Run for Something: A strategic plan

Welcome to the strategic plan for Run for Something. Glad you’re here.

As of January 2017, we are preparing to launch in earnest — consider this organization a “beta” for the moment. The plan you’re reading is a living, breathing, always updating path forward as we get more feedback. (The latest update as of March 2017 is here.)

If you have questions, thoughts, feelings, or really just want to say hi, please email us at hello@runforsomething.net.

Want to sign up? Head on over to runforsomething.net and add your name.


1. What we do

Run for Something will help recruit and support diverse progressives under the age of 35 to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future — the folks we support now could be possible members of the House, Senate, and maybe even President one day.

We aim to lower the barriers to entry for these candidates by helping them with seed money, organization building, and access to trainings needed to be successful.

2. Why we do it

The progressive movement has a systemic problem that has failed to create a diverse talent pipeline. We don’t have young people ready to move up in politics and we don’t have a bench that looks like the people we aim to represent.

There are two key points of failure: (a) candidate recruitment and (b) the process of running.

CANDIDATE RECRUITMENT: As it currently stands, typically, the Party (Party being a shorthand for the committees, state parties, and state house and senate caucuses) targets an open race or a vulnerable Republican incumbent. Then the staff and elected officials in the area will search for someone they or their networks know in the district (or they’ll literally uproot someone, move them to the district, and get them on the ballot.)

This has inherently limited the talent pool to a particular network — it perpetuates a cycle of typically older white men and their staffs running for office. It also limits the geographic reach of the party: If you’re a Democrat who wants to run in an otherwise safe district, you’re on your own.

Furthermore: The Party chooses candidates who are seen as “viable” — meaning, they can raise money and the Party thinks they can win.

This leaves too many people running without a competitor. In Cook County, Illinois, in 2015, 63% of the nearly 700 local races were uncontested. Nearly half of all legislative races in 2016 featured a single candidate running unopposed. It happens on the congressional level, too: In Texas, Republican Pete Sessions was easily re-elected to the House despite Clinton winning his district — Democrats simply didn’t run anyone against him.

We need to question our assumptions. Consider that Trump would never have been recruited by the RNC or a committee, and that he had no typical experience that would make him a recruitment candidate. While we shouldn’t aspire to find the next Trump, right now, we’re in a moment where the electorate is hungry for leaders that don’t come from the usual pipeline.

THE PROCESS OF RUNNING: After extensive interviews with young people who’ve run for office (some who’ve won, some who’ve lost), we heard two things over and over again:

  1. Raising money was hard. Some candidates found that people wanted young people to serve in office but didn’t think they could win so weren’t willing to donate money to a lost cause. Other candidates explained that without a wealthy network of friends and family, they were starting from scratch. Money matters: Some state-level races can be as cheap as $25,000 — others could cost as much as $1 million.
  2. Finding professional staff and the mechanics of campaigning were tough. Many candidates said they wasted time and efficiency because their friends served as campaign managers instead of professional operatives. They often didn’t know how to actually get on the ballot without intensive research, and the operations of a campaign (volunteer recruitment, access to the voter file, how to calculate a win number, etc) were tricky to navigate without someone who had institutional knowledge.

3. How we do it

We’ll find the people the usual institutions would never take a chance on, we’ll encourage them to run, and we’ll ease the barriers to entry by giving these people the resources to succeed.

OBJECTIVE: Recruit new candidates

GOAL: Recruit 5 strong candidates for down-ballot races in 2017, focusing in Virginia and possibly North Carolina. [ED NOTE: THIS HAS CHANGED. SEE OUR UPDATED PLAN.]

STRATEGY: Ask people to run — and once they say yes, get them into trainings that other organizations are already hosting.

This seems very simple. But right now, running for office is scary. By being loud and proud about how important it is to run — and then following that up with action to get people plugged into a training and then a race — we can ease entry into elected office.

TACTICS:

Earned media

We’ll focus on outlets where we can reach our possible candidates. We’ll pitch our mission to reporters at college newspapers, online-only/online-first platforms, YouTubers, and other less “conventional” news sources.

— Online advertising

We’ll run search ads and paid posts on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll explore sponsored content, podcast advertising, and more non-traditional placements. (Got ideas? Email us.)

— Progressive group outreach

We’ll work with leaders at progressive groups of all types to identify the members who should run for office, and then have 1:1 conversations with those members.

