, you’re a part of the Run for Something community. Our victories are your victories. Our impact is YOUR impact. You’ve made this all possible and we’re so grateful for you. 2024 is going to be an incredibly hard year, but we’ve seen time and again that the RFS community can do hard things.
We’re so grateful for you. Thanks for sticking with us.