What we actually do for candidates
We launched Run for Something on January 20th, 2017 with a simple premise:
Run for Something will help recruit and support young diverse progressives 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.
In our efforts to build a Democratic bench for the future, we decided to focus on every candidate who wanted to run for office, not just candidates who meet the standard “viability” test, aka how much money they’ve raised. We know that type of prioritization wouldn’t allow us to embody our core values.
We decided that by investing in every candidate and giving each one an equal shot at running a kickass campaign, we would empower voters to go out and have their voices heard. Simply put, we trust voters. Our candidate program is structured to get as many committed people as possible in the door and provide them access to resources, money, and experts who can help them. We are not de-facto limiting our focus or our efforts by race viability, “flippability”, or whether or not we think the candidate is the “perfect person.”
We believe the voters should decide who the right candidate is to represent them — not an institution.
We promote progressive values. Getting more progressive people running means more chances for communities to hear about and identify with our vision for the future. The more we can spread these messages through connected members of communities, the better off we will be.
Our risk tolerance is high: Like incubators or venture capital firms in the tech world, we don’t expect all (or even a majority) of our “investments” to win the first time out. By getting on the ballot, holding opponents accountable, and getting Democrats engaged through voter contact, our candidates will be effective in building out the party at the local level.
In 2017 and 2018, we elected candidates in 40 states to offices ranging from state Senate to county Sheriff. Our candidates come from all walks of life– teachers, doctors, activists, artists, parents, refugees — and they represent communities that have been historically excluded and discouraged from running for political office. Our candidates won because they ran grassroots-powered campaigns focusing on local issues — and we were there to help every step of the way.
Are you ready to run for office? Read below to learn about our process.
Step 1: Sign up at RunforSomething.net
Through press, social media, paid advertising, grassroots outreach and a constant drumbeat of conversation, we aim to destigmatize the idea that running for office is only for a limited type of person (read: old rich white men.)
Potential candidates then join a conference call, then opt in to have a 1:1 with a member of the RFS Concierge team. Our Concierge team is made up mostly of folks with experience on campaigns or in the progressive movement. They are looking for four key factors:
- Is the candidate progressive, by whatever definition fits their community (i.e. A progressive in Louisiana is different than a progressive in California)? We direct folks to RunforSomething.net for our definition of progressive (key point: we don’t have a litmus test).
- Is the candidate rooted in their community — do they have a network, connections, and an authentic understanding of what problems the community faces?
- Does the candidate understand what a campaign means and are they willing to do the work?
- Is the candidate compelling and interesting to talk to? If the volunteer was going to work for them, on a scale of 1–10, how excited would they be?
Step 2: If a candidate meets those criteria…
RFS community support.
They get invited to our Slack community. In the Run for Something Slack team, candidates can build relationships with other people considering running for office, as well as RFS volunteers. Our community is structured by state as well as by specialty and by demographics — candidates and volunteers are self-organizing, setting up in-person meetings, and commiserating as they encounter similar challenges.
RFS candidates will have the opportunity to be matched with mentors with different areas of expertise. The goal of this is to democratize access to institutional knowledge in a scalable way. Instead of pairing up one candidate with one expert who may not have specialized knowledge in all facets of a campaign, we’re trying to help candidates get experts to specific questions from many experts. This allows mentors to support many candidates at once.
Access to resources and trainings
RFS staff and volunteers constantly share links to trainings and programs put on by partner organizations that might be useful for potential candidates.
Press and social media amplification
RFS will help all candidates that are part of our community connect with relevant reporters and will signal boost through social media. Any outlet that wants to talk to our candidates can email firstname.lastname@example.org — we’ll do what we can!
Step 3: The Run for Something Endorsement
Once candidates have completed a call and started to engage with our community, they are invited to apply for the Run for Something endorsement.
In our first two years, we’ve endorsed nearly 650 first-and second-time candidates. We’re going to go even bigger over the next two years.
Endorsed candidates gain access to many additional Run for Something resources including our database of creative help and additional mentorship. We also hope to financially support candidates across the country in 2018. Stay tuned for more information on that!
Reach out to us at email@example.com
What if a candidate is in a primary against someone else in the Run for Something community?
If multiple first- or second-time millennial candidates are running in a primary and meet the criteria, we’ll help them all in at least some capacity — whether it’s funding or other types of support. The voters should decide — not us.
What happens in the sixty days leading up to an election?
We do grassroots fundraising — we can set up massive ActBlue pages by state/office, encourage people to give; spotlight each race, etc. We also direct volunteer efforts towards races that need the help.
Can candidates be public about trying to raise in order to be eligible for RFS funds?
Candidates can absolutely use RFS funds as a hook to get donors in the door. It establishes a quick goal and will be an easy hook for grassroots fundraising and engagement. We encourage it.
What about the staffing help y’all promised in your strategic plan?
We are still thinking through how to run that program in a scalable way. For now, we’ll work with our candidates one-on-one to help them find talent to hire.
Candidates who receive RFS funds will be publicly listed on the RFS website and will be part of a concerted content and advertising program as determined by RFS staff.
Campaign teams will be able to reach out to RFS as needed for support. As part of the candidate contract, we’ll continue to engage and support their work. We’ll also run digital organizing efforts in conjunction with the campaign.
All candidates — whether funded or not — will continue to have access to RFS resources, mentors, networking opportunities, and the community of support.
Will this work?
Well, we won’t know until we try it! No one else does it this way or with these particular goals. But let’s be realistic: We can’t try the same old methods and expect a new result.
We aimed to set up something that scales while takes into account the wide spectrum of races we’re working on. And if you have an idea for other ways we can help our candidates, just email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we didn’t entirely pull this out of thin air. For our funding criteria, we took a little bit of inspiration from public financing structures that aim to level the playing field, while still providing an avenue to apply for funding that doesn’t require as wide a network. We are treating our candidates like start-ups — not every start up will succeed but that doesn’t mean the effort is wasted. Talent development has value in and of itself.
We are hopeful and optimistic that the incredible outpouring of support for our mission won’t dissipate over time. The Blue Wave started in November 2018, but it’s far from over. We need to keep growing, hire staff, and build out our infrastructure to support the volume of people who want to run (20,000 people and counting!)