— Barnstorming college campuses

We’ll pitch our mission to college groups and student body presidents in targeted states.

— A central listing of candidate trainings and opportunities; following up with training organizations to identify top potential candidates

If you want to run, it’s hit or miss if you know how to find a training. We’ll centralize that information and act as a clearinghouse for partner organizations. We’ll also work with the leaders of these organizations to identify their top potential candidates for possible additional support.

(Looking for trainings now? Try EMILY’s List, Emerge America, Democracy for America, Truman National Security Project, Running Start, Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, National Democratic Training Committee, or the PCCC. If you run a training for progressives, email us at hello@runforsomething.net and we’ll help you recruit.)

— Work with young elected officials to act as validators and encourage others to run; mentor young candidates

We’ll work with the Young Elected Officials network and other caucuses of young progressives in order to connect experienced electeds with young candidates they can support .

— 1:1 conversations with every person who expresses interest in running — whether over email, Slack, gchat, phone, or in-person, we’ll literally talk to anyone and everyone who’s interested in running.

This is the most time-intensive tactic but we believe the most important. We need to take the time to get to know possible candidates and hear their stories.

We’ll build a list of people who want to run — and then after having conversations with each one, we’ll plug the folks who are serious about it into existing trainings that best fit their interests.

Who we’ll recruit

  1. Millennials. Right now, that means under the age of 35. We need young people.
  2. Progressive.

Specifically, we’ll look for people who will run on the following issues:

— A primary focus on inequality, raising incomes, and jobs
 — Pro-universal health care
 — Pro-choice
 — Pro-LGBT equality
 — Advocating for criminal justice reform
 — Believing that climate change is real, man-made, and our responsibility to fight
 — Pro-working families and labor
 — Pro-voting rights
 — Pro-campaign finance reform
 — Pro-immigration reform
 — Pro-gun violence prevention

We will not serve as the “purity police.” It’s tempting to create a litmus test for more specific issues, but when working across the country, you have to take regional differences into account. A progressive in Louisiana, for example, can’t necessarily emphasize the same thing as a progressive in California.

Ultimately, a Democrat in office is someone you can apply political pressure to once they’re there. As we’ve seen, a Republican will never yield.

3. Diverse. We’ll actively seek out women and members of underrepresented communities — our candidates will be at least half women, as well as men of color. More broadly, we’ll look for diversity of experience. We certainly need more people with disabilities, LGBTQ Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders to run for office, and we also need more scientists, more teachers, and more non-lawyers to run for office.

4. Connected. We’ll look for candidates who have roots in their communities. This is literally a measurable quality: How many Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter connections does a person have? How many contacts in their phone that live in their district still? How can we measure their possible influence in their district? We don’t want to convince someone to move home to run — we want someone who calls a place home to step up and run.

5. That “X” factor. 2016 taught us that who the candidate is matters. How well they communicate online and in person, how comfortable they are in their skin, and how “authentic” they can be are all important factors.

Why the age limit

A few reasons:

  1. 18–35 year-olds are the currently accepted definition of “millennial.” (We promise to use that word as rarely as possible.)

2. Historically, late 20s and early 30s are when our party leaders get their start. Bill Clinton was 30 when he was elected Attorney General of Arkansas. Barack Obama was 35 when he won his seat in the Illinois State Senate. Bernie Sanders was only a little bit older — 39 — when he was elected mayor of Burlington. Chuck Schumer was 25 when he was elected to the New York state assembly.

It’s worth noting: With the exception of President Obama, those are all white men; women tend to get into politics later in life.

3. Youngsters are the future — cliche, but true. We are looking for people who are both adept at communicating online and who intrinsically understand the progressive values we’re fighting for. Imagine what a campaign might be like if the candidate didn’t need to be convinced that Twitter and Facebook were effective ways of communicating authentically and instead was a digital-native. Imagine what legislating might be like if the politician was well-versed in the realities of intersectionality.

Why recruit for down-ballot races

It matters for policy: State legislatures and municipalities are critical places where laws get made. Look no further than HB2 (and the ensuing chaos) in North Carolina for proof — or the anti-choice legislation passed in Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Protecting vulnerable communities starts at the state level.

It matters for politics: These races are often the entry-point for careers as public servants. Nearly half of all governors in 2014 got their start as members of a state legislature.

