Guest Post: Before You Run for Office: Steps You Can Take to Dip Your Toe in the Water

Written by Glory Borgeson, Wheaton Circle Leader 

Perhaps you’ve considered running for office locally, such as for your city council or village board, school board, or other elected offices. But so far you haven’t thrown your hat in the race. At this point, only a few voters may know about your experience and skills. If voters don’t know you, and the current board members barely know you, how will you get elected?

That is a good question and will give most of us pause.

A great way to get known – and to get to know the local boards – before running for office is to volunteer for their committees. Most towns use the services of their residents as volunteers for many different types of initiatives.

By volunteering, you can get to know the people involved, the issues they address and resolve, and whether you would even like to run for elected office for the particular council or board.

How Do I Volunteer?

Most towns across the U.S. post their committees which accept volunteers (sometimes called “Boards & Commissions”) on their websites. They will also post how to apply for a volunteer position. See two examples below:

In the cases of committees for towns, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with a current council or board member to find out more about the various committees. Some committees require specific expertise (such as for the Planning & Zoning board) while others require an interest (such as for the Bicycle Advisory commission). Knowing which types of expertise they’re looking for from volunteers will help you to choose wisely.

Volunteering on a board, commission, or committee will allow current board members and others to get to know you. Meeting more people in your volunteer work is always a plus.

When the time comes for elections and you would like to run for an elected position, many more people will know you, campaign for you, and vote for you.

Volunteering in this manner will whet your appetite for further civic engagement. You will likely also learn from the current elected board members how to run a campaign and win.

Take some time to discover your own town’s website. Look into what they list for volunteer positions. Also check out your local school board, library board, and other elected boards which use the services of local volunteers.

Dipping your toe in the water by volunteering will strengthen the knowledge and confidence you need in order to run for office in the future.