This is a special edition series from Rethinking. Based on the demand and interest right now from people who want to learn more about getting involved and becoming more influential, or a decision maker, in government, I decided to create this free, nonpartisan, totally open overview. This may be valuable for those who are thinking about running for office, but need a place to start or don’t have access to these sorts of resources already.
This series provides an overview in the following areas:
- Should you run for office?
- How to start your campaign from scratch
- Running your campaign
- GOTV and Election Day
- Win or lose – now what?
Each section provides an overview of helpful information. It is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to be definitive – there are many ways to approach this, and there is lot more detail you can go into. But for those of you who may not have access to partisan resources, or wish to run outside the party/power structure (go you!), I hope this is a helpful starting point.
You can find the outline and explanation and link to individual episodes below, or the full playlist on YouTube, iTunes, or Spotify.
Do you wish I went into more detail in any area? Let me know on social media or by email! Thanks to my friend and colleague Aaron Straus Garcia for contributing his expertise and perspective to so much of this series, as well as Brandon McKoy for reminiscing on the early days of the Alex Torpey for South Orange Village President campaign.
There are many ways to get more engaged civically or have a greater impact on our public institutions or our communities around us. Running for office is but one way to do that, though it is an often overlooked platform. Many believe they aren’t the “right” type of person to do so (Pro tip: most of the people who currently run for office are actually not the right type – it’s them not you) or are intimidated by those in power, or the process of running for office. Here we break down some of the different things you may want to think about when considering to run. They include:
- Thinking about ways to get involved in your community, and learn about local issues, especially ones that may have been beyond your own perspective
- How to consider the timing, fit, and your community’s needs in your decision – are you running for you, or are you running to meet real local needs where you are offering something valuable in that regard?
- Thinking about mapping out your life and plans – how to ensure this multi-year project works for you, financially, professionally, family-wise, etc. How do young people who may move around a lot get more involved?
- Thinking about your values – how do you plan to be a responsible and ethical leader? For example:
- Do you have frameworks in place to ensure your personal authenticity?
- Are you prepared to manage your ego and create frameworks for soliciting trusted critical feedback?
- Are you prepared to take on the responsibility of the office that you’re running for? (Thinking beyond the campaign and about the job of the actual term of office)
- Are you prepared to be disciplined, organized, and enthusiastic enough to accomplish all of the hard work over many years that you would be committing to take on?
- Do you have a support network that will provide you constructive, but critical, advice as you go?
- How will you ensure you are able to stick to your values as you move forward?
Starting your first campaign, especially if you are running without major party support, is going to be a lot like starting a company – general craziness, limited funds, but an undeniably exciting sense that you and your team are working towards something truly purposeful. Before you actually have an official campaign and are off to the races, here are some things you may want to ensure you are familiar with:
- Letting the first people know about your decision and building your earliest team
- Managing the strange time of an early campaign and the difficulty with balancing private/public boundaries going forward
- Paperwork and forms – get used to them!
- Ensuring you are familiar with your local ballot access rules and the local election administrators
- Setting up your election fund and becoming familiar with your area’s ethics and contribution rules (and your own ethics frameworks)
- Setting up bank accounts, payment processing and more
- Other logistics that might be necessary for your campaign early on
- Initial fundraising and outreach to your friends and family list
- Some important early-stage guiding questions and exercises
3. Managing Your Campaign
Now we’re getting to some of the core of the content here – how to actually run your campaign. Remember, this is just an overview, each of these topics may require additional research or learning to be able to really do right. We cover the following topics:
- Communications and Digital
- Identifying and honing your message
- Building your email audience
- Thinking about social media channels and your website
- Setting up for earned media
- Creating your list
- Instituting and following through on call time
- Creating donor audiences/buckets + goals that are tracked
- Organizing and stakeholders
- Identifying and organizing stakeholders, especially local individuals and community groups
- Leveraging volunteers
- Creating and engaging with affinity groups/councils and advisory boards
- Getting your voter file – everyone is allowed to get free voter data
- Ensuring you properly use and keep track of your data as you go
- Offline versus online outreach and the role of digital
- How to leverage volunteers
- Managing the campaign
- Managing and support your team
- Managing and supporting yourself as the candidate
Everything has been building towards your election day goals. In this section, we talk about gearing up for election day and how to make sure you get the votes you should.
- Your GOTV Universe
- Getting your voters to the polls on election day
- Election Day logistics and potential issues
- Polling place rules and accountability
- Legal challenges and infrastructure
- Your election night “party” and your team
- If you don’t get results on election day
Elections are strange things in that you put in so many months (and years of work) and often even on election day you still don’t actually know what you’ll be doing the next day, or the next few years of your life. Prepare yourself to think through any of the potential outcomes.
First, spinning down the campaign, team, finances, legal requirements. Then either:
- Getting up to speed for being sworn in and making sure you hit the ground running:
- How much time do you have between election day and getting sworn in?
- Thinking about what may be required for a “transition”
- Understanding staffing – if you’ll be making or expected to make any immediate/short-term staffing decisions (such as a chief of staff, assistant, etc)
- Planning out your time and time management strategies – if you’re working, have family, etc
- Exploring and identifying your project plan for your time, including shorter-term goals and longer term goals
- Thinking through how you can best integrate with existing and new teams, especially if you’re coming in from the “outside”
- Resources for knowledge, skills-building, support, networks and other ways to help inform and sustain success while in office
- Are you prepared to start? Do you have the proper frameworks in place to manage things like your time, goals, emotions as you embark on one of the biggest and most rewarding challenges of your life?
- Or thinking about your own next steps:
- Taking a moment out to analyze the campaign, leveraging experience and relationships, etc. What did you learn?
- Do you have new values that have developed, new areas of policy or program interest? Different ideas of what you might want to do next
- Giving yourself the time to properly reflect on your experiences and goals
Check out all the videos on YouTube below: