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How To Run For Office: The Ultimate Guide

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Published: Oct 11, 2018

Running for office is easy, but in the way chess is easy. It has a few clear-cut rules but countless strategies, challenges, and twists.

So, before taking up the decision to run for local or state government, make sure you’ve considered the pros and cons of holding an office. Being a major responsibility, it demands your time and requires you to engage with the people you’d like to serve.

Want to run for office but don’t know where to start? Look no further! We’ve put together a basic guide on how to run for office, local or state.

Evaluate If You’re Ready To Run For Office

Running for office requires commitment and is not a cake walk. So, you need to ask yourself “Am I ready to run for office?” and make a clear evaluation.

The entire process can be broken down into four simple steps:

Step 1: Understand the office
You need to think about what post you want to run for and if you have the traits and the qualifications that the office-holder must have. Evaluate why you are qualified and pen down at least three reasons. And also, you need to decide if you’re committed to serving others.

Step 2: Evaluate your core network
This means you have to discuss the potential campaign with your spouse and close friends as they will be your earliest supporters. And then see if the campaign will conflict with your career or other responsibilities.

Step 3: Understand the required time commitment
Evaluate how you will dedicate your time for your current job and for running the campaign. Consider if you’ll take a leave of absence from your job or if you’ll balance work life and the campaign. Talk to someone who holds or held the position you want to run for, to get a better understanding of the time commitment.

Step 4: Look at your finances
Check if have any outstanding debts owed to local, state, or federal government. And next consider how you will finance your campaign, i.e., how much you’ll spend from your own pocket and how much will you raise and how you’ll do it. We’ll provide some advice on how you can finance your campaign below.

File In Your Candidacy Application

  • Introduce yourself to your fellow citizens months before the filing deadline. You need to get your name out there and let your community know what issues matter to you and how you will help in solving community-specific issues. Get to know your potential voters, talk to them about the problems they face and ask about the changes they’d like to see. It’s important to build a rapport with people so join neighborhood associations, attend city council meetings, and get involved in civic organizations.
  • Do a comprehensive research on the office that will allow you to make a difference. The right office for you depends on the level of experience you have in office and the specific issues you want to address. If you’re a first-time candidate considering starting small, i.e., running for city council or school board member.
  • Make a thorough evaluation of the qualification required because in some cases, you must file a petition with a minimum number of signatures.
  • Last, submit your application, petition, etc. before the deadline. You must submit your forms to the secretary of state’s office. Sometimes, you might have to file applications with the district that oversees your office.

Campaign Organization

It’s not impossible to run a campaign all by yourself. It requires a lot of hard work. But it’ll be far easier if you have a team of volunteers to help you out. Let’s look at how you can structure and organize your team.

The main roles in a political campaign are the candidate, campaign manager, fundraising director, communications director, networking director, and events director. So depending on the size of your campaign you must fill all or most of these roles.

So now you have a structure lets look at how you can build a support network to contribute to all of the campaign roles:

  • A great place to look for supporters is to start with your friends and family. Start by making an actual list of supporters and then consider what do they do for a living, what they care about, their social and ethnic background, and where they live. Take this information and build a supporter profile so that you can motivate them to volunteer, recruit, donate, network and fundraise for your campaign.
  • Set up a finance committee to manage your funds and draft out your campaign expenditure. For this, pick someone with experience in managing or raising money. And if they have experience in running committees, it acts as a bonus.
  • Build a team to carry out a rapid response. Pick a small team of tech-savvy folks who are updated with current trends on social media. They can respond to news, comments, build your social media profiles, respond to trolls, reply to complaints, etc.
  • And never ever turn a volunteer away. Find out their strengths and match it with the tasks. For example, instead of asking an introvert to make phone calls or knock the door, get them to help in organizing events or maintain your online presence.

Budgeting

Unless you’ve had prior experience in budgeting, it especially hard to estimate a budget. A good way to get a numerical estimate is to look up campaign disclosures for previous campaigns and note down how much other candidates raised and spent in the past. This can give you a baseline for your own budget.

