A Five-Step Guide to Running for Office
I often get asked, “Why would I run for office?,” or “I want to run for office. Where do I start?” I welcome both questions and know that more people than ever before are asking them. Here are my answers.
As you consider “why run”, ask yourself:
1) Do I care about the issues affecting my community?
2) Do I believe elected officials should be working on behalf of their constituents?
3) Do I trust myself to fight for my community if elected to office?
If you answered yes to all three, then you’re already better positioned than many people currently holding office!
Next, you’ve got to get ready. This five-step guide gets you started.
1. Show up in your community. The best public servants are already serving the public before they run for office or get elected. If you’re not already showing up, start doing so in meaningful ways. Here are three things you can do right away.
· Volunteering for your local institutions, such as your child’s school or after school programs, cultural or religious organizations, volunteer fire departments, or direct- service nonprofits.
· Organizing your neighbors to address issues of concern locally.
· Working on a political campaign, supporting voter drives, or helping to get out the vote.
2. Amplify your voice. If you’re knowledgeable about issues affecting your community, start to share your opinions and ideas publicly, in order to build name recognition. and connect with others who are invested in having similar impact. Focus on being constructive and not just critical. Some examples of what you can do are:
· Build your personal brand on social media and contribute to online discussions about news that affects your community.
· Attend city council hearings and school board meetings to voice your concerns and opinions about bills that are being debated or projects that are being implemented.
· Write in a local paper, on medium.com, on social media to inform and engage a broader public.
· Use your expertise to serve in voluntary or appointed bodies, such as advisory boards, task forces, or commissions.
3. Know the political landscape. Research who currently represents you and your community in the local school board, in your city council, in county government, in your state legislature and in Congress.
· On which issues does each representative work?
· What level of office is the best place to have an impact on the issues that are of most interest to you?
· Are your representatives doing a good job?
· How long have they been in office?
· When are they up for re-election?
· Can they run again?
· Does it make sense to run against them or wait until they are “term-limited” (can no longer run for office) out?
· How much does a campaign cost?
· Does your city or state have public financing of elections?
· What is the deadline to file your candidacy for an election?
· How many hours/days are elected officials expected to work, and is there any compensation for serving?
· Does the legislative body reflect the demographics (gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation) of the area it serves?
· Are there opportunities to serve in appointed positions?
· How can you connect with local political activities?
Every place has its own characteristics. Some elections are nonpartisan while others have ballots along party lines. Some towns elect a school board, while others do not. Some elect less familiar positions such as college boards, library boards, or community boards. These positions can be a great place for a newcomer to get elected. Your research will help you identify the positions that best fit your experiences and expertise.
4. Build an advisory team. Find three to five people you trust, who understand local politics, who love and care about you, and who can be honest with you. These are the folks who will have your back and will give you good advice when you need it most. It’s best to have a team that has a range of skill sets and networks, all of which might be helpful when you take the plunge to run.
5. Take a campaign training. Running for office is mostly a science, not a magic formula. You need to know the basics about how political campaigns run and find community in a group of others who are planning to run. Choose a training that speaks to you, whether it’s ours at The New American Leaders Project or one at Wellstone, The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, She Should Run or Vote Run Lead.
Women and people of color in particular often delay running for office because we do not feel qualified. Or, we think that elected office isn’t possible for people like us. Many only run after they have been urged by others to run. Remember that YOUR life experience, integrity, connection to community, and passion to serve are what count — not whether you have a law degree or are personally wealthy. The best elected officials are passionate about serving their communities, so you are likely already qualified! What are you waiting for?
Special thanks to the entire team at The New American Leaders Project for their input on this post.