One of the best ways you can get involved in changing your local community for the better is to run for local office. The ability of nearly anyone to run for political office is one of the greatest characteristics of the American government.
Running for, and winning, a local office position can be one of the most rewarding things one can do. To help you get started with your campaign, here’s everything you need to know about how to run for local office.
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1. Are You Ready to Run?
There are many ways to get involved with politics and local issues in America. Running for local office is just one of them. While it might be the most prestigious way you can get involved, it’s also the most time-consuming.
So, before you decide to run for local office, you should ask yourself whether you’re truly ready to dedicate a large amount of time and energy. Here are some things you should take into consideration:
Do You Have the Time?
Running for local office takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time. You’ll be preparing for months before you even announce your candidacy.
Then, once you’re an official candidate, you’ll need to dedicate even more time to meeting people and getting the word out about your campaign. If you win the election, you’ll need to dedicate even more time still to actually performing your new duties.
You should ask yourself whether you can balance these responsibilities with the rest of your work and life responsibilities.
Are You Knowledgeable Enough?
If you want to be successful as a candidate and future office holder, you need to be knowledgeable about how government works. Being successful isn’t just about having an opinion—it’s about figuring out how to execute on the ideas you bring to the table.
Before deciding whether to run for office, you should educate yourself on the rules, regulations and process of running for and holding government office.
Can You Take the Heat?
Politicians can sometimes bear the brunt of public opinion. When things are going well, they receive a lot of praise. When things aren’t going well, they receive a lot of blame.
Do you have the stomach for those possible ups and downs? Are you OK with being in the spotlight in your local community?
Is Your Family on Board?
Running for local office may be an individual thing, but it will intricately involve all of your family members. They will have to be ready to give up spending some time with you and for having you in the spotlight.
Before deciding to run for local office, you should discuss your plans with your family and what it will mean for them. It’s always a good idea for the whole family to be on board with your campaign before launching it.
2. Which Office Should You Run For?
Once you’ve decided you definitely want to run for local office, you need to choose the specific office you want to run for. In local elections, there are many different positions from which to choose:
Search for Available Positions
In local elections, you can choose from a number of available positions. At the state level, you can check the website for your Secretary of State’s office to see which positions are up for election in an upcoming year.
You can also search your county’s website as well as your municipality’s website for this information on other positions. Keep in mind that you can also run for a local school board in many states and maybe even similar positions at the county and state level.
Match Your Passion and Experience
A great way to decide which office to run for is to match an available position to your passion and experience. If you’re in an education field, for example, you might want to run for your local board of education.
If you have a law enforcement background, you may choose sheriff as the position you want. You could also run for district attorney if you have experience in the legal field.
In addition to these specific positions, you could run for a more overarching local office such as town/city council, county legislature or state legislature.
Check the Requirements
Next, make sure that you meet the basic requirements to run for the position you choose. Each local office will have specific requirements each candidate must meet in order to qualify.
Most local offices will require you to reside in the town, county and state for which the position represents. They will all have age requirements, too, which is 18 for most local positions. Your local election office or Secretary of State’s office can help you check the requirements.
3. How Much Money Will It Take?
Running for local office takes money. How much money depends on the position you’re running for, and the breadth of the campaign you want to run.
Before diving into an election, research how much money it typically takes to run a successful campaign. Then, figure out how you are going to raise the necessary funds, and where those funds will be allocated.
Build Your Staff
No matter what position you’re running for, you’ll need a staff to help you along the way.
If you’re running for a small position on a very local level, you may be doing much of the work yourself with only volunteers helping. In this case, recruit as many friends and family members to help in your cause.
For medium- to large-sized elections, you’ll probably need to build a staff with a combination of paid members and volunteers. Choose the organizational structure for your campaign, starting with a campaign manager, and go from there.
Raise the Required Funds
Many candidates will contribute at least some of their own money when running for local office. If those funds don’t equal the money needed for the campaign, what’s your plan for raising funds?
This is where your campaign manager and other members of your leadership team will help you create a plan. Your fundraising plan will be an essential component of your campaign.
Without a solid fundraising plan, it will be hard to get your message out and engender enough support to convince people to contribute financially to your cause. Not only will you need to create a good platform, but you’ll need to create a way to reach the people who are most likely to support you.
Today, that plan should be all-encompassing to include digital (social media, email, etc.) and non-digital (door-to-door canvassing, print media, etc.) means.
4. What’s Your Platform?
While you’re building the logistics of your campaign, you also need to build the most important part: the platform. What will you stand for? Will you have a political affiliation? What issues will be most important to you?
Not all local offices will be run on a traditional political party system. Some local town councils, for example, run non-partisan elections. Even if the candidates are affiliated with a particular party in these instances, they won’t be listed on the ballots.
Candidates for many local school boards also don’t run on a particular political party. They simply run as candidates or groups of candidates on issues.
If you are running for an office with political affiliations, which party will you choose? After making your choice, if you don’t already have an affiliation, you should reach out to the local office of that party to introduce yourself. See if you can gain the support of that party. Doing so could take you a long way in your campaign.
During the campaign, you may be asked to give your stance on a number of issues. After all, every constituent has an issue that’s most pressing to him or her. This is why you need to be well-informed on all of the issues that are important to the majority of your constituents. Being able to hold an educated discussion on these issues will be vital to the success of your campaign.
You should also have issues that are near and dear to your heart and may be the reason you decided to run for local office in the first place. These should be the basis of your platform. When you’re campaigning, you should communicate these important issues and tell a story of why they’re important to you. Storytelling with personal experience is a great way to engender support from members of your community.
Take a Stand
When you run for local office, you’ll want to take a stand on the main issues at hand. Do you feel like taxes should be decreased or increased? Why?
Not many candidates are successful if they just try to play the middle ground. Decide how you feel on the main issues, then back up your opinion with the why.
5. How Will You Communicate?
Campaigns for any office will only be successful if you can get your message out. Luckily, it’s easier than ever today to do that with digital technologies.
Any communication plan you build should be comprehensive. It should also include a combination of newer technologies and tried-and-true practices.
Your communication strategy should include some form of digital media outreach. Setting up a campaign page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites is a good idea.
You should include a “contact capture” strategy so you are consistently adding email addresses to your campaign database. Part of your marketing strategy may even include paid digital ads and retargeting.
You could also consider running ads in traditional media such as local newspapers and television stations. It all depends on your strategy, who you’re trying to reach and the best ways to reach them, and your budget.
Hit the Pavement
One of the best ways to make inroads in a campaign is by meeting people face-to-face. As such, you can canvass neighborhoods by going door-to-door to meet constituents. This is something that you can do yourself in smaller elections. In larger elections, you can hire a team to do this for you, or utilize volunteers in this capacity.
Additionally, you can attend local events, join local networking groups and serve as a guest speaker for local clubs. By following the important steps above, you can create a plan that will help you become more successful when you’re running for local office.
Aristotle Campaign Solutions Can Improve Your Success
To make the most of your campaigns, fundraising and outreach efforts, turn to Aristotle, a leader in political data, consulting and software solutions for political campaigns and groups:
- Aristotle Campaign Manager™ is leading cloud-based political campaign management software with solutions for compliance, fundraising and accounting reporting. Learn More
- Political Data. Considered the industry’s most-trusted source of voter and consumer data, we have serviced many of the largest political campaigns, PACs, corporations and grassroots organizations nationally and abroad. Learn More