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.