The Story

Veterans Campaign began with a conversation between Seth Lynn, then a captain in the Marine Corps, and some senior officers, when one of the officers lamented that in the past, more politicians had served in the military. The conversation made an impact on Seth, who subsequently left active duty to study public policy at Princeton University. During his first year, Seth heard about a Rutgers University program that trained women to run for office. Later, as the only male to attend the Ready to Run workshop, Seth was impressed by the women he met at Rutgers, and inspired by the idea that many qualified participants would be more likely to be elected due to the workshop’s training.

Seth talked with his former commanding officer, Michael Hunzeker, who was by then a Princeton doctoral candidate, and the two decided to found the student organization that would become Veterans Campaign. Although neither had any experience in politics, they found that they were surrounded by people who had tremendous knowledge and experience. While there were few other veterans at Princeton, many of their fellow students were nevertheless excited about the idea of a training program for veteran candidates. The group began meeting weekly and subsequently reached out to two visiting Princeton faculty members who were former congressmen. The congressmen agreed to help, and convinced the Princeton administration to support the initiative. The Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Anne Marie Slaughter, understood the importance of what the students were trying to do, and agreed to fund the first workshop.

The members of the group began reaching out to veteran politicians, members of veteran-focused political action committees, and staffers who had worked for veterans, in an effort to plan an effective workshop. Two members of the group who had significant campaign experience, Eric Melancon and Doug Palmer, began designing a curriculum based on what veteran candidates should know before beginning their campaigns. This curriculum eventually grew into the Candidate’s Field Manual, a unique, 100-page long guidebook for veteran candidates. Meanwhile, news of the workshop spread quickly, and the initial limit of 50 participants was raised to 75.

On September 12-13, 2009, Veterans Campaign held its first workshop, which was unanimously considered a resounding success. Congressman James Marshall of Georgia and Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jack Jacobs gave keynote speeches, numerous panelists provided valuable information, and post-workshop testimonials demonstrated enormous enthusiasm from all of the participants.

 Executive Director of Veterans Campaign Seth Lynn preparing notes

Executive Director of Veterans Campaign Seth Lynn preparing notes

 Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer of Veterans Campaign Norman Bonnyman giving the opening remarks at the 2015 Second Service Week.

Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer of Veterans Campaign Norman Bonnyman giving the opening remarks at the 2015 Second Service Week.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What's the deal with your Masters in Public Leadership (MAPL) program? 

In 2011 we started a Fellowship program associated with an executive-format, intensive Masters degree program specifically designed for members of the military and veterans community who are interested in civic and political leadership. In 2014 we started refining that curriculum to provide students more flexibility in their studies, more access to expert practitioners, and a more robust learning environment. If you are interested in more information about the fall 2018 intake of the MAPL program, please visit the program webpage or contact us for more information.  

Question: When is your next workshop? How do I come to one?

Answer: Based on demand from our constituents, our current roster of upcoming workshops is focused on political leadership and campaigns. We will be hosting Introductory Campaign Training Workshops on May 19-20 and August 18-19 in Washington, D.C. On those same weekends, we invite current candidates, campaign staff, and advocates, intro workshop alumni, and others who are interested in focusing in a specific subject to participate in advanced track training on topics such as fundraising, communications, grassroots organizing, campaign leadership, and advocacy-specific topics. Essentially, the single-topic advanced track training is an opportunity to meet with one or more of our instructors at length for a deeper dive into a topic of your choosing.  You can read more about these workshops and future opportunities under the workshops tab of our website. 

We do not have any civic leadership or civic engagement-related workshops open for public registration at this time, however we encourage you to contact us if these topics interest you. You can also sign up for our newsletter on the website's homepage to be notified when future civic leadership, community leadership, and civic engagement workshops are announced.

Question: Do you all have any workshops around the country or are they just in Washington, D.C.? 

We have hosted workshops all over the country and would love to do so again. Please contact us if you are interested in organizing a workshop or other event in your area. 

Question: I’ve thought about running for office, but I have little to no political experience. Will your workshops be appropriate for me?

Answer: Absolutely. Veterans Campaign’s introductory workshops are designed to train participants regardless of past experience. Instructors will cover general topics that apply to all levels of campaigning, from the local school board to federal office.

Question: What makes Veterans Campaign's political leadership workshops different from other campaign training programs?

