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About the IDF Program

The original program of the inaugural class of 1998 (click photo to enlarge).

The original program of the inaugural class of 1998.


IDF was established in late 1997 to develop and promote emerging generations of Democratic and civic leaders in Washington State. Founded by Dean Nielsen and Lisa Witter, the program was established in response to a lack of organizations or training at the time that offered a comprehensive learning experience for young adults.  The first class graduated 24 fellows in June of 1998.  IDF has graduated 442 students over the last seventeen years and is proud of the wide array of accomplishments of our alumni.

The Program Itself

IDF is a six-month fellowship from January through June, occurring over eleven intensive weekends.  During these weekends the program focuses on a diverse range of political topics. The program covers the nuts and bolts of campaigns and elections, geographic issues from around the state, and developing leadership skills with our fellows. The program offers a rich curriculum, networking opportunities, and will leave Fellows with lasting ties to their current class and other alumni. Fellows meet with elected officials, leading experts, business owners, lobbyists, nonprofit leaders, and people making a difference in their communities all over the state and in Washington D.C. We want our fellows to get engaged in the political process while introducing them to the people and issues that are affecting our state.  Each year IDF graduates a “farm team” of progressive leaders who go out into the world and make a difference within campaigns, policy jobs, non profits and work in their communities.

IDF offers training to exceptional Democratic women and Democratic men ages 21 to 36. The topics focus on three major areas:

  • Public policy and emerging issues
  • The legislative and political process
  • Campaigns and elections

Fellows travel across Washington State and topics cover a breadth of policy issues including agriculture, homelessness, transportation, education, energy, and the environment. Our days in Washington, DC and Olympia have included meeting elected officials, lobbyists and dignitaries. Campaign training includes development of a campaign plan, effective messaging and communications, volunteer recruitment and managing a budget.


Tuition for the Institute for a Democratic Future is $600.

In the most general terms, your tuition covers the costs of our programming as it relates to staffing time, hotels, meeting space fees, tickets to our annual Potlatch reception, dinner in Olympia on the first night, our Kickoff and Graduation food and beverage costs, your hotels for all non-Seattle trips and our train tickets to Portland.  Cash flow permitting, we will provide coffee and light refreshments in the mornings for our sesions.

All other snacks, drinks, coffees, meals (specifically lunches and dinners during sessions and in DC), travel (we recommend carpooling for our road trips) and DC airfare are your own responsibility.

Our goal is to keep our tuition as low as we can and that requires keeping costs as low as we can. Therefore, hotel rooms typically are 3 to 4 people to a room.

Financial Aid/Scholarships

We understand $600 may or may not be a lot of money to prospective applicants.  Scholarships, travel reimbursements and payment plans are available for those who need financial assistance. Additionally, we encourage accepted applicants to pursue sponsorships from their local Democratic organization, their union or their employers. Many IDF Alum have had their tuition sponsored by their Democratic legislative district organization, their union or their employer.

Every year, our alum donate toward our IDF Scholarship Fund. Many of our alum generously “Pay It Forward” by providing assistance through scholarships. We typically have around $2,000 annually to provide a certain number of accepted fellows, based on need. On the application form or during the online application process, you will be asked if you would like a scholarship. Please indicate the amount of money you’d like in scholarship. Because the actual cost per student is close to $1,200, we cannot offer full, 100% scholarships to students. The highest scholarship we are able to provide is $400.

We also offer monthly payment plans. If you’d like to take your tuition and pay if off over four months, please indicate that on our application form.

Finally, we offer Travel Reimbursements for those fellows who live more than 30 miles outside of our home base in Seatle. We will reimburse up to $ .17 a mile for those IDF trips to Seattle.  This is meant to help ease traffic-related costs for those fellows who travel several miles to attend IDF.  It is not intended to cover all costs as it relates to the program.  To see if you qualify or to learn more about our new Travel Reimbursement Policy, please click here.

Application Process

All prospective participants must submit an application form, cover letter, resume, and at least one letter of recommendation. Participants must be Democrats between the ages of 21 and 36. Final selection will be determined through an interview process, and there is a non-refundable $25 application fee, due at the time of application.

To stay true to our guiding principal of diversity, the following goals have been established by the Executive Board:

  • 1/3 Participants from Seattle (maximum).
  • 1/3 from King County (outside of Seattle), Snohomish and Pierce counties.
  • 1/3 from all other counties (minimum).
  • 50/50 balance of men and women.
  • Proportionate representation of racial and ethnic groups.  Folks of any sexual orientation, union membership, gender identity, military veteran status or religion are also encouraged to apply and we strive to provide a rich, diverse blend of all representations.

Click Here to apply for 2015.

Deadlines and Timelines 

  • Applications will be considered on a rolling basis starting October 1, 2015.
  • Applications must be postmarked by November 8, 2015 (Late applications will be considered until November 15, 2015).
  • We will be hosting an IDF Recruitment Event, called the Annual Stoplight Party. It’s an opportunity for you to come meet the Board and ask questions about the program. This makes your interviews go so much easier, trust us.
  • Interviews will be scheduled individually shortly after the application process ends, typically the first weekend in December.  Please check the IDF Calendar for full up-to-date details of all IDF-related events. 


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