January How to Run for Office FAQ | National Democratic Training Committee

Are you thinking about running for office or in the beginning stages of your campaign? There are probably a million questions buzzing around in your head (and that actually won’t change much as your campaign progresses). 

Have no fear! We’ve got your back.

NDTC Director of Online Trainings Rose Clouston answered trainees’ questions about how to run for office on an Office Hours webinar on Tuesday, January 29. We’re sharing those questions and responses here because, as the adage goes, if one person has a question, other people probably have the same one!

If you have your own questions, join our next office hours—you can find these as webinarson Wednesday, February 20th at 5 p.m. ET. Or, you can always email us at [email protected].

How do I ask for donations from people reluctant to give?

It sounds like you’re starting out with some assumptions about how people are going to respond and whether they’re inclined to give to your campaign. Your attitude in asking for the donation really sets the tone for the conversation. So let’s start there.

You aren’t doing anything wrong. You’re not asking your friend for money to fund your vacation. You’re offering them an opportunity to invest in improving their community.

Do not be afraid or apologize for asking. Share your passion for helping your community, and people will share in it. Demonstrate your credibility and viability, or how and why you’re going to win your campaign.

See where your potential donor aligns with your values. Use that as a segue to make a hard ask for a specific amount of money. You’re giving this person an opportunity to contribute and be a part of something they believe in.

If you still have questions, take the “Making the Ask” course for more tips and to practice asking for donations.

To the exact question, while folks who aren’t wealthy may not have the means to write a $2,000 check tomorrow, they may become regular donors. You can ask folks if they would be willing to contribute $20 monthly. Monthly contributions add up — over 10 months, that’s $200!

What you may lack in donation size, you can also make up in volume. One hundred $20 donations add up to that $2,000 check, too. What are some ways to raise a greater number of donations? If a small-dollar donor brings in other donors, that can be even more valuable than writing a huge check. Ask your donors who wish they could do more to host a fundraiser or meet-and-greet for you.

How do I contact political groups for support?

To start off your research, our “Building Your Network” course has a list of Political Action Committees (PACs) and other organizations you can contact to help your campaign.

PACs are organizations established by corporations or other special interests to raise money from individuals for a political campaign or other political cause. They often take an interest in candidates that run on issues they care about and make financial contributions or endorsements to their campaigns. Every PAC has its own process for endorsing candidates, so research which PACs might be interested in your campaign and their nomination process.

Many unions have PACs, and their endorsements can be of particular value to Democratic candidates. Union endorsements may come with a range of benefits including communicating with their members about you, volunteers, space for events, and financial contributions.

If you choose to reach out for union support, you have to pitch yourself to the union leaders. Do your research on that union, know the relevant policies and why the office you are running for is important to them. For more help researching and navigating this process, take our “Earning Union Support” course.

How do I find volunteers for unpaid leadership roles?

In reality, the vast majority of political campaigns can’t afford paid staff. If you’re lucky, you may have one paid staff member who serves multiple roles, often called the Campaign Manager since they’re managing many pieces. But, most campaigns get by with no paid staff and few dedicated volunteers while the candidate steers the ship.

Our “Building Your Volunteer Team” course can help you get started on creating your campaign team. First, identify the roles you need volunteers to fill — like campaign manager and treasurer, and then skills they need to have. Who in your network would make a good campaign manager? Would you be able to trust this person on your campaign?

One of the keys to getting someone to take on a big role like campaign manager on a volunteer basis is to align it to their interests. Listen to what their interests and goals are. What’s the role on your campaign that supports those?

If someone is trying to transition their career from a sales role to project management, serving as your campaign manager could be a great way for them to practice and demonstrate those organizational and management skills.

When having these recruitment conversations, use your message! Your volunteers need to buy into your vision. They need to know why you’re running and how you’re going to improve the community. Effectively communicating your message will get people to believe in you and motivate them to put their time and energy into helping you get elected.

What organizations support candidates who start their political careers later in life?

We aren’t aware of an organization with a specific focus on supporting 55+ individuals in their runs for office. However, we do encourage you to fill out your profile in NDTC’s Online Academy and let us know about other ways you may identify, and we will email you within two weeks with a list of organizations that may be interested in supporting your campaign. To name a few of our partners, the Collective PAC supports Black candidates, the Victory Fund supports LGBTQ+ candidates, and 314 Action supports those in STEM professions.

But, don’t forget to use your own network! You have more professional experience and have had more time to build community than younger candidates. Really dig into our “Building Your Network” course and list out everyone in all parts and phases of your life who might be willing to help you in your election. In our course, we guide you through an exercise to look at your community and think about local resources that might be helpful, too.

As a local leader, how can I ensure a fair primary in a crowded field?

This is a great time for this question since we’re at the beginning of the election cycle in many states. You can avoid biasing your decisions or the appearance of impropriety by setting up the rules and procedures for the ways your party will support primary election candidates now, before you know who is running. As a starting place, you might want to consider:

  • Will candidates have access to VoteBuilder? What is the cost?
  • Will candidates be allowed to speak at party meetings or at party events? If so, how often or with what restrictions?
  • Will candidates be given access to the list of those active within your Democratic Party?
  • Will the party advertise or otherwise share information about candidates’ events? If so, how often or with what restrictions?

This is not an easy thing to navigate, but we applaud you for thinking about this now and working to ensure fairness in the primary, allowing all candidates’ voices to be heard and the primary voters to make the decision from there.

How do I decide what way a voter should be targeted?

Face-to-face conversations are the most effective way to persuade people to vote for your candidate.

Canvassing and talking to voters face-to-face should be a priority for your campaign. Even social psychology research in other contexts confirmed that face-to-face requests were much more effective than text-based ones (e.g., emails, text messages).

Direct mail is ideally a supplement to your canvassing efforts, not an either/or. The same voters who are getting knocks on their doors get mail too. In these cases, think about the timing. Can you time your mailers to sandwich your in-person visits and reinforce the conversation?

However, we know that many of you aren’t working off of your ideal budget or with an unlimited number of volunteers. So there may be areas of your district your campaign is unable to canvass, especially those areas where your target voters are too spread out for that to be an efficient use of a volunteer’s time. These areas are prime targets for direct mail.

Repetition is key with mail. Aim for 5 pieces per voter whenever possible, especially in areas where your campaign won’t be meeting the voters at their doors. The “Writing Your Communications Plan” course has more tips on planning your direct mail, and more generally, on targeting the right messages to the right people on the right platforms!

What Can I Run for While Still Keeping My Full-Time Job?

This varies by state and locality. For example, in many smaller cities and towns, serving on the city council is only a 5-10 hour/week job so they will need a full-time job after the election – and definitely while running. However, in Chicago, serving on the city council or as mayor are full-time jobs. A number of folks who are running for those offices are doing so around the clock as well.

Talk to your local Democratic elected officials or party leaders to evaluate what other successful candidates have done in the past and what’s realistic for various offices.

All of our courses and examples assume that you will have a job and other obligations while running for offices. Therefore, we try to propose realistic strategies in order to balance your current life with your campaign life.

If your time is split, it’s imperative to get help! You need to have a staff or volunteer leaders who are taking on real responsibilities for key aspects of your campaign so you can focus on being a candidate in the time you do have for campaigning. You can build your support through the “Building Your Volunteer Team” course to get started!  

Let’s answer your questions! 

Hopefully, you had some of these questions too! If there is anything else you want to ask us about how to run for office, please join us at our next Q&A on February 20th. Register today!


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