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How to Run for Office as a First-time Candidate

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Published: Aug 4, 2021

In the run-up to the 2018 primary elections, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress set out on an important mission: to find grassroots-level candidates not influenced by money to run for public office. 

They set out on this mission to ensure working-class citizens benefit from their interests being represented in the government.

In pursuit of their mission, they:

  • Looked for promising candidates across different states in the US. 
  • Chose dedicated and driven individuals willing to work for their constituency. 
  • Trained them to run for the primary elections.
  • Supported them with campaign strategy, resources and funding.

Their most famous success story from the 2018 campaign is the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who led her campaign and won against Joe Crawley, a 10-year incumbentearning her national recognition.

Democrat, Republican, or Independent, there are many key takeaways from this campaign that you can implement in your run for office. Especially as a first-time candidate running a grassroots-level campaign.

You could have myriad reasons for running for office – perhaps you lost faith in someone in the office, maybe you’re passionate about causes that no one seems to be paying attention to or not doing enough about. What could be the best alternative to retreating quietly in the corner when these demands and necessities are not met?

When the only option for bringing about change is getting out there and doing it yourself, you must run for office! 

Of course, we’re here to help you figure out how to run for office, how to raise funds for your campaign, and other starting points to aid your decision to run.

How to run for office for the first time:

Public office is often held in high esteem, and just the thought of being a participant of a giant machinery such as this can be daunting and overwhelming. Knowing where to begin, learning the ropes, and contesting the elections need careful and strategic consideration.

Here is a roadmap that might help you decide where to begin:

Deciding to run 

The question that you must answer before deciding whether you want to run for office is ‘Why?’ Why do you want to run for office, and what impact will your participation create?

When you are deciding to run for office; a strong ‘why’ will be a great motivator to guide you through the process, especially when nothing seems to go your way!

Some factors to consider when you are deciding to run:

  • Why should the public support you? What are your mission, vision, and values? What are the causes you will back, and are there any solutions that you can offer?
  • What are the requirements to run for public office, and are you eligible? Look at the qualifications required to run for the office you are vying for and if you fit into the required criteria. 
  • Put your paperwork into place, organize the documents you need to file your nomination, and purchase insurance to cover any legal dispute.

Research

The backbone of your campaign for public office would be the number of hours you put into research and what you do with it. It is the single most crucial factor that will determine the success of your campaign. As they say, knowledge is power. 

Some key points of research:

  • How do you run for office? What are some examples of successful campaigns, and what can you learn from them?
  • Who is your target audience, and where can you find them?
  • How can you reach out to them? Would you prefer door-to-door canvassing, community meetings or events, text canvassing, phone banking, social media, or traditional media as part of your outreach strategy?
  • What is the kind of money required to run your campaign? How can you acquire it?
Additional Resources:

7 strategies for effective voter outreach

7 strategies for effective voter outreach

Primary Campaign Fundraising: What These 5 Experts Teach Us 

A solid, well-researched plan to kickstart your run for office is a sure-shot way of ensuring you make a grand entry onto the political stage.

Build a community

No campaign is successful without a community supporting it and rooting for its success. The easiest way to build a community is:

  1. Involve family and friends: Family and friends form the first circle of trust and support, and winning them over as supporters for your run for office is a testament to the effectiveness of your campaign, your research as well as your ‘why?’. 

If you can convince your family and friends, you can eventually convince your community.

Here’s what you need to cover when speaking to family and friends:

  • Tell them you are running and tell them WHY!
  • Educate them about the situation.
  • Clearly state exactly how they can help you.
  • Do not assume support; ask for their presence and contribution.

2. Engage your local community and volunteers: Working towards one’s community and their upliftment is a key reason people decide to run for office. Therefore, your community is an important partner in determining whether they would like you to represent them and their interests. 

Volunteers from the local community would be the hands and legs of the campaign that carry it to your voter base. Find and implement strategies such as the ones below to engage them:

  • Hold an announcement party at a local park or pub– depending on which receives a considerable footfall from the community. 
  • Educate people about your intention to run for office, your campaign, its goals as well as its needs.
  • Ask for volunteers to join your campaign to bring about the change towards which you are working.

Build your brand

Building a brand makes you memorable and creates a high recall value. This is true of both corporate as well as individual brands.

What worked in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) favor is that she created a strong brand recall from the beginning. She took risks, deviated from the popular color schemes (red or blue), and used purple and yellow in her branding – immediately standing out from the crowd. 

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Source: Tandem Design NYC
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Source: Tandem Design NYC

However, as striking as AOC’s branding is and as much as it has made a mark in the political branding sphere, it may not be for everyone. It is important to be aware of your own values and be authentic. Reflect on who you truly are and what you believe in, and include that in your campaign’s branding. Below are some pointers.

First steps to creating your brand: 

  • Create a campaign logo.
  • Determine a brand palette, design specifications like font, color, etc.
  • Create and design a campaign deck, volunteer deck, fundraising deck, etc. to share with prospective donors and volunteers.
  • Design your election flyers and distribute them widely.̉
  • Reinforce your brand at every event and campaign initiative. Bring it visibility.

Build Your Team

There are three most important positions to consider in your run for office:

  1. Campaign Manager: The campaign manager works directly in coordination with the candidate and aligns their work to the campaign’s mission, vision, and values. It is the campaign manager that will ultimately make strategic campaign plans on how to run for office. 

Study about a few campaigns and figure out the role campaign managers play, how to spot a good one, look for a campaign manager and hire them immediately!

  1. Financial Manager: No one likes to talk about money, less still manage it. This is why it is important to hire a professional to handle it for you. While you are raising support and funds for your campaign, your financial manager can ensure the funds are utilized most efficiently and effectively.

They are also responsible for creating fundraising plans and implementing them and ensuring that the campaign never lacks funds for their initiatives.

  1. Volunteers: The most crucial part of your campaign are the volunteers. You can recruit new volunteers from your local community or experienced volunteers who have worked on other campaigns. Volunteers will lead your outreach initiatives such as Phone Banking, P2P texting or door-to-door canvassing when the campaign is looking for more voters.

The team trains them to facilitate outreach efforts, increase your voter base, conduct research on behalf of your campaign, and much more. 

Read Also: The secret to recruiting volunteers through 8 swift steps

If your campaign can afford more hires, you can also look for fundraising directors, speechwriters, policy advisors, and more. As the team expands and the campaign grows, there will be more hires under each department, working with leaders, directors, and campaign managers. 

Tools that help your run for office

One of the most important aspects of campaign planning that many first-time candidates struggle with is the tools they can implement in their outreach efforts.

Possessing the right tools for your campaign will make research, outreach, fundraising, and other processes a lot more seamless and streamlined. 

Quick Tip: Look for continuously upgrading tools to meet the needs of their clients and expand their offerings.

Here are some tools you must know about:

1. NationBuilder: CRM tool

how-to-run-for-office-nation-builder

Nation Builder helps the most high-stakes campaigns and programs across 112 countries. It enables you to keep track of all activities (from fundraising to outreach programs), stores your caller lists, keeps updated voter files and much more. 

They provide the technological infrastructure that will aid you when you decide to run for office.

Notable Features:

  • Fully integrated software that allows you to reach out to more people and specifically voters that are likely to support you.
  • You can launch pages within minutes using draft templates.
  • Updates data in real-time to assist your decision-making.
  • Personalizes all your communication.
  • Built-in payment processing so you can raise more money.

Best suited for:

  1. Petitions
  2. Events
  3. Fundraising
  4. Campaign Management

Pricing: Starts at $29/mo

2. CallHub: Texting and Calling software

how-to-run-for-office-callhub

CallHub solves all your communications problems with personalized text and phone campaigns. These tools are handy when you want to conduct research, initiate outreach programs or raise funds.

Leading programs across the country use CallHub’s products to help their campaign efforts. You can use tools such as mass texting, auto-dialer, voice broadcast or peer-to-peer texting to easily communicate with patrons, supporters, and potential voters.

