Running for elected office is one of the best ways you can give back to their community. Whether you want to run for city council, county commissioner or local school board, you must begin by making the decision to run.
Getting yourself on the ballot takes time, effort and money. It takes personal sacrifice and extracts a toll not only on you, but also on your family and close supporters.
There are many questions you’ll want to answer before getting started in politics.
Preparing for your political campaign:
- Are you ready to get involved?
- What political office should you run for?
- Qualify to run
- Figure out how much the campaign will cost
- Build your base of supporters
- Prepare your family
- Are YOU ready for the realities of a political campaign?
- Start your run for local office
- File for candidacy
- Get your finances in order
- Start raising money and put together a fundraising strategy
- Recruit volunteers and staff
- Learn the issues
- Public speaking and events
- Interact with your community and online
Listen to this post:
Are you ready to get involved?
‘Should I run for office?’ That’s a question every potential candidate asks themselves at some point.
Politics isn’t for everyone. Some people may volunteer with an organization or work to advocate for a issue, but never consider participating in local or state government.
But if you think your can make a difference by running for office, good for you!
As a leader in your community, you will be in a position to bring about change and create a positive impact. Do you have the time and work ethic to get the job done? What are the goals for your elected position? Every municipality has its own particular issues. Do you know what they are, and do you have ideas for dealing with them?
One way to find out what is happening is to start attending local government meetings. Even as an observer, you will learn a lot about your current representatives and how they perform on the job. You’ll also get an idea of what local developments are happening and what may be coming in the near future.
Read the laws or bylaws that govern the responsibilities of the elected position you seek. Prepare ahead of time, and you will have a better idea of what to expect throughout the process.
Political training opportunities
Get yourself educated about the process! A number of organizations have programs, seminars and courses for candidates so they can develop leadership and campaigning skills. These courses are also useful for for community leaders, organizers, and advocates.
“All politics is local.” – Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
What office should you run for?
The political office you should run for should be one suited for your unique skills and experience:
- For example, if you have law enforcement experience, you might want to make a run for sheriff.
- If you are an educator, you may want to bring your expertise to run for local school board.
- Are you an attorney or work in criminal justice? You may be qualified for a judicial position or district attorney.
- If you have particular professional experience, you may be qualified for a local board or district position, such as water district.
Positions for first-time political candidates include:
- City Ward Member
- City Council
- Board of Education
- Town Clerk or other Town Offices
- County Legislature
- County Commissioners
- State Legislature
- State Senate
- State Representative
- County Coroner
- Local Judicial Offices – Civil and Criminal
- Special districts, authorities, boards and commissions
Are you more interested in holding an executive or legislative position? Do you want to make laws or see that they are executed properly? What position would your background and experience make the best fit?
Qualify to run
You may have though about running for office, but you don’t know where to start. So, let’s start with the basics. To meet the basic qualifications for the office you seek, there is usually a residency and age requirement. Other elected positions may have additional requirements. For example, if you are running for judge or sheriff, there may be specific training, professional experience or educational degrees to be eligible.
If you meet the basic requirements, do you have the proper paperwork to get yourself on the ballot? Do you have the proper filing fees and know the election calendar? The rules and procedures for elections vary by state, county and even city. Missed deadlines can put you in danger of missing a primary ballot or even a general election.
Often the elected positions to run for are based on those currently available. Do you think you can beat the entrenched incumbent? They often have an advantage of an established fundraising network, name recognition and even franking privileges. If not, then you may want to run for a seat that is more winnable, so that you have a better shot later in the next election cycle.
Again, the question comes down to the office you choose and the reasons for doing so. It is unlikely you will be successful running for the United States Senate or a state governor’s seat without some experience serving at a local level.
Tip: Before you begin, check your state election office website and your local election office for specific rules regarding various positions. There may be specific residency, age, petition and other requirements.
Figure out how much the campaign will cost
Money (and lots of it) is the lifeblood of politics. To have successful run for office, you must raise and spend a certain amount of money to get your message out and be competitive. If you don’t like calling on friends, family and supporters for financial assistance, you better get used to it.
Consider talking with others who have previously run for a similar position to get an estimate of how much your race might cost. Put together a detailed budget as early as possible, using real vendor cost estimates. This will give you an idea of how much contributions you will need to meet or exceed.
“How can I run for office without money?”, is a question that comes up often with new, inexperienced candidates. Running without money or a budget is no way to win. Ideas and a platform are great, but in the end your goal is to raise money in order to spend it to build awareness and get your message out.
Build your base of supporters
Every politician needs a base of supporters. Even if you are not a political ‘insider’, you can build your own network from personal friends, acquaintances, and from people you know through organizations you belong to.
The smaller the race, the important personal relationships can be. Local races are often won by just a handful of votes, with victory often coming down to who gets the most supporters to the polls. Personal connections can be a powerful motivator in getting out the vote.