You must dedicate a major part of your budget to voter outreach and the tools you use. The tools should have a fine balance between affordability and effectiveness. The main tools you should invest in: a call center software and SMS broadcast tools.

Breakdown your budget into:

  • Operational costs: the material things you need to run your campaign, i.e., salaries, voter files, and databases, website, office space, and supplies.
  • Voter persuasion: website, donation tracking, mass communication tools, direct mail, live and automated calls, yard signs, banners, advertisements, business cards, canvassing, door-to-door, GOTV, community meeting, etc.
  • Fundraising: events, printing, posting, letterheads, donation cards, etc.

If you’re running a small campaign a good rule of thumb is to spend 20-30% on operational costs.

Fundraising

Political fundraising gives you an opportunity to interact with your constituents and make people feel invested in the campaign. So get started with it as soon as possible.

Kick-start your fundraising campaign by looking within your circle, i.e., your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. This will help you gain practice in making an ask ‘personal’. Next, you can mobilize volunteers to request funds from supporters in your constituent. Another easy way to ask for donations is to approach organizations whose interests align with your campaign message.

You can also search for grant-based programmes to receive public funding for your campaign. To qualify for such programmes, the candidate needs to raise the set amount in small donations and must show support from the community.

Campaign Communications: Internal And External

Every campaign must have a communications strategy in place to convey the campaign message to the audience. And it’s useful to look at communications in terms of internal and external.

Internal communications deals with keeping your keeping your message clear and consistent within your team. Your team must know the decisions taken, stay on top of activities, and coordinate with each other to ensure smooth functioning. The last thing you want is to learn that a volunteer has wasted their time because of duplicated effort or misplaced priorities. So, make sure you maintain regular communications with your team. Ideally, you should have a communications director to overlook the work done by the team before it goes public. If a director is over your budget get someone with good communication skills to take up this task.

External communications deals with delivering your campaign message to the outside world, that is, your voters and supporters. For this you can consider:

  • Paid media – advertise your message via newspapers, print, digital, radio, television, etc. Also, be mindful of the cost per thousand impressions.
  • Free media – typically referred to as earned media which comes in the form of news stories in television, radio, or newspapers. To gain free media you can tap into community access cable shows, reach out to radio stations to do interviews, and write to newspaper editors to feature you.
  • Social media – very important for political candidates. Set up a Facebook page if you don’t already have one. This should be separate from your personal account. Update your LinkedIn profile. Consider getting on newer channels like Instagram and Snapchat to grab the attention of millennials.

Political Branding And Messaging

Political branding and messaging represent the aura of your campaign as it helps in keeping the campaign focused. This means you need to make sure all your campaign materials, from postcards to yard signs to social media, have a similar look, feel, color scheme, and content. The key points on your flyer should be consistent with what you’ve put up on your website. Hence, the success of your brand depends on simplicity, consistency, and reinforcement.

The main components of a strong political brand are:

  • A strong brand is one that paints the right picture of the candidate, i.e., the run for office is not the time to become a different person. You must stay true to your nature only then can you expect people to believe in you.
  • Your brand must show what you as a candidate have to offer to the public and what makes you a better choice for the voter.
  • Voters must feel you understand them and can relate to what is important to the community.

A good message is one that conveys your successes, failures, the factors that differentiate you, and the need for change in a beneficial manner.

To craft a successful political message you need to understand that most people are not involved in local matters and know little when it comes to politics. This means it’s important to keep your message simple and easy to understand. You must be able to present your core message without touching upon policy matters. The main idea is to evoke an emotional response upon hearing your message, it must drive people to support you.

Your core message shouldn’t be complex rather it must be delivered within four to five minutes. So what should you highlight? Take the issues that matter the most to the public and use it as the foundation. Find the underlying idea which connects these issues and use it to tie up your message. And keep your message, I repeat, simple.

These tips will guide you in your run for office, especially if you’re a first-time candidate. Remember that running for office becomes a lot easier if you have a good team, a well-structured message, finances, and a communication strategy in place.

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