Run for Something’s 2023 Strategic Plan
You’re reading the 2023 Run for Something strategic plan, which explains how we do this work, why we do it, and what you can do to help.
It’s admittedly pretty unusual that we put out a plan like this in public. Two of Run for Something’s core values are transparency and accountability, so every year we lay out what we’ve done, what we learned, and what we’re going to do next.
When we launched Run for Something on January 20, 2017, we had a vision, a plan, and a website — and not much else.
Fast forward to year six — since then, our team has recruited over 130,000 young people who want to run for office. We’ve endorsed over 2,500 candidates across all 50 states and DC, and elected more than 800 people while winning more than 1,000 elections — 50% of our folks identify as women or non-binary leaders, more than 50% identify as people of color, and 20% identify as LGBTQIA+ folks.
Over the years, our alumni have expanded Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians, advocated for trans people in Montana, banned the “gay panic defense” in Colorado, Vermont, and Virginia, expanded access to the polls in Texas, ended single family zoning in Berkeley, fought book bans in Pennsylvania, successfully filibustered a ban on abortion in Nebraska, and so much more.
We’ve had alumni run for and win seats in Congress and in higher in-state offices; we’ve seen other alumni go on to run county parties or non-profits and lead candidate recruitment in their own communities. We’ve begun the long, slow, and necessary process of winning sustainable power in all 50 states, building a bench of diverse talent for all kinds of political superstars in the process.
Our work is long-term and strategic — we don’t reset after each election cycle because there is no such thing as the end of the cycle for us (literally: our last elections were December 13, 2022, and our first candidate filing deadline this year was on January 3rd).
Accordingly, 2023 is not an off-year. In fact, there will be more offices up for election in 2023 than there were in 2022.
We’re ready for it, and for 2024, too. We’ve spent the last year building, making plans, and hiring a ton, while also making a major impact programmatically.
In 2023, those plans come to life — that work has already begun! — and we’re going to keep building long-term power. We’ll be endorsing 650 candidates this year alone, recruiting tens of thousands more, piloting out a bunch of exciting programs, and refining our pipeline programming so the people who sign up with us get exactly what they need as they make the decision to run.
And while we change what politics looks like on the outside, we’ll also keep building and growing an organization unlike any other in the ecosystem — one that treats employees like full humans and fosters a team culture that enables people to work hard and work together while finding delight whenever possible.
The TL;DR: We’ve gone wide — now it’s time to also go deep. This plan explains how we got here and why we’re going in this direction.
2022: Our Biggest Year Yet
2022 was a big year of change for us. We ran our strongest program yet flipping seats and chambers across the country; we launched an ambitious effort to save democracy; and we simultaneously went through an internal planning process that led us to re-organize ourselves as we prepare for exponential growth.
First, the nitty gritty numbers about our program:
Reminder: Endorsed candidates go through a rigorous application and vetting process — once selected, they work directly with RFS staff to get coaching, advice, and support however they need, including access to exclusive resources and tools. Endorsed candidates are who we promote to partners, press, and social media; they’re who we track through to election day and maintain as part of our alumni community.
We’re proud that 52% of those endorsed candidates identified as women, 50% were candidates of color, and 27% were members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Of those, 490 made it to the November ballot, and 259 of them won — a nearly 53% win rate for Election Day. Our winners were even more diverse — 58% women, 54% people of color, and 25% who identify as LGBTQIA+. 10 of our new elected officials are Gen Z (meaning born in 1997 or later.) 33 of our folks specifically won seats on school boards.
Before 2020, no Black women had ever served in the Minnesota State Senate in its 164 year history. But three Black women were elected on November 8th, including Zaynab Mohamed, who is also the youngest woman ever elected to State Senate at just 25 years old.
In an amazing school board win, Tiffanie J. Harrison in Round Rock, TX, beat a QAnoner that was heavily funded by anti-CRT/anti-LGBTQ extremists and the Texas GOP.
Zoey Zephyr became the first transgender woman to be elected to the Montana State Legislature.
Maria Salamanca, who won her run-off for a seat on the Orange County School Board in FL, is the first LGBTQ+ member of the school board, the youngest member, and the only Latina on the body. She will act as a critical counterbalance to a Moms for Liberty candidate who won the next district over.
Nabeela Syed, who flipped her district from red to blue, is the first Muslim and first South Asian woman elected to the Illinois State Legislature, and is the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly at 23.
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Joe Vogel is one of the first members of Gen-Z elected to the Maryland General Assembly.
Helen Tran became the first Asian American mayor of San Bernardino, and the third woman to take on the role over the course of the city’s 168-year history.