Where we’ll focus

Because of the races going on in 2017, we’ll focus our legislative efforts with Virginia and, tentatively, North Carolina. [ED NOTE: THIS HAS CHANGED. SEE THE UPDATE HERE.]

This fall, Virginians will be voting on 100 members of the House of Delegates. Currently, the House is made up of 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats, each of which represent around 80,000 people.

The filing deadline hasn’t been set yet, but it usually falls around the end of March.

In the last election, 71 of those 100 districts were uncontested. Part of that is because the districts have been dramatically gerrymandered, but that is not an excuse. In Virginia, Hillary Clinton won in 17 state house districts currently held by Republicans and 51 districts across the state. (Check out this map for more fun with presidential data broken out by house districts.)

We can focus on District 2, District 31, and District 32 in particular — places where the margins in past elections were less than 10 points in 2015 and where Clinton won in 2016. We can also look for candidates who live in Districts 12, 13, 21, 50, 51, 67, and 94 where the margins were close in 2013. As of January 2016, there is no Democratic candidate for at least two of those races.

While we will focus many of our efforts in Virginia, we do not want to limit our search by geography. If we can find people who should run, we’ll help them, no matter where they might be. We’ll look at plugging people into board of supervisors elections, county commissioner spots, mayoral races, and city council races.

OBJECTIVE: Provide financial support for candidates

GOAL: Raise at least 10% of a candidate’s budget for up to 5 candidates

In this level of electoral politics, a little bit of money can absolutely make a difference.

Two examples from Virginia:

In 2015, in district 2, Republican incumbent Mark Dudenhefer spent $452k to win 5,839 votes. He beat Democratic challenger Josh King, who spent only $181k to win 5,714 votes. Barely 100 votes separated them — imagine if Josh had raised even a little bit more money and was outspent 1.5 to 1 instead of 2.5 to 1.

In 2013, in district 34, Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock spent $1.3 million for 14,962 votes. She beat Democratic challenger Kathleen Murphy, who spent only $661k for 14,540 votes. Again — imagine how she could have done had she not been outspent nearly 2 to 1.

In Virginia, there are no contribution limits — we can give as much as possible to our candidates directly.

In North Carolina, a PAC can donate up to $5,200. Our strategy there will be a combination of bundling and grassroots support directed toward the campaign.

[ED NOTE: THIS HAS CHANGED. SEE THE UPDATE HERE.]

STRATEGY: Run an online and offline fundraising program — ideally leaning heavily towards grassroots fundraising — that can support the organization and candidates.

TACTICS:

— Online fundraising

Our first investment will be in list-building advertising for the organization — our initial low-level list-building budget of $550,000 will be put to work to grow a list of ~50,000 people who care about investing in the a pipeline for progressives. A well-run email, online ads, and eventually SMS fundraising program can yield at least 120%+ return on this investment in the first year, not including money given directly to the candidates.

We will raise for the state-level PACs, the c4, and for candidates themselves.

Online fundraising in and of itself is not usually ROI positive unless done at scale. Over time, we’ll aim to run this part of the program for our candidates.

— Major donor outreach

If candidates are interested in working with major donors, we’ll aim to be as helpful as possible. We’ll provide a “lookbook” of our candidates so donors who care about specific states and issues can easily find someone who matches their interests.

How we’ll decide who to give money to

[ED NOTE: THIS HAS BEEN REFINED. SEE THE UPDATE HERE.]

Our decision-making will include asking the following considerations:

— Can our money make a difference?

— Can our support push someone into seeming like (and thus, becoming) a viable candidate?

— Is this person willing to do the work necessary to run a race? Will they knock every door, make every call, and hustle as hard as it takes to win?

— Is this person open to being coached by a campaign manager and advisors?

— Does this person have a future in politics?

— Are they passionate about the issues?

— Are they a charismatic public speaker?

— Are people drawn to the candidate? Do they have that “X” factor?

— Is their personal story compelling?

— Are they able to be authentic online and in interviews?

— If we lose, is this person open to running again in two or four years?

As we shape our questionnaire for possible candidates, we’ll ask for your input. This is not meant to a backroom decision-making process.

OBJECTIVE: Help candidates find professional staff

STRATEGY: Connect political operatives who have campaign experience with our candidates in order to make sure potential elected officials can focus on talking to voters and not on the mechanics like opening PO boxes and setting up bank accounts.

