This article goes over how to plan and write a good petition, how to disseminate your petition, how to organise the supporters gathered from the petition and how to deliver your petition to decision makers.
With anybody being able to make their own digital petitions, petitions may feel like a dated tactic. Petitions with millions of signatures alone might not change the mind of decision makers or create change.
Instead, it’s important to see petitions as a tool. When used effectively, digital petitions give you the ability to quickly grow a supporter base that can enhance the power of your campaign and pressure your target.
Petitions are strategic in enabling you to:
These two things – building and organising a supporter base, and using petitions for political advocacy - make petitions a relevant and important tactic in the digital campaigning age.
Before writing your petition, you need to strategically think about the following and do research on:
Deciding if a petition is the right tactic and which decision maker to target should be carefully considered.
Goals - When working out a petition goal, the goal should be concrete, clear and winnable for your audience. Campaigning to “Stop climate change” is a vague goal. In comparison, running a petition like ending fossil fuels at your university or asking a specific bank to divest from a fossil fuel corporation is much more solution-oriented and attainable.
Decision maker - When working out your decision maker, think: who has the most power to create change on your issue. The decision maker you choose can be anyone from:
…and more. Have a think about why you’ve chosen a specific decision maker, what powers they have and be as specific as you can about which decision maker you have chosen. If your petition addresses a particular political decision-making procedure, you may also want to target an institution, such as a municipal council.
The Ask - After working with your decision maker, it’s essential to think about your ask. This will be tied to the powers your decision maker has. If you’re working to end the use of plastic bags in your local supermarket and your target is the supermarket’s CEO, you would ask the CEO to phase out plastic in the local shop. You wouldn’t ask the CEO to vote on legislation to ban plastic.
What data should I capture? - Data capturing is the most important part of choosing to run a petition. Capturing the names, emails, phone number or address of your supporters gives you the ability to organise your supporter base.
People are wary about giving their data nowadays. GDPR laws in the EU also mean that people need to give consent to have their data captured by you. So when considering what type of data you would like people to fill in, be considerate on what will help your campaigning, while keeping it as simple as possible in order to increase the probability that people will share their data with you.
For example, if you’re running a local campaign that relies on mobilising a base in your local neighbourhood, asking for people’s postcodes would be useful. If you’re running a petition at a Europe wide level, asking for people’s country rather than postcode would be more useful
Questions of data collection are also linked to your CRM.
Since the title is the first thing people will read, make your petition title short and clear (try to use fewer than 8 words). Great titles are solutions focused, active and include a place if relevant. Some examples include:
In your petition, you should clearly put down which decision maker you’re targeting. Make sure to include their full title. For example:
First Vice President of the European Commission, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal & European Commissioner for Climate Action, Frans Timmermans
Your content should explain why people should sign the petition. It should use accessible and snappy language summarising the problem and calling on what the decision maker can do.
Your content should tell us why the issue is important? Who is affected by it? What can the decision maker do to address it? How will this help people? Snappy human stories can be very effective in a petition. Try to keep this short at 1-2 paragraphs.
Adding an image is essential. Do not skip this step. An image triples the likelihood of someone sharing a petition on social media. Your petition image should be relevant to the campaign. Make sure you have permission to use the image. The more personalised they seem the better!
Once you’ve launched your petition, the bulk of your time should be spent on gathering as much support as possible for your petition.
The number of signatures and types of people you need to find depends on your issue. For example, if you want to save a local cinema from closing, 200 signatures from the local neighbourhood could be enough to show broad support. However, if you’re trying to stop a new coal mine from being built, you may need tens of thousands of signatures to get your decision maker’s attention.
Don’t forget to always ask your supporters to share the petition!
We know signing a petition is not enough to change a decision maker's mind. What makes petitions relevant today is that they’re effectively tools to quickly build a supporter base who can be mobilised tor apply pressure on your chosen decision makers by participating in tactics or crowdfunding money from.
To apply pressure on your decision maker, you can:
See fundraising *LINK*
When you’ve grown your petition to your target goal and tried a variety of tactics to build pressure on your decision maker, it’s time to organise a meeting with your decision maker and deliver your petition.
Make sure to take a photo of this and share it on social media, update your supporters on how this meeting went and even alert the media!
This does not mean your campaign is finished. Delivering your petition is a tactic to continuously put pressure on your decision maker. Decision makers sometimes agree to things in order to make the issue blow over but are slow to take action.
Ideally, try to make sure they’ve agreed to the changes in writing or via some other record, which includes a timeline in implementing the change and a follow up to check in on the progress.
If your decision maker does not agree to your ask, that is when you escalate your campaign to various other tactics. See tactics
Petitions are a great way to build a list of supporters, to organise these supporters to pressure a target decision maker or as way to crowdfund money to support your campaign.
When used strategically, online petitions can quickly identify supporters and allies from different areas and build a coalition of people in order to exert pressure on your specific target decision makers.
A good petition strategy has clear goals and a focused outcome of organising people to build power over time.
Last updated: June 2022