Two months ago, we launched Run for Something with a beautiful website, a few tweets, and most importantly, a strategic plan.
That strategic plan has been our guiding document — and every day, we talk to people who cite it as their reason for getting on board. But it was never meant to be a static vision; like we said in the second sentence of that post, our plan is a living, breathing, always-updating path forward. And in the two months since launch, it has breathed!
Consider this our strategic plan, part two, revised to reflect the reality of what this organization became.
But first: A step back to review what we’ve accomplished in two short months…
Nearly 8,000 people have signed up to run for office.
We thought we’d have to hustle to get even 100 people who’d want to run. (After all, based on all the conversations and research we’d done pre-launch, candidate recruitment was really hard!) We thought we’d be scheduling 1:1 calls with each and every person we recruited — we were expecting to be on the phone a lot!
8,000 people raising their hand to say they want to run — in just two months — was beyond our wildest dreams. If even 1% of that 8,000 actually end up getting on the ballot at any level of government — what a difference that will make in our country and our party.
We’ve raised $100,000 entirely in grassroots donations.
And get this: Our average gift is only $27. (Seriously. I’m not trolling you. The math works — our 501(c)4’s average gift is $29.47, our 527’s average gift is $24.63. Thus, our collective average: $27.05.) And even better: We’ve got more than 3,000 donors who have invested in our work.
Nearly 2000 people are signed up as Run for Something volunteers.
More than 300 of those folks are already making calls to screen our candidates and find us the best potential candidates. This is not easy volunteer work, either. Each call takes a half hour (at least!) and requires active engagement, listening, and advice. Our volunteers have invested more than 250 hours in candidate screening since we rolled out this program and the impact has been incredible.
In a week since launching our mentorship program, more than 115 campaign experts have signed up to mentor our candidates.
Campaign experts from Obama, Sanders, and Clinton campaigns have offered up their time to our candidates in a meaningful and immediately effective way. Part of the problem down-ballot races run into is access to institutional knowledge and experience campaign operatives — we’re solving for that. Our candidates are getting hundreds of thousands of dollasr worth of consulting for free.
A few examples of how this is already working in the first week of the program:
- A candidate for a city commission in Kansas is getting feedback from a senior policy expert on how to talk about housing issues.
- A candidate for Virginia House of Delegates went through media training with a senior communications official from a presidential campaign.
- A woman running for school board in Pennsylvania got advice on canvassing from a field director who ran multiple statewide programs in 2016.
We’re building a network of local candidates and people who want to help them.
The little connections we’re enabling are making a big difference.
After going through our screening, candidates and volunteers are gathering in our Slack team, where they’re organized by state, various coalitions, and interest groups. We’re prompting conversation, sharing resources, and encouraging folks to use this network to its fullest extent.
And they’re building community! A candidate for city council in Missouri emailed us to let us know a Run for Something volunteer had helped him design postcards to mail back to the folks he’d talked to at the doors. Another candidate told us how she felt more confident going door-to-door after a quick chat with someone from the mentorship program. A few parents are swapping ideas on Slack on how to balance their parenting responsibilities and their candidacies. Beyond that, our folks are starting to organize in-real-life and get to know each other.
We’re inspiring people.
This is purely anecdotal, but it feels so damn good to get the kind of emails we get from time to time. For example: An organizer emailed us to say that one of our “Why We Run” Medium posts (read them all here — more coming soon!) made him realize he could run for office one day, too. A campaign manager running a race for a 27-year-old city council candidate forwarded back one of those stories to let us know it was making him smile and giving him energy while his candidate was speaking in the next room.
Bonus: Run for Something will be a book, too.
Atria Books will be publishing “Run for Something” this fall — a guide on how to run for office and get involved in local politics. We’ll be able to get our mission in front of even more people who could think about getting involved. If even one person who buys that book decides to run for office, we’ll consider it a success.
