Deciding to Run for Office Ultimate Guide

by Martín Diego Garcia

Photo of the Capitol building

Why do you want to run for office? Do you have a good answer?

A run for office is not easy. Once you’ve decided to run for office you will need to answer the question “why are you running?” For some it is an easy question to answer because you’re running to solve a particular problem and have a passion for the work that needs to be done in a particular office. For others, the answer may be murkier. Knowing the reason(s) behind your run for office and what your goals is once you are elected is critical to being a successful candidate. Having a generic, canned answer to the question is not good enough and voters will see through it. 

Ted Kennedy's famous non-answer to why he was running for office in his 1980 presidential campaign is a historical lesson about not having your heart in the race. But there are countless examples in less high-profile races of candidates not being able to successfully answer the “why are you running political for office” question.

Running for office for the right reasons is critical, not only to gaining support but also to winning.  If you lack passion or a clear reason for running, that will be evident to voters. Think long and hard before you launch your campaign, because you don't want to commit to a race you don’t want to be in or a race you can’t win. Or even worse, you don’t want to get elected and realize you really don't want to do the job.  With that said, here’s a breakdown of some good and bad reasons to run.

Good reasons for running for office

  • To help your community. This is the classic reason of running for office. You see your community needs help and you believe you have the skills to fill that need.
  • Advocating for causes. There is a specific cause or policy that is affecting your community and you feel that you can have a real impact on the issue by running for office. What current issues are filling up the airwaves and what are your stances on them?

Bad reasons for running for office

  • The party asked me to. Just because someone asks you to run does not mean they have your best interests in mind. This could be a great start if you have other reasons for running but running for office to please someone else is always a bad idea.
  • Revenge against the incumbent. The reason that “he did something to me so I’m going to beat him” is not a good reason to begin running for office. In fact, revenge is a horrible reason to run, no matter how bad the opponent is. Make sure there are other motivations that drive you.
  • Because I can win. It’s important that you have a chance of success but don’t run just because you think you will win.
  • This will be my only opportunity. I get that there’s a lot of luck in politics and picking the right opportunity is important, but that is different than thinking you will only have one opportunity. Be thoughtful about why you are running and make sure you pick the right opportunity to win, not just the opportunity that is in front of you. 

If your heart is truly not in the race you will know, and so will voters. The bottom line is, don't run if you don't know why you are running.

Building Support Before Running for Office

Many candidates think about their campaign for years in advance before they run for office, but some never take advantage of that critical time to build important campaign infrastructure. As you probably know, you have three core resources in any campaign: people, time and money. List building will help you keep track of and use resources for the long- and short-term.

Building your personal list is one of the core tactics for success in a campaign.

Before running for office, we suggest every candidate complete a true assessment of their resources. A big part of this assessment is building a master list that includes all the people who could help in your campaign (people who could knock on doors, write a check, mobilize others or are just key opinion leaders in the community). Where possible, take the time to look at the donor history of your potential donors to see what they have given in the past and if your assumptions are on track. 

Before you run for office, make sure you have a clear picture of your support. Make sure you have an idea of how much money you will need to raise. We like candidates to be able to document a third of their financial support in the form of a list before they run for office. 

Some quick list building sources:

  • Personal email list 
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
  • Holiday card list
  • Family network 
  • Business cards 
  • Organizations and clubs 
  • Business groups
  • School alumni
  • Fantasy football league
  • Political party leadership
  • Local non-profit leaders

Be sure to code the origin of the contacts in your list. It will allow you to segment messages to specific subgroups.

Just remember groups have different levels of privacy and rules when it comes to creating lists, so be sure to follow those rules. It is one thing to use your Facebook and email list as you please, but it is another to be on a board of directors and copy the membership list of the organization. 

The earlier you start list building, the better it will be. Put as much info as you have; name, address, email, phone number, are all good, and having personal information such as birthdays can also be helpful.

List building before you run for office is just good common sense. With a little focused time, you can build a powerful list that can help you run and win.

Hopefully this guide walked you through some tough questions to help you make a decision about running for office. If you are going to run, spend some time crafting a response about why you’re running and get started organizing your resources. Also, don’t forget to download our “Are You Ready to Run?” eBook and resources to help you get started on the right foot. And as always, feel free to reach out to our team with any questions you have on deciding to run for office.