Prepare your family
An election not only involves the candidate, but also his or her family. Your home will become cluttered with literature, signs, and documents. The process will stress out your partner, and the needs of your children will be set aside. Talk with your family and friends. Let them know what changes are in store for them. Having them understand and on board with your decision will help during the most demanding times.
Opponents will work to dig up anything embarrassing or damaging from your past. You can expect personal attacks through social media, where ‘trolls’ hide behind screens to lob accusations in anonymity.
Are you ready for the realities of political campaigning?
Running for office is hard work. There are many things to think about and do before you can even start campaigning. You have to research your opponents, figure out what your campaign platform is, how much money you will need, create a team of people to help you with everything from speech writing to strategy advice, raise funds and more.
The campaigning process itself can be mentally and physically challenging. Are you ready and able to commit the time and personal resources necessary to participate? Canvassing, phone calling, fundraising and events can take up an enormous amount of time and energy.
Do you have a thick skin and can weather criticism from your opponent, the press and segments of the public? Social media is constantly tough on politicians. Most have learned to weather, or at least tolerate, the attacks.
Anyone who has ever decided to run and serve has dealt with these issues. Rest assured that whether you win or lose, you will come away from the experience with a greater appreciation for the political system and all that goes with it.
Start your run for local office
First, you want to know what offices are available and open to serve. It doesn’t make sense to start during the first year of an incumbent’s term.
If it is your first time running, you may want to run for a position where you don’t much experience. It’s a great way to work yourself to higher to higher positions.
Look to your state’s secretary of state website for information about available offices. You can search your state or election office website for information on state-wide voting guidance. You will also want a handle on state voting requirements and local voting information. Also, contact your local clerk for information on local requirements and filing dates.
File for candidacy
Assuming you’ve met the eligibility requirements, you will need to submit your petitions, application forms, and filing fees within the filing period. If you don’t, you won’t appear on the ballot. In most cases, you will file your paperwork with your secretary of state’s office or your local board of elections.
- Your local board of elections can provide you with voter file data and information on the number of registered voters in your district.
- Your local political party can give you access to additional resources such as voter demographics, address and email lists, and more
- Try reaching out to politicians in your party who have been elected. Work on building your professional political network.
Get your finances in order
To accept any political donations, you’ll need a checking account in your organization’s name. All income and expenses will need to be tracked and reported, per applicable law. A campaign committee is a legal business entity you will need to create and register.
You will also need way to take online donations and a website through which to accept them. Digital advertising is growing every year, particularly for local races. You will also need to budget for your digital advertising.
Put together a fundraising strategy and start raising money
Fundraising should start as quickly as possible. You may be able to raise seed money to start, but few people can afford to fully fund their own election. If you don’t like to ask people for money, you can start with your family and friends. Like it or not, you will eventually be making the calls and asking others for help.
This is where your networking starts to pay off. Connect with large contributors to your party. Even on a local level, there will be individuals, companies and organizations who consistently donate to other successful political campaigns with similar platforms. Reach out to them early for support.
As your organization grows, you will start building your own donor database for fundraising and communications. Building an email list is important in your outreach.
Those who have run before may be able to provide you with their own donor and volunteer lists. They can be a valuable resource as they can help you navigate and avoid problems that they may have had during their run.
Applicable law will dictate when and how you can raise and spend money.
Recruit volunteers and staff
You will need to put together a team. Start recruiting volunteers and a campaign manager to pull things together. He or she is responsible for coordinating and executing your strategy. Your campaign manager should be your first staff hire.
Other members of a political campaign organization include:
- Volunteer Coordinator
- Telephone Supervisor
- Online or Social Media Coordinator
- Press Secretary / Public Relations Manager
Even if you think you are qualified, don’t run your own campaign. Get someone else to be your campaign manager. You, as the candidate, should be out getting potential voters to know who you are, on the phones (doing that fundraising thing), attending events and meeting with the press.
It’s a team effort. When everyone works together, it can go a long way toward election victory
Learn the issues
Know the important issues and be prepared to speak on them and answer questions. You also need to know your opponent’s positions. This will help you put together a strategy to differentiate yourself from your opponent.
Prepare for public speaking and events
If you are running for public office, you will need to speak with people, both alone and in groups. Although public speaking in a great fear to many, you will need to speak confidently in public settings. This is something you may need to practice if you don’t have a lot of experience speaking before an audience.
Interact with your community and online
The key to winning a local election is to make sure that you are a good fit for the position you are running for. You should also build relationships with people in your community before running, as well as create a team of volunteers that will be able to help you run your campaign – from managing social media accounts, to making phone calls and knocking on doors.
Use your interactions to bring people into the fold. Work to get contact information, email addresses and social media follows. Use this information to reach out for donations and support.
You’ll want to know the ballot access requirements and have staff ready to help supporters request absentee ballots or meet voting requirements.
A well-executed strategy is your best shot at victory.
- FAQs for First Time Political Candidates
- Preparing to Run for Political Office PDF
- Who Can You Contact To Get Started If You Want To Run For Office?
- So You Want To Run For City Council? Here’s How To Get Started
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