There are not that many experienced campaign managers — but there are many experienced communications, field, digital, and political staffers who could manage a race if given a shot and some mentoring. We’ll aim to match staffers with the right race and candidate, and provide them with a network of people willing to give advice.

TACTICS:

— Build a list of experienced mid-to-senior level campaign folks who are interested in managing races through campaign alumni list-servs, progressive groups, and personal networks.

— Have 1:1 conversations with these staffers to identify interest and skill-sets.

— Between our board and the vast campaign alumni networks, we’ll set up mentorship connections between new managers and old staff.

— Facilitate a communication network via Slack for young campaign managers in order to discuss challenges, best practices, and provide moral support


4. Long term goals

2017 is a chance to test the model. In 2018 and beyond, we’d like to expand the ways we can support candidates to include:

— Digital organizing tools (lSMS, a call tool, peer-to-peer text messages, and more) — all the things that add capacity to a campaign but cannot be executed efficiently unless done at scale.

— A Fellowship program that provides a stipend to candidates so they don’t have to struggle to make rent while they run.

— Press support — acting as a communications shop for our candidates by writing press releases, being points of contact for reporters, and absorbing some of the work.

— Polling for down-ballot races, which is often cost prohibitive.

Beyond 2018: We’re looking to change the ratios. Under-35 year olds make up nearly a quarter of the American population, but only 5% of state legislatures. In ten years, we aim to double that percentage.

In 10 years, we hope that the candidates we support in 2018 and 2020 are running for the House, Senate, or governor’s mansions.

In 20 years, we hope that at least one candidate we support now could be a possible candidate for president.


5. Our values

We’re progressive. That means: pro-equality, pro-choice, pro-health care, pro-gun violence prevention, pro-immigration reform, pro-voting rights, pro-climate change prevention, and pro-campaign finance reform.

We’re transparent, maybe to a fault. We aim to lay it all on the table — our supporters will know exactly where we’re spending money and how. This plan you’re reading? It’s the same one we’ll show to anyone who asks what we’re doing and why. There is no secret plan.

We’re risk-takers. The system as it currently stands has failed us. Anything that deviates from that system is worth trying. Sometimes that means we’ll fail, too — but we won’t say “no” to an idea just because that’s not how it’s been done before.

We’re digital-first but not digital-only. In 2017, it’s critical to think about how an organization exists on the internet, what the experience for supporters across the country is, and how we’re enabling action at all levels of engagement. But we will not just put together a smoke-and-mirrors website. We’ll back up our digital work with real-life action.

We’re strategic. We’ll use our resources wisely. Your investment won’t be spent on making us feel good — it’ll go toward finding new candidates and helping them win.

We hustle. We will work as hard as it takes to get the job done.


6. The nuts and bolts

LEGAL ENTITIES & DEFINITIONS

Run for Something was formed in December 2016 with a 501(c)4 and a 527 and will be setting up state-affiliated PACs to support the candidates directly.

Our 501(c)(4) fund, incorporated in Washington, D.C., is up and running. By definition, it is primarily a non-partisan entity. The money donated to the c4 in the initial months will go toward list-building, organization building, and staffing — building a progressive network of staff and young people who want to get engaged in politics. Our 527 is where most of our resources will go — it does direct support of our candidates and our team.

In the next six weeks, we will be setting up an alliance of state PACs for the states in which we have candidates. Those PACs will be explicitly partisan.

HOW MUCH WE NEED TO RAISE

Our minimum viable program (MVP) budget for 2017 is $1.3 million. Our full budget is $2.68 million. Whatever we raise on top of that will help expand our candidate support, grow our team, and build our list.

The MVP budget funds staff, organizational necessities like tech infrastructure, legal fees, list-building ads and a targeted candidate recruitment program. It does not include money for candidates themselves; that will be raised on top of the $1.3 million.

The full budget runs a larger candidate recruitment program and expands support resources for the candidates.

STAFFING

Initially, we’ll consist of just an executive director and a campaigns director.