Answer: Veterans Campaign is designed to complement other training programs, not replace them. Distinctive elements include:

  1. Workshop & mentorship methodology designed to translate your military experiences and service ethos to the civic and political arena, not how to start from scratch at the lowest rung on the political ladder. 
  2. Curriculum designed specifically for military veterans, including best practices and trends among other veteran candidates, effectively presenting your military background, engaging and mobilizing your local military and veteran community, legal issues that uniquely pertain to veterans, and "bulletproofing your service record" against attacks and mischaracterizations. 
  3. Non-partisan instruction with bi-partisan perspectives - many campaign training programs are specific to a particular party or ideology. Our instructors come from across the political spectrum and have a demonstrated a strong familiarity with coaching emerging veteran leaders. Indeed, many of them teach in our programs specifically because there is no partisan agenda and they prefer working with service-minded, action-oriented aspiring leaders. 
  4. Ongoing instruction and mentorship - we encourage and indeed expect workshop alumni to stay in touch with our staff and instructors to build on and apply lessons learned in our programs. 
  5. Community and networking - for many participants, especially those still on Active Duty, our programs are their first step into the civic and political realm. We are thoroughly familiar with the resistance (and unfortunately sometimes outright hostility) that veterans and transitioning service members can face for doing so from within the military community and from incumbent political players disinterested in welcoming outsiders. Our programs are an opportunity for you to explore your aspirations with like-minded servant leaders and work with civic and political leadership who appreciate the potential veterans and transitioning service members to contribute at a high level once they get familiarized with a new domain.

Additionally, past participants and instructors often report our workshops to be a bit more intensive and technical than other introductory trainings, at the expense of training time devoted to goal setting and personal development, party or ideological doctrine, or time devoted to vendors and interest groups. We can discuss those topics individually if you would like, but our intent is to maximize your opportunities to learn and apply the domain knowledge and develop your skill set in the limited time available. 

We strongly encourage participants to gain additional expertise and broaden their network with other campaign training programs, in particular the non-partisan New Politics Leadership Academy. We would be happy to recommend other party, ideology, and demographic/affinity group-specific training programs upon request. 

Question: I am a veteran running for office. Can Veterans Campaign support my campaign?

Answer: Veterans Campaign is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is strictly non-partisan and non-ideological. We are best thought of as an educational organization: we teach veterans and transitioning service members about civic and political leadership, but do not promote specific policies or endorse political candidates. However among other things we do seek to be a personal educational resource for veterans and their supporters who may be running for office or advocating for policies they are passionate about. Please consider attending a workshop, attending a lecture, and learning from the materials available on our website.

Question: Can I volunteer to help Veterans Campaign?

Answer: Absolutely. Veterans Campaign depends on volunteers and pro bono work. Whether your skills are in mentoring or coaching aspiring veteran leaders, specific expertise in campaigning or civic leadership, assisting in convening our community, promoting our mission and organization, accounting, public relations, or simply elbow grease, Veterans Campaign can use your skills and enthusiasm to help foster the "next Greatest Generation" of America's leaders.

If you are interested in more information on how you can help, please email info@veteranscampaign.org

Question: Is Veterans Campaign progressive or conservative?

Answer: Neither. Veterans Campaign trains veterans of all political and ideological stripes. Our speakers and trainers come from across the political spectrum and act in a non-partisan capacity.

Question: Does Veterans Campaign engage in lobbying of any kind?

Answer: No, Veterans Campaign is non-ideological and exists solely for educational and civic participation purposes.

Question: Is Veterans Campaign a non-profit organization?

Answer: Yes. Veterans Campaign has been granted tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service. All donations are tax deductible. Our EIN is 27-0226287 and our CFC code is 58763. The best way to think about us

Question: I’m still serving in the Armed Forces or am a military retiree. Can I attend Veterans Campaign’s workshop?

Answer: Yes, attending our workshops in a personal capacity and civilian attire is an educational and professional development opportunity, not partisan political activity. In fact, one of the topics we cover our curriculum is what you need to know about Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, which governs partisan political activity by service members and retirees. Most of our staff and instructors are currently serving Reservists and veterans ourselves--we take these regulations as well as our military and our organization's non-partisan nature very seriously. Any violation of these practices (such as promoting a partisan agenda within our community or politicizing military service) will preclude you from further participation. 

Question: I’ve never served in the military. Can I still attend a workshop?

Answer: Yes, however given our mission, veterans, transitioning service members, and other members of the military community (spouses, dependents, Department of Defense civilians, affiliates from other government agencies, etc) receive priority. While Veterans Campaign’s workshops are tailored to students with a military background, we certainly support other individuals and organizations similarly committed to public service. In particular, if you plan to work on the campaign of a military veteran, we expect that you will find our workshops to be quite valuable.

Question:  How can I get a copy of your guidebook for aspiring candidates?

Answer: The Candidate’s Field Manual is intended to be an accompaniment to our workshop curriculum, analogous to a Soldier or Marine's Field Manual or a textbook in an academic class. We understand many aspiring civic and political leaders may not be able to attend a workshop and we still want to make this resource available to them, however it has been disheartening for us to see so many aspiring leaders consider the Field Manual a substitution for more in-depth training. We have an ethical obligation to our Board, our donors and supporters, and, in our minds, our fellow veterans that if we are encouraging and enabling you to pursue civic and political leadership, we are going to see you through it. Mentorship and in-depth, ongoing instruction are absolutely critical components to your personal and professional development--we don't turn away vets who want our help, but we hope you understand that "manually" putting that support in place for vets outside of our workshops, Fellowship program, and formal mentoring process presents a tremendous ongoing strain on our time and finances. We are currently building an online training platform to make the Field Manual's curriculum available digitally, but in the mean time you can preview the Field Manual here. If you have any questions or comments about this policy, we invite you to contact us at info@veteranscampaign.org

Question: What research does Veterans Campaign do? What veterans are currently in elected office or are currently running for office? How can I find more information about veterans in civic and political leadership?

Answer: Our research page is currently under construction, but you are welcome to email us for more information on veteran and military family involvement in civic and political leadership in the United States. Our research index includes general information on trends in public service in the United States, on civic and political interest among veterans and military families, on the pathway to civic and political leadership for aspiring and emerging changemakers, and lessons learned by members of our community in their own pursuit of a 'second service'. 

We are most frequently asked about veterans and military affiliates in political campaigns and elected office. We are in the process of tracking all the veterans and military affiliates running for U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and state leadership roles in 2018 and are hoping to roll out a public database with a corresponding data visualization tool displaying this research in the summer of 2018. Additionally, we have compiled information on veterans and military affiliates who have run for national and state-level office since 2010, we have some additional information on veterans in Congressional campaigns going back to the early 2000s, and there are several longitudinal studies on these topics back to the mid-20th century. 

We are not a think tank or research organization with a dedicated research staff, but understanding the nature of civic and political leadership in the United States--and the role of the veterans and military family community within that context--is critical to our mission. It's also a 'labor of love' for our staff and supporters, so we encourage you to contact us if you are working on these topics, if you would be interested in collaborating on our research efforts, or if you have questions! 

Have more questions? Contact us at info@veteranscampaign.org or call us at 202-495-1831!

Our Mission

The number of veterans serving in elected office has declined rapidly over the last forty years. In 1969, seventy-five percent of senators and congressmen had served in the military. By the beginning of the Afghanistan War, that number had dropped to fewer than one in three. Even more striking, since 2001, the number has continued to decline steeply. Currently, just over one in five serving senators and congressmen has served. U.S. confidence in elected leaders has similarly decreased. This is likely due to ever-increasing partisanship, corruption, and inability to work together for the common good of the United States.

Veterans are a valuable yet untapped resource of superb elected leaders. Military veterans have outstanding leadership experience, have made difficult decisions under pressure, and have accomplished whatever America has asked of them, honorably. As one of the most diverse groups within the United States, they have consistently put their differences aside to work together for the common good. Most importantly, Veterans have demonstrated their willingness to put America and its citizens before their own well-being. We believe that by training Veterans to campaign effectively, more Veterans will run for and be elected to public office. Moreover, Veterans’ common bond of service has historically encouraged bipartisanship, cooperation, and better government.

Americans of all ages have tremendous confidence in those who wear the uniform. Studies have shown that Americans have become increasingly confident in the men and women in uniform. Today, the military is the most respected institution in the United States. Eighty-two percent of Americans express confidence in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The confidence Americans have in the military looks likely to continue with the millennial generation (Americans between the ages of 18 and 29), according to a recent Harvard study. Although just two percent have served, millenials have more confidence in the military than they have in the President, the Supreme Court, Congress, the media, the United Nations, and Wall Street. The same study found that by a six to one margin, young Americans believe that politics has become too partisan. Given America’s decreasing satisfaction with congress and increasing confidence in those who wear the uniform, it follows that reversing the decline in the number of veterans serving in public office would increase Americans’ satisfaction with their elected leaders.

Veterans are well-prepared to lead, but not to campaign. Veterans face distinctive obstacles in elected politics. Despite bipartisan efforts to recruit veteran candidates, especially in the last three national elections, few non-incumbent veterans have been elected. The amount of time veterans have spent away form their districts while serving, the increasing cost of campaigning, and veterans’ general disillusionment with the political process are all obstacles to veterans who might otherwise make outstanding elected leaders. Veterans generally lack a fundraising base, community roots, and political knowledge and experience. Veterans Campaign’s goal is to demystify the process of running for office, and make it accessible to veterans who are interested in continuing their service as elected officials.