How to Run for Office as a First-time Candidate

Democrat, Republican, or Independent, there are many key takeaways from the last two election cycles 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!

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.

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! Running for office is a long process so if you make the decision to jump in you need to have certain benchmarks in place that will make the process smooth going forward. Some of these are:

  • 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.

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. 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. If you’ve never done this before, not even from a volunteer standpoint, you probably will have a lot of questions about how a campaign is run and the ins and outs of the whole ordeal. You may need to ask

  • 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?

Build a Community

Once you have established a bit of know-how about how to run for office, your next step would be to build a community. No campaign is successful without a community supporting it and rooting for its success. Start off by involving 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.

Next, 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 like:

  • 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

We now want to focus on learning how to build the best brand for you. Building a brand makes you memorable and creates a high recall value. This is true of both corporate as well as individual brands.

Let’s look at the recent example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated a 10-term incumbent in her district. What worked in her 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.

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. In order to create a lasting brand start by,

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

Build Your Team

Now we want to look at what it takes to build your team. These are the people that hold the important positions on the ground while you are campaigning. There are three most important positions to consider in your run for office:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Robocent is a tool that can help solve 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 Robocent’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.
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:

  • You do not have to start from scratch.
  • You meet other individuals who are going through the same process as you.
  • 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.

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!