Given all that, our strategic plan has changed a little bit since launching. Here’s how:
Our mission statement is the same:
What’s shifted is our scope of work. Originally we launched with the intention to focus on legislative races in Virginia and tentatively North Carolina. That was when we thought candidate recruitment would be hard and we’d have to limit ourselves. But even at launch, we noted:
“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.”
That turned out to be prescient. We are not and will not be limiting our work to a single state. The demand for help knows no boundaries — people all across the country are ready to run, and we want to help them. So we’ll be doing recruitment anywhere and everywhere.
Given the new scale of our work, we’ve revised our philosophy on candidate funding. We’ll be giving money to as many people as possible — anyone who meets our criteria for funding (which we went into detail on here) and who we can afford to give money to, we will.
We’re not in the business of picking winners and losers. Our goal is to enable as many people as possible to run. We are taking the incubator approach: Plant a thousand seeds and see what grows.
With that in mind, our metrics of success have shifted. Instead of an intense focus on 5–10 races in a single state, we aim to be working 20–30 candidates nationwide in some way through the end of 2017. Given that our deadline for funding eligibility is centered around the filing date, we’ll be rolling out lists of candidates who hit our criteria over the next four or five months.
Helping candidates find professional staff is still a priority of ours — we believe the mentorship program we’ve established is a very good first step and might be enough to help our candidates. As we pilot out this program, we’ll re-evaluate and adjust.
Our organizational structure has also changed to adapt to the realities of our scope of work. We’ve been a very nimble team up until now, but as our fundraising continues, we hope to grow quickly over the next few months by bringing on an organizing director, a marketing & communications director, an operations director, a finance director, and more. (If you’re interested in a position, please email a resume firstname.lastname@example.org).
A few things we’ve learned over the last 60 days…
People want to run for office. This seems obvious — but it’s worth being explicit about: People are fired up. It’s inspiring. It’s overwhelming. It’s humbling! It gives us hope.
But people scare easy when they see someone already on the ballot. Many people have said to us: “I’d love to run, but it seems like someone’s already doing it.”
Ignore that. We’re encouraging anyone who wants to run — and is willing to do the work — to get over that fear. It doesn’t matter if someone filed first or if someone is the party’s chosen candidate. If you want to run, run. Trust the voters to pick winners, not institutions.
That being said, there are some real, measurable barriers to success if you’re not the institutional pick. There are the obstacles you might already know about, like access to money and networks through the state party.
Then there is one of the more bullshit things we’ve run into: State parties should provide the voter file free of charge to any Democrat who’s running — regardless of whether or not they’re challenging a Democratic incumbent in a primary.
If we want our party to succeed and flourish at a grassroots level in the long-term, we need to give local candidates the tools to do voter contact and promote progressive values in their communities, even if the short-term impact is marginally more frustrating for an incumbent politician. We cannot cut off our nose to spite our face.
Data is a problem. As part of our efforts to help people run for local office, we’ve run into an information problem: There is no single source of truth on all the elected offices in the country. Every state and county has slightly different terminology, there is no standardized format for all the election data, and in some places, information isn’t even online. You have to call the city or county clerk and ask.
There are some organizations doing work to solve this problem — but it’s not enough. If a tech company is looking for something totally unsexy but incredibly important, well, this is the thing. We don’t have the capacity to lead the charge but hope someone will.
This work is really damn fun. On a personal note: This is the best, most fulfilling, most interesting, most energizing work we could have imagined. Every single day we learn something new. We get to spend a significant amount of time talking to people who are serious about making a difference in their communities. We get notes almost daily about how our vision for political engagement is one people have been yearning to hear for years.
“Not helping enough people in a meaningful way” legitimately keeps us up at night. (We took the mandate of “do the most good” to heart.) But the truth is, with this kind of effort, it just takes one person to step up for our work to make a difference. One person runs, one person wins, one person changes a law in their community that makes it a little better, or safer, or more welcoming — and tada! Impact.
We’re not slowing down. We want to keep growing, hire more, do more, and reach even more people so we can keep our list of candidates growing and plant even more seeds. To do that, we need more help. We need you!
And if you want to support this organization, sign up here: