OPIRG York is joining Tools for Change


OPIRG York has joined Tools for Change! Tools for Change helps you develop skills to advocate for social change- this is one of OPIRG’s objectives as well, so it’s fitting we join the Tools for Change team.

Tools for Change organizes trainings in Toronto throughout the year- and with OPIRG York joining, some workshops will be hosted at the York University Keele Campus, and workshops will be open to and free to all York University students. Trainers tend to be people who are active in social change and from Toronto, and with York now on board, we will help host some workshops at York that are useful to York students and OPIRG York members and community!

With this announcement, our first OPIRG York Tools for Change workshop will be taking place on Wednesday, October 19th, and will be a Facilitation 101 training.

You can see the full details HERE, and register!

OPIRG York is excited to be a part of the Tools for Change team, and happy to be supporting people in learning important skills for advocacy and social change!

Watch the AFL-CIO’s new social media training series

Our friends down south at the AFL-CIO have developed a fantastic media training series for union communicators. The series has beginner, intermediate and advanced workshop topics.  The series is free for folks affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and focuses on very specific and practical skills.  Thanks Jessica Morales and others at the AFL-CIO for organizing!  Videos of the webinars can be accessed by all.

Some of the workshops include:

  • SMS text practices
  • Social media
  • Video
  • Email list management
  • Online ads best practices and more.

WOW! Watch, read, share.


Activist Advisor responds: How many signatures do I need to win my online petition?

Q. How many signatures do I need to win my online petition?

Thanks to Lauryn Drainie for answering this all-too-common question. Lauryn Drainie is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org in Canada.  Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform with over 70 million users worldwide and over 2.5 million here in Canada starting, signing and winning campaigns on the issues they care about.

A. I probably get asked this question several times a week by people starting petitions on Change.org. It’s a simple question, and I know the hope is that I’ll say something like once they’ve collected 100 or 1000 their decision-maker will take notice and grant the petition request. Unfortunately, campaigning is never that simple.

There is no magic number of signatures that will guarantee a positive response from your decision-maker.  That isn’t to say that certain issues don’t require a greater show of support than others. For example, if you’re running an international campaign to free your friends from arbitrary detention in Egypt, or trying to stop a giant Walmart from moving into your community, you’ll want more signatures than if you’re say asking your town’s city council to testify at a pipeline hearing; but when it comes to winning a campaign, what matters most is how you leverage the signatures you do have to put pressure on your decision-maker.

A large petition on it’s own does not a victory make.

Since the American Whitehouse.gov site began requiring 100,000 signatures in order to receive a response, 100K seems to have become a de-facto number for petition success. Put this out of your mind. First of all, there is no such similar government site or requirement for petitions in Canada. In fact, there is no legislative body in Canada that officially accepts online petitions, but that hasn’t stopped many Canadians from starting online petitions and successfully getting responses and victories from politicians and legislative bodies in Canada.

Second, the vast majority of petitions on Change.org win with far fewer than 100,000 signatures. Fun fact: a recent analysis of victory trends on Change.org’s platform in the US found that the average winning local petition won with approximately 2000 signatures, and the average winning national petition won with 12,700 signatures. 

 Signatures = People

With a paper petition, and even some online petition sites, a signature = one vote of support for your cause and that’s where it ends.  Change.org’s petition platform is different.  Each signature on Change.org represents a real person who believes in your and your cause and who you can enlist to help you again and again during your campaign.  You can think of your petition as a community, there to support you each step of the way as you lead the campaign to victory.

 (Now, of course, this all assumes that you’ve chosen an achievable ask, you’ve identified the correct decision-maker, you’ve figured out what leverage you have over that decision-maker, you’ve chosen the right moment to launch, you’ve told your story in a compelling way etc. Too much for one Q&A, but Tools for Change has fantastic resources on all these elements of a successful online petition campaign.)

How to leverage your signatures!

1)    Add your decision-maker’s email address into your petition. 

When supporters sign your petition, an email will be sent to the decision maker alerting them to the fact that they are being petitioned. Imagine receiving even just 100 emails. That’s a lot of directed pressure. That email will include the petition letter and a link where the decision maker can read the petition, comments and respond to you and your supporters and start a discussion.

2)    Re-engage your supporters through email!

This may be the most powerful feature on Change.org. Through your petition page you have the option of sending a petition update message to your supporters.  Use this to keep supporters informed of major updates in your campaign and to ask for additional support when strategic. Some ideas for what you might ask of your supporters:

·       Sharing your petition

·       Participating in a social media bomb on Facebook or Twitter, or participating in a call-in day

·       Attending an event

·       Participating in a poll

·       Writing a letter to the editor

·       Recruiting additional volunteer support ie. Ask if anyone has skills you might need for your campaign ie. video, web design etc..

3)    Attract media attention.

This is so important! Make sure appropriate journalists know about your campaign for example by putting out a launch press release.  Journalists love stories of individual people, David and Goliath narratives so be sure to play that up. The power of a journalist calling your decision maker and asking a few pointed questions about their response to your petition can ensure you get noticed and that your decision maker is feeling the heat.  Use your signatures to create dramatic moments in order to attract media attention for your campaign.  If you’re planning an on-the-ground action like a rally, you can email your supporters and ask them to attend, bring signs, dress up, whatever you need.

4)    Deliver your petition signatures

A petition delivery can be another opportunity to attract media & do something splashy!  It can also be a great opportunity to request a meeting with your decision maker. Decorate a stack of boxes and load them up with your printed petition signatures (or just a memory stick with a signature file if you’re saving paper) and bring them to your decision-maker in person. Or, even better, get creative! My favourite Change.org petition delivery was one in Australia where the petition starters turned their pages of signatures into a giant paper plane. 