Notable Features: 

  • Complete solution for communications management.
  • Integrates with popular political CRMs such as NationBuilder, NGPVan, L2 Political, and many more. 
  • Texting and calling software helps voter outreach initiatives, GOTV, voter registration, and research.
  • Ensures you are TCPA compliant.
  • Real-time data updates that assist campaign managers in optimizing campaigns and workflow.

Best Suited For:

  1. Campaign communications management
  2. Fundraising and research.

Pricing: CallHub’s pricing starts from a ‘Lite’ pack, a pay-as-you-go model, and can be tailored according to your campaign’s needs as you expand.

3. Fundly: Crowdfunding

how-to-run-for-office-fundly

Fundly is focused on fundraising through social media platforms. It is an excellent fit if you are raising funds for the first time. It is easy to adapt to, and running crowdfunding campaigns on Fundly is very simple and uncomplicated.

It is a free app that lets you manage your campaigns from anywhere in the world.

Notable features:

  • Capture information through data track sets and use it to make your campaigns intelligent.
  • It has personalized fundraising tools that nurture better relationships with donors.
  • Comprehensive reporting for better-informed leadership.

Best suited for:

  1. Fundraising
  2. Grant management

Pricing: Starts at $349 / year

Read Also: Top Political Fundraising Software to Give a Financial Boost to Your Campaign

There are many tools to consider for your campaign’s needs but starting with some of those mentioned above is an excellent first step in your campaign to run for public office.

Resources

Technological infrastructure is not all that is required by a first-time candidate running for public office. Social and political infrastructure that allows a candidate to reach out to and harness the power of large organizations is equally important.

If you are still thinking, ‘How do I run for office?’, there are many organizations that you could associate with to take your campaign to newer heights. 

Having an organization guide you and direct you towards success is excellent because:

  1. You do not have to start from scratch.
  2. You meet other individuals who are going through the same process as you.
  3. You do not feel isolated in the process.

Whether to raise funds or to help you with your campaign strategy, these organizations are doing all they can to promote first-time candidates. Let’s look at a few examples of them.

1. Emerge America

how-to-run-for-office-emerge

Emerge America is passionate about helping women run for office. 

It is a premier organization that recruits and trains first-time Democratic women candidates to run for office. 

They aim to promote diversity within the government by recruiting women of color, LGBTQ+ community members, and generally all those women who can change the power dynamics within the government today. 

2. She Should Run

how-to-run-for-office-she-should-run

As the name suggests, She Should Run is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that helps women run for office. They have a singular aim: help more women run for public office and increase their representation in the government.

They use data-driven content, awareness, and collective action to bring about change. Their mission is to see 250,000+ women elected at different levels of the government by the year 2030.

3. Run for Something

how-to-run-for-office-run-for-something

Run for Something works exclusively with progressive millennial candidates aged 35 or younger. They work with men and women and encourage people to run for office by helping them with social media, coaching them to give speeches, and connecting them to campus alums and operatives who volunteer for candidates.  

4. Black Women in Politics

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Even though Kamala Harris became the first female Vice President of African and South Asian descent, women of color are not adequately represented at the higher echelons of the US government. 

Black Women in Politics encourages Black women to increase their participation in politics by running for office and supports them with resources in order to do so.

5. Run for Office

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Run for Office addresses the United States leadership crisis by educating and encouraging more people to run for office and begin their political careers. 

Here’s what Run for Office helps you with: 

  • Find the office you want to run for.
  • Get the information you need to appear on the ballot.
  • Learn how to run for office.
  • Get a free voter file.
  • Launch your campaign.

Conclusion

The US is witnessing a generational change in leadership. With millennials becoming eligible to contest for different positions and envisioning a difference in the way things are done, more and more first-time candidates are emerging from different parts of the US.

Since 2018, a record number of millennials have signed up to run for office. These numbers only state one thing: Now is the best time to rise to the challenge and run for office. Political change and community upliftment begin with leaders who take a chance and work towards building something new.

All the best for your campaign!

Featured Image Source: August de Richelieu

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