Over the course of year one, we hope to hire:

  • Communications Director — for organizational communications and to support candidate communications programs
  • Digital Director — to manage the website, social platforms, online fundraising, digital organizing, and support candidates with their digital programs
  • Finance Director — to run fundraising
  • Operations Director — to literally make the organization run
  • Political Director — to work directly with the state parties and partner organizations to be a good partner in the progressive movement
  • Staffing Director — to coordinate the staff network and support on-the-ground campaigns

WHO WE ARE

Amanda Litman: Hillary Clinton’s email director. Responsible for raising more than $330 million online. Charlie Crist’s digital director when he ran for governor in 2014. One of the first employees at Organizing for Action as deputy email director. Email writer for Barack Obama’s re-elect. Northwestern University graduate.

Ross Morales Rocketto: A progressive political operative with more than a decade of experience in campaign management, grassroots organizing, and data/analytics. Currently a principal at Smoot Tewes Group. Formerly a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting’s innovation center. Worked in Iowa in 2007 for Bill Richardson, and in 2005 for Julian Castro.

We’ve got an incredible (and growing) board of advisors helping us, including:

Cristobal Alex, President, Latino Victory Fund
Garrett Arwa, Political Director, For Our Future Fund
Mike Blake, member of the NY state Assembly for the 79th district
Amanda Brown, Campaign Director, For Our Future Fund
Jon Carson, former executive director of OFA & Obama 2008 field director
Brad Elkins, Deputy Campaign Manager, Jason Kander for Senate
Teddy Goff, digital & tech for Obama 2008, Obama 2012, and Hillary 2016
Sabrina Hersi Issa, CEO, Be Bold Media
Omar Khan, Obama campaign & admin alum
Andy MacCracken, student advocate
Aneesa McMillan, Deputy Communications Director, Keith Ellison for DNC Chair
Caitlin Mitchell, VP of Digital at EMILY’s List
Jen O’Malley Dillon, partner, Precision Strategies
Charles Olivier, CFO, Democratic National Committee
Emmy Ruiz, Campaign operative


8. Q&A

WILL THIS WORK?

Well, one thing is clear: What we’re doing now certainly isn’t working. The institutions that are supposed to have solved for this — the committees, state parties, state house and senate caucuses, and more — haven’t yet figured out how to get more young, diverse candidates into the pipeline.

We can, should, and have to try something new.

SHOULDN’T THE DNC OR DLCC OR STATE PARTIES BE DOING THIS?

Yes! And we hope that as these organizations refocus after 2016, they’ll do even more of this and we can partner with them. But in the meantime, we want to help. They’ve got the likely suspects covered — we want to step in and help find the folks they might not target.

SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ALREADY DOING THIS KIND OF STUFF…

There are many organizations that do candidate training — we’re not trying to replace those entities. Instead, we want to help feed people into those places, and we want to take the best of the best candidates that come out of those trainings and give them an extra hand in the mechanics of running for office.

It’s worth noting: Many of the organizations that support young people running are explicitly non-partisan. While our c4 is non-partisan by definition — we want to support young people getting involved with politics! — our affiliated PACs will support Democrats only.

WHO WILL YOU WORK WITH?

We’re hoping to set up partnerships with EMILY’s List, Latino Victory Project, Wellstone, the New Leaders Council, Emerge, the DLCC, NextDems, She Should Run, the Arena, and any other organization that does candidate training. If you’re one of those organizations, we want to hear from you.

HOW DO CONSERVATIVES DO THIS?

Unsurprisingly, the Koch Brothers play a major role. They started a firm called “Aegis Strategic” that literally runs campaigns for candidates.

Consider this: Most of the people we now consider “leaders” of the Republican Party — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in particular — were pushed to run for office at some point by outside groups, not the establishment.

WILL THIS SOLVE ALL OF THE PROBLEMS?

No. Of course not. And we’re not trying to solve all of the problems.

Our goal is singular: Build a bench for the future by recruiting and supporting young people who want to run now while they’re fired up. That’s our North Star.

WHAT ABOUT TRUMP?

Yeah, there’s a decent chance that Trump destroys democracy as we know it. In that case, this is probably all for naught.

But the truth is, the president isn’t the most important person in our democracy — the citizen is. The institutions will outlast Trump, and if we don’t do the work now of building a pipeline of future leaders, we won’t be able to right his wrongs and move our country forward.

We’re hopeful that the resistance will be strong, that the 2018 and 2020 elections will come around, and when they are, we’ll be ready with young people who are going to run, win, and fight for the values you and I care about.

Editor’s note: On March 20th, we released an update to this document; please check it out.