5)    Mine those petition comments and share your supporters’ stories.

When supporters sign they have the option of leaving a comment about why they support your campaign. These comments can be a real treasure trove. On your petition page you can even ask people to leave the type of comment you think will be useful to you. For example, if you’re petitioning your school board you can ask signers to leave comments indicating whether they are a parent, student, faculty member etc.  Within these comments you will find additional stories to share with your decision maker during negotiations to strengthen your argument; you’ll find amazing sound bytes and perhaps new spokespeople to offer to media; you may find supporters who you want to reach out to and ask if they’ll be involved more deeply in the campaign.

 Lauryn Drainie is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org in Canada.  Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform with over 70 million users worldwide and over 2.5 million here in Canada starting, signing and winning campaigns on the issues they care about.

What workshops do you want us to organize?

Complete our survey and tell us what workshops you want Tools for Change to organize this coming 2014/2015 year.  Tools for Change organizes your most requested workshop topics.   We are taking your feedback until Monday the 23rd of June.

Fill in the survey here: http://bit.ly/1nNn4fG

A project of OPIRG TorontoEarthroots, Greenpeace Canada, and the George Brown Student Association Community Action Centre , Tools for Change helps you develop skills to champion social, economic, and environmental justice.

Interested in Tools for Change delivering a speaking engagement or workshop tailored to your organization’s needs? Contact us at [email protected].

Register for our Certificate in Social Change program @ http://bit.ly/1ckUYHc

Join our email list to receive workshop announcements and more.

Become a Tools for Change community partner.  Find out more: http://www.toolsforchange.net/work-with-us/


How do you nix bad action ideas? Activist advisor responds

Q. I am in a grassroots chapter group. I need advice on how to manage planning meetings when fellow members propose action ideas that are unrealistic and unstrategic. I already have a lot of informal power because I am a staff person for the national organization that is responsible for supporting chapter groups across the country. What do I do?

A. I was asked this question in a recent training I led on organizational structure for a national non-profit with chapter groups across the county. It’s a common problem: staff in national chapter-led organizations have to walk a fine line between empowering group members to lead while upholding the mission, budget limitations, and direction of the national organization. This tension plays out during strategic planning sessions when chapter groups decide their plans.

Here’s four tips to help you navigate this decision-making process so the best ideas can be found in a respectful way.

1. Have a clear decision-making process

Have the facilitator or chair remind participants what the decision-making process is at the start of the meeting. For instance, the facilitator could say “we’re making decisions using consensus today, which means all of us have to say yes for a plan to go forward.” More information on consensus is on the Seeds of Change website. If you are constantly bringing in new members, then try for an 80 or even a 51% voting majority since it can be tough to reach consensus with people that you don’t know well who haven’t yet made a long term commitment to the group.

Also clarify when the national organization can intervene in local group decisions. You could have it that the national group can intervene if the action proposed violates the national group’s mission or priority campaign goals. It wouldn’t be cool, for instance, for a group to decide that old-growth logging is okay if the national group says no to old-growth logging. People get pissed off when power is hidden, or when the national group regularly intervenes beyond it’s stated scope of power.

2. Have the group assess their own capacity

One of the best way to quash crazy ideas is to have the group assess their capacity by reviewing what they’ve done. Have the group review how many actions they did last year, how many people they typically pull out to an event or action (100? 200?), what the group is good at doing, and what the group has little or no experience doing. It’s realistic to assume that the group can do an action that is similar in size or maybe a little bigger than what they’ve done before.

If the action proposed is just too grandiose, it can also be useful to have the group craft a TO DO list for the action. This process will help folks realize how much work goes into organizing a big action, and how much money it will cost. I did this a few years ago, with a team that wanted to organize a multi-day tent city vigil outside an elected official’s office within three weeks. This group had never worked together before. After competing the TO DO list, the group wisely dropped the idea.

3. Embrace the brainstorm.

When someone suggests a ridiculous idea that you hate, your instinctive response might be to knock it down immediately. Don’t go there. A more effective way to manage and navigate idea-selection is to propose a brainstorm. During a brainstorm everyone gets to shout out their favorite action idea – however crazy and wonderful – and the facilitator writes down all ideas on flip chart paper. Writing it down is important because every idea should be considered. There is always a tendency for people to jump ahead and start criticizing other people’s ideas. Don’t let them because the criticism will come later. A brainstorm occurs at the start of a discussion.

4. Vote.

I like to first use an informal voting system called a straw poll, where you have participants vote for their favorite action from the list of brainstormed ideas. I am a big fan of having participants vote for only one idea from the list, and to not allow folks to choose two or three. This is because voting for one idea forces participants to make tough prioritization decisions and weigh the merits of different actions. This method usually narrows down the list of possible ideas to just a few, and sometimes just one. This system ensures that you’re not the only one nixxing bad ideas.

Once you’ve narrowed the list down to a few, you can have folks break into groups to discuss their favorite idea and think up ways to improve it. It can even help to have each breakout assess their idea based on some agreed-upon criteria, such as:

  • Are there a few people willing to make this idea happen no matter what?
  • Is this action idea in line with our goals and strategy?
  • Do we have the capacity to pull this off?
  • Will the action convey an obvious message?

Have each group report back their idea to the larger group, and then facilitate a final vote to see if there’s a clear winner. Chances are that choice will be a good one.

Tools for Change has begun an Activist Advisor column.  If you have a question that you’d like answered then email us at [email protected]  This column was answered by Jessica Bell. Jessica Bell is the chair of TTCriders, and works a facilitator, campaigner, and trainer. More information at www.jessicabell.org and [email protected]