The IDF original program from 1998

Our original program from 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 more than 500 students over more than 20 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, plus a week in Washington DC.  Programming for these weekends 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 participants with lasting ties to their current class and other alumni. Participants 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 class members 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 in their communities.

IDF offers training to exceptional Democratic young leaders ages 21 to 39. The topics focus on three major areas:

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

Participants 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 $630.

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, our Kickoff and Graduation food and beverage costs, and your hotels for all non-Seattle trips. Cash flow permitting, we will provide coffee and light refreshments in the mornings for our sessions.

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 $630 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. 

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 $1,300, we cannot offer full, 100% scholarships to students. 

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

Finally, we offer modest travel reimbursements for those who live more than 50 miles outside of our home base in Seattle. In the past this has meant we can reimburse at $0.17 per mile, but other arrangements can also be made. This is meant to help ease costs for those who travel to attend IDF, and is not intended to cover all costs as it relates to the program. 

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 application fee, due at the time of application.