Ruwa Romman is the first Palestinian and Muslim woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Two RFS alums won their races for Congress: Rep. Jasmine Crockett in Texas and Rep. Yadira Caraveo in Colorado, and another one of our alums from the Michigan state house, Kyra Harris Bolden, was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court, making history as the first Black woman to serve on the body.
Our 2500+ alumni (defined as anyone we’ve endorsed in any cycle, win or lose) more broadly have been hugely helpful in helping us recruit — the alumni relational recruitment program we kicked off in 2019 and have kept refining since engaged 203 of our alum, which ultimately led to 185 candidates who applied for RFS endorsement, and 127 (69%) who ultimately were endorsed.
On the recruitment side: Our candidate pipeline grew from about 90,000 to 127,868, making 2022 our best recruitment year so far — nearly 38,000 people signed up with us to run!
Our biggest moments, sadly, were when the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade first leaked and when it officially came down from the Supreme Court. Thousands of people saw that the threats to reproductive freedom were real, present, and urgent, and over 1,200 people raised their hands to consider stepping directly into the fight to win back our rights just in the first three days after the Dobbs decision.
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Our volunteer network grew by an additional 1,500 people, including more than 100 folks who signed up to mentor our candidates. Since joining our volunteer network in December, Ellen has held over 30 one-on-one calls with candidates. She says:
“For years I’ve felt Democrats need to put more energy into down ballot races throughout the country. When I heard about RFS, and learned they needed volunteers to speak with candidates, I knew it was something I wanted to do. It often feels like a dark time now but I have hope when I talk to optimistic young people who want to improve their communities.”
This work doesn’t happen alone: We met IRL with 70+ partners across the country and had conversations with hundreds more, including Wisconsin Progress, LEAD PA, TurnPABlue, GLPA-Michigan, and 603 Forward.
What We Learned About Our Candidate Support Program
Every two years, we do a deep dive with our candidates to learn specifically what resources and support helped, what didn’t, and what we can do better in the future. We partnered with Avalanche, a company that fields surveys which yield both quantitative and qualitative feedback — they dug in with our 2021 and 2022 candidates to help us build a better, more data-informed program moving forward.
A few fun facts about Run for Something’s 2021–2022 candidates generally:
- 65% of our candidates had campaign budgets under $50k — 22% had budgets under $10k
- 17% of our candidates had no paid staff, 36% had 1–2 paid staff members, and only 1% had more than 20 paid staff.
- 54% of candidates named “support from others” as the biggest thing that gave them confidence to decide to run — especially community support and support from friends and family. (Good lesson: Got a friend you think should run? Encourage them!)
- Unsurprisingly, the most desired support was with finances and fundraising, although a very close second was help with volunteers and field support.
- Candidates are surprised by the good stuff! When asked what was the biggest surprise about the experience of campaigning, 20% named “the support of volunteers, donors, and staff” as the biggest surprise; 18% identified “positive interactions with people”, 14% called out “how fun and rewarding it is.”
- On a sadder note: Women are more likely than men to say they experience personal attacks during their campaigns, were more likely to have experienced safety concerns, and were more likely to experience in-person attacks, while men experienced them primarily online.
- But don’t worry: The majority of candidates — 76%! — say they will probably or definitely run for office again.
Generally, candidates really like the RFS program and how we engage with them.
30% of candidates name the RFS endorsement as the most useful resource; 19% identified their relationship with their RFS regional director. When asked why, 35% of candidates identified mentors and a support network. Candidates specifically named emotional support, encouragement, and general advice as the most valuable thing regional directors helped with — simply being there for them, without hesitation!
Three big thing we took away from the survey to shape our work for 2023 and beyond:
- Endorsements are super helpful; the earlier we can endorse, the better.
- The 1:1 relationships between RFS staff and candidates is so powerful — by hiring more staff, we can expand the capacity for those.
- Candidates particularly need high-level messaging guidance that can be localized for a race as appropriate.
While doing all that, we also launched our biggest and most ambitious program yet: Clerk Work.
Clerk Work is a three-year effort to recruit pro-democracy candidates for local election administration positions to help ensure that future elections are accessible, fair, and equitable.
As election deniers, extremists, and insurrectionists attempt to seize control of our elections, it’s more essential than ever that our leaders, including local election administrators, defend democracy by ensuring that voters alone determine the outcome of an election, without any infrastructure preference for party or ideology.
There are more than 5,000 election administrator positions in 30+ states at county, city, and town levels, depending on the state — the opportunity is massive and the crisis is urgent.
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This wasn’t easy to get off the ground in 2022. We launched, planned, raised money for, hired for, and executed this new program all at once. Because of logistical time constraints, we often couldn’t start recruitment until just a few weeks pre-filing deadline. We didn’t have state staff on the ground yet and weren’t able to go as in-depth or personalized as we would have liked.
To get the work started, we ran a range of scaled recruitment tactics, including digital ads, text campaigns, outreach to the RFS pipeline, and scaled training that ultimately reached over 11 million people and generated more than 38,000 leads (of those 38,000 leads 21,000+ were in swing states).
When all is said and done, in 2022 we helped recruit 233 clerk candidates across 17 states.
Along with that, 32 candidates applied for and received our Democracy Defender designation and received ongoing support from Run for Something:
- 20 of those 32 candidates won their elections (a massive 63% win rate)
- 13 of those 32 candidates ran against election deniers (!)
- 10 of those 13 candidates won (77% win rate)
Democracy Defenders have pledged to ensure that local elections are accessible, fair, and equitable, and receive specialty tools, training and resources that will guide them in running successful campaigns, including promotion via RFS channels, access to donors, dedicated trainings, sample campaign materials, vendor discounts, and more.
While we ran our broader program and Clerk Work, we also transformed as an organization.
Internally, we grew by leaps and bounds in 2022.
After an intensive planning process (with support by the excellent team at Be Bold Media, among others!), we identified our desire to build the capacity to go both deep and wide on impact, deepen the diversity of our candidate pipeline, and invest in our team — and identified that in order to be able to staff that kind of work, we’d first need to reshape our structure internally.
So we kicked off a re-organizing process, created new leadership levels, made up at least one whole new department, and doubled down on our commitment to our people-first culture (all with a diversity and equity lens.)
To get into the weeds just a little:
For the first five years, Run for Something ran with a small and scrappy team, employing 10 folks by the end of 2017 and hovered between 15–21 employees from 2018 until mid-2022.
In the past, we had clearly defined departments that had grown out of the work — People/Operations/Finance, Development, Communications, Program (which encompassed a team of Regional Directors, a Political department, and a Community team that included volunteer and alumni management), a Tech team of one person, and the two co-founders who got way too in the weeds on all kinds of things.
To do more and do it better, we needed to grow — but before that, we needed to re-organize ourselves and prepare for growth. After all, there are 500,000+ elected offices in the United States — one day we want to have the ability to work with candidates for all of them!
So after a thoughtful and intentional process, we re-organized ourselves. (If you’ve ever been somewhere that went through something similar, you know how hard this can be, even under the best and easiest of circumstances — and midway through an even-numbered year with candidates in elections nearly every week is not “the best and easiest of circumstances” — but we tried our hardest.)
The new, stronger, readier-to-grow version of Run for Something that has emerged from that process looks a little bit different.
Between October 2022 and March 2023, the organization literally doubled in size — and more positions are yet to come. You can check the website for the latest list of the team, and check our jobs site for current open positions.
In particular, we want to highlight three parts of our team we’re building out:
- States, which now includes a layer of Pod Directors who oversee a mix of Regional Directors and State Directors, who themselves oversee a team of Recruitment and Organizing Associates. This staffing structure allows us to build deeper 1:1 relationships with candidates and partners and to further target our work as needed.
- Leadership Networks, which will house our Recruitment, Pipeline, Organizing/Volunteer, and Alumni teams. We’ll finally be able to do better focused content for folks at different points in their journey from “maybe I’ll run!’ to “yes, I’m running!” to “I just ran, now what?!?!”
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion — we’re bringing on a Chief Diversity Officer who will have the resources they need to build a team to shape our internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and ensure our program is thoughtful and strategic.
Our staff is now more than half people of color, more than half women, and located across 18 states, reflecting the diversity of both the country and the candidates we work with.
All that hiring took a lot of time, effort, and intentionality — and got done while permanently adopting a four-day work week, which helps us live our values of focusing long-term and sustainable, as we ensure our staff can work hard, rest hard and maintain work/life balance.
We did all this work on a $8.4 million budget.
Why We Do This Work
Run for Something launched in part to solve a problem: In the past, the progressive movement systematically failed to invest in state and local elections, resulting in a weak pipeline of talent, huge swaths of the country in which many voters never actually met a Democrat running for office, and a compounding system where the GOP won elections then changed the rules so they could do it again.
Said another way: Democrats chased shiny objects while the GOP built power.
Opinion | Democrats Chase Shiny Objects. Here's How They Can Build Real Power. (Published 2022)
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Over the last six years, our movement has made big strides to rectify that, spending and winning an unprecedented amount, especially on state legislatures. Just look at the progress made in Michigan over the last three months to see the immediate impact that winning trifecta control can have.
That’s huge. It’s also just a start.
We need to think long-term about winning power — not just about what we can flip in 2024 but where we might be able to flip in 2034 if we lay key groundwork now.
For many politicos, it will be tempting to focus exclusively on the battleground states relevant to the electoral college leading up to the 2024 presidential election — but winning the White House, while necessary, simply isn’t enough if we want to make life meaningfully better for people. We have to also win school boards, city councils, state legislatures, and all other types of local seats.
The GOP knows this as well. They have lost federal governing power and they’re trying to make up for it. They’re trying to build a Federalist Society for all parts of society and culture. They’re funding groups like Moms for Liberty, which is fielding and training school board candidates, pushing library board candidates, and advocating for an unprecedented number of book bans. They’re continuing to pass egregiously dangerous abortion bans that are directly hurting people and damaging our health care system, which will have a compounding effect.
The simple truth is: Working locally and working everywhere is critical, no matter what your goal is.
It’s about policy that directly affects people: The most dangerous laws come from the states too many Democrats have neglected — and what happens in a red state never stays in a red state, nor solely affects those in a red state.
Just one horrific example is abortion rights. Abortion is banned or nearly banned in 26 states, and the effect on everything from hospitals in neighboring communities to medical education to maternal health care outcomes is drastic. Because of one Texas law and one activist judge, medication abortions are at risk nationwide.
We need to ensure that in places where the GOP has full control, we still have a seat at the table. State senators in Nebraska like RFS alum Megan Hunt who filibustered against the state’s abortion ban and is now leading the fight to protect trans kids are proof of how even one Democrat in the room willing to fight can make a difference.
It’s also about politics: We have to engage more candidates to talk to more voters, which helps gin up turn-out and strengthens the habit of voting. We have to cultivate talent everywhere so there are more options when an opportunity comes up for a Democrat to make the top-of-ticket race competitive; we have to build relationships and infrastructure.
Run for Something has been doing our best to move the needle with a barebones team — and we’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished with limited resources. Now we’re ready to do more, do it better, and do it for the long haul.
How We’re Going to Do It in 2023
We’re widening and deepening our candidate recruitment and support efforts at the local and state level, and further building the organization to sustain that work.
Let’s level-set on the landscape this year: There are more elections in 2023 than there were in 2022, including 23,357 school board seats across nearly 13,000 districts up in 2023 alone.
Thousands of local election administration officials (or elected officials who appoint election officials) will be running in 2023 and 2024. In most communities across the country, local and county elected officials will be on the ballot in 2023, and looking ahead to 2024, a vast majority of the 7,399 state legislators in the country will be on the ballot.
The good news is we’re ready and able to work on a whole lot more races than we were in 2022.
Our newly expanded States team of Regional Directors, State Directors, and Recruitment Associates will be able to do more recruitment earlier. This is a big deal: In the past, we simply didn’t have enough resources to do recruitment as early as we would have liked; sometimes we were working barely weeks ahead of the filing deadline.
Now we’re setting ourselves up to get started as early as nine months ahead of the filing deadline so we can recruit better talent and build deeper connections with them. Instead of working nine weeks ahead of a filing deadline, we’ll be able to get started nine months ahead.
We’ll also endorse at least 650 candidates nationally in 2023 — double our last odd-numbered-year goal in 2021 — who will have more RFS staff they can directly connect with. To bring much-needed diversity and representation to government, we’ve set clear goals (based on past cycle benchmarks) for our endorsements:
- 51% women candidates
- 51% candidates of color
- 20% LGBTQIA+ candidates
- 20% Latinx candidates
- 20% Black candidates
- 10% AAPI candidates
Because we’ll be in more places, we can go deeper: We’re continuing to prioritize endorsements for city council, school board, election officials, and other hyper-local offices next cycle because the type of support we provide can have an amplified impact on these races.
Another way we’ll recruit more candidates and deepen our support is by expanding our network of partners. Our goal is to maintain our relationships with 400+ state and local organizations, 60% of our existing regional partners, build out our network of 200+ state and local leads who can give us on-the-ground intel and collectively host more than 100 joint recruitment events.
We’re piloting a few exciting programs, including:
- training folks in northwest Arkansas on how to recruit people to run for office and
- working with partners in Pennsylvania to run events for recruiting school board candidates.
If they go well, we’ll bring them to other states!
Our Leadership Networks team is, among other things, working to provide new resources, training, and partner opportunities to our growing network of 2,500+ alumni to strengthen their individual leadership and collective impact. They’re also re-imagining all the ways our community of volunteers and supporters can plug in to our work and more importantly, the candidate network.
Clerk Work weaves through all of this, and will dole out 150+ Democracy Defender designations over the next two years.
Our Communications team is growing and refining the ways we tell Run for Something’s story and the stories of our candidates, and working hand-in-hand with our recruitment folks across the organization to bring new people into the pipeline. They’re experimenting across platforms to ensure we meet people where they are and connect them to our work in an authentic way.
Our first-ever Chief Diversity Officer starts in April, and will build out an innovative diversity, equity, and inclusion department — she’ll take our commitment to DEI and anti-racism to the next level for our candidates and our staff.
And we’ve hired our first Chief Technology Officer who will take our internal systems (for example: our homegrown database for managing candidate info) to the next level and bring a holistic strategy to our data architecture.
To support all this work and better enable us to help candidates, our Finance and Compliance team is growing and specializing — we’ll stay on track, both with the law and with our budgets.
Our People and Culture team is growing, too — managing hiring processes, onboarding new members, and ensuring that when people join RFS, they can stay and grow as employees (while also being full people outside of work, too!)
Our growing Development team (notice a theme here — every team is growing!) will expand our fundraising sources, especially focusing on grassroots donors, and ensure that every supporter at every level knows exactly how grateful we are for their support.
Since it’s already 4 months into 2023, it’s worth naming: We’ve already done a lot of this!
We’ve hired dozens of staff, including State Directors in New Hampshire, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and they are currently bringing on associates.
We’ve already endorsed 143 candidates, including:
- Cairnie Pokorney, Derry School Board — Cairnie is a first time-candidate who just won his election to Derry School Board, in a traditionally red area of New Hampshire. He is the first transgender man to serve on the school board.
- In Illinois, RFS endorsed 4 candidates who were just elected to the newly-created Chicago Police Board, a body designed to promote restorative justice and increase dialogue between the police and the community. Congratulations to Leonardo Quintero, Anthony Bryant, Sam Schoenburg, and Maurilio Garcia!
- Kimberly Adams, Virginia House, District 82 — When Kimberly saw that there were no single mothers (like her) in the Virginia Assembly, she knew that important voices weren’t being heard — so she decided to run! She’s now working to make sure parents like her and all of the working families in her district are well-represented.
- Heidi Drauschak, Virginia Senate, District 35 — Heidi had an early interest in state government, which led her to found CrowdLobby, an organization dedicated to giving everyday people access to lobbyists through crowdfunded campaigns. She believes that more needs to be done to give ordinary people honest access to their legislators.
- Fabian Nelson, Mississippi House, District 66 — Fabian is a foster parent and the owner of Mississippi United Realty, a real estate firm that helps first-time homebuyers achieve their dreams of homeownership. Fabian is also committed to advocating for affordable healthcare and the expansion of Medicaid coverage in Mississippi.
- Sophia Saenz, City of South Houston, TX — Sophia is challenging an 18-year incumbent for the mayoral seat. If she wins, she will be the first Latina Mayor of the City of South Houston.
On the Clerk Work front, we’ve already completed our recruitment program in Wisconsin ahead of the 2023 local elections, testing out some new strategies around targeted recruitment efforts — we layered in scaled recruitment (ads, social media and press) along with live callers doing 1;1 outreach off a prospect list or voter file and texting. Anyone who expressed interest was patched through directly to a recruitment organizer on the ground who could talk in detail, then follow up multiple times.
By making 12,876 calls and sending 80,988 texts over six weeks, we played a role in helping recruit 118 candidates to file for local election official (LEO) roles in Wisconsin alone — a huge increase over 2022 (when, reminder: we brought in 233 LEO candidates nationwide!)
A full 50% of those candidates went on to win the general election across key geographies. Incredibly, 16 of those recruits beat insurrectionists in the primary or general election.
The infrastructure building we focused on last year is paying off and will continue to yield dividends: The next time we go out to those nearly 100k+ people and ask them to run for office, it won’t be the first time they’ve considered it!
Our 2023 budget is, frankly, a lot more than you’re used to seeing from us: $17.8 million for 2023, and likely to exceed $20 million for 2024 (although that’s still in flux.)
If you’re curious or in the weeds on our funding, our overarching budget breaks out into 26% from our non-federal political action committee (PAC) and 74% from our 501c4 (which also includes our affiliated fiscally-sponsored 501c3, Run for Something Civics).
We know we’re setting ambitious goals — even more so than we have in the past. But we’ve been working for six years to create an organization that can accomplish what we have to do in 2023 and lay the groundwork for what we must do in 2024 and beyond.
We’re confident that we’ve proven we can do this work, and we’re equally confident that supporters (that means you!) know why this matters.
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.