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 in Canada. 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 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 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 win with far fewer than 100,000 signatures. Fun fact: a recent analysis of victory trends on’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.’s petition platform is different.  Each signature on 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 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 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 in Canada. 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.

TechSoup Canada is making its mark

Consulting non-profit group, Tech Soup Canada has a great list of resources on its website:

Check out the learning centre page, which includes articles ranging from redesigning your website to dealing with computers, servers and networks.

I also enjoy reading Jane and Tierney’s efforts to find and evaluate the best non-profit tech tools out there. What is the best event registration software?  How about the best email newsletter system? Let Jane and Tierney tell you.

Check out TechSoup’s sem-regular ‘Friday Feed: best of the web’ blogs.  It’s an easy way to stay-up-to-date on tech matters, without getting too overwhelmed.

Most importantly, TechSoup runs a software donation program!   Organizations can save thousands of dollars by getting their software through TechSoup at an unbelievably discounted rate.


A look at the most effective online techniques to advocate for social change

This excellent post was written by Kyle Henri Andrei and funded by the Annie E Casey Foundation.

Advocacy organizations often encourage their grassroots supporters to influence politicians and corporations using different methods, from promoting a cause or opposing legislation to challenging ad campaigns or policies. A large display of public opinion can have a powerful message, and advocacy groups often help to focus and channel this support to make the most impact.

This was traditionally done with mail. The sheer bulk of hundreds or thousands of letters was a strong visual stand-in for the people behind the cause. Today the tactic hasn’t changed, but the message is more likely to be delivered by email, telephone or social media, and the physical presence of the message replaced by the easy, constant barrage of communications

Let’s look at a few of the tools available to help advocacy groups direct grassroots communications to a target.

Email-based tools

While once a strong alternative to physically mailing letters, high-volume email campaigns have become more difficult at the national level. Most Congressional offices now use Web forms and other filters to restrict the flow of email to their in-boxes, minimizing their impact. The majority of mid-range and higher-end tools are able to navigate these roadblocks, but it’s a game of cat and mouse; as the email tools become more effective, so too do the defenses.

On the other hand, state and local politicians have lower email traffic and therefore tend to have fewer restrictions on the emails they receive. This makes them more effective targets. Corporations also tend to be more vulnerable to such efforts than Congress, and are more sensitive to attacks on their brand — and, in turn, more responsive to a campaign.

Web forms, filters and other obstacles do more than limit the volume of email that makes it to an inbox — they also request contact information. By requiring a street address, zip code or district, they make it possible to verify that the email is coming from a real person who’s a constituent of the targeted legislator. There’s growing concern among advocacy organizations that email is no longer the effective tool it once was, but a number of software applications can help with such campaigns.

Free and lower-cost tools

CitizenSpeak: The free tool CitizenSpeak provides a simple, straightforward method for advocacy organizations to create an email and then allow supporters to modify, personalize and send the message. Organizations must provide a single target email address, however, which makes it difficult to spread an email campaign across multiple voting districts. CitizenSpeak emails will not automatically navigate through Web forms or other filters, making it better suited to a campaign targeting state or local politicians, or corporations.

Votizen: The startup company Votizen provides an alternative to email that lets your supporters create profiles, and then verifies their congressional districts and voting histories. Once their profiles are approved, they can support causes, sign petitions and pledges, and send messages to their state and federal elected officials. Not all states currently provide voter history to Votizen.

PopVox: Similar to Votizen, PopVox matches your supporters to their representatives and verifies them by name and address. Approved users can then support or oppose legislation by selecting from upcoming bills, or send messages to their representatives.

For larger organizations

Capwiz by CQ Roll Call: Capwiz has long been a standard tool for email advocacy for those with a more sizable budget. It integrates into your website, allows you to look up legislators by zip code, and can navigate through most Web forms and filters. The vendor also now offers Capwiz for Facebook, which integrates your website with a Facebook app.

Salsa: Salsa offers email advocacy, list management, petition functionality, website content management features and survey capabilities. Email blasting and online donations are also available for additional fees. The package is quite flexible, and can be seamlessly integrated into a website, but you’ll need substantial HTML expertise to set it up. (Disclosure: Socialbrite is a partner with Salsa Labs.)

For those with expansive needs and more substantial budgets, a number of high-end tools provide strong, advanced features— for a cost. These tools begin at around $1,000 per month. For instance, Blackbaud Sphere (formerly Kintera) and Convio are fairly widely used among large advocacy organizations and combine advanced email advocacy capability with robust online features and constituent tracking. Several newer options from major advocacy consulting firms include ActionKit, put out by We Also Walk Dogs (which is closely associated with, and a built-to-order offering by Blue State Digital.

Using your existing tools

If your targets aren’t hiding behind a filter or other roadblock, and you’re willing to get a little creative technically, you may be able to adapt one of the tools already used by your organization to send your message.

Most website Content Management Systems (CMSs) — such as DrupalJoomla,WordPress or Plone — provide the ability to create email website forms. You could pre-populate the form with the text of an email for supporters to modify or personalize, a method very similar to CitizenSpeakin functionality. This option has the advantage of being easily branded for your organization and is fairly easy to implement. However, it relies on your CMS’s broadcast email functionality, which might be less reliable than other options included here.

If you’re running a national advocacy campaign, you might want to help your supporters to identify and contact their appropriate representative through your website. Cicero API, from Azavea, allows you to connect your supporters to their representatives when they enter their zip code. You’ll need a programmer to help you implement it.

Other campaign methods

Email is just one method being used to replace the traditional snail-mail campaigns. Telephone-based efforts and social media can both work well in different circumstances.

Click-to-call telephone tools

Congress has typically been more responsive to phone calls than emails, and staffers are more likely to answer a phone than reply to — or even read — an email. Technology is emerging that will allow your supporters to make a phone call by entering their phone number on your website and clicking a button. The tool will then call their phone to connect them with your campaign target. There’s no well-known software that’s available out of the box to provide this functionality, but consider Twilio if you’re able to work with a program to implement an Application Programming Interface, or API, which is basically a way for a programmer to access the data or functionality through the code.

Social media tools

As politicians and corporations have adopted social media, those channels have emerged as locations for advocacy campaigns. Social media channels like Facebook andTwitter are public locations that allow for more public exposure than calling or emailing a congressional office. Many national politicians seem to be embracing Twitter, in particular, and many national and multinational corporations and brands have similarly taken to both Twitter and Facebook.

Remember, because corporations have more at stake to protect the image of their brand, they are more likely to respond to campaigns. While your supporters can take action directly on Facebook, or using hashtags and retweets on Twitter, some purpose-built tools have emerged to help with these efforts.

For instance, provides a free tool that uses Twitter to target politicians and corporations. You can only target those already using Twitter. also providesGovLuv, which helps supporters find their representatives on Twitter based on their residential addresses.

Wrapping it up

Whatever method you use, advocacy campaigns can be an effective way to show the support for a particular piece of legislation or policy or a similar cause. There are enough different ways available to spread the message that it’s worth taking the time to choose the one that best fits both your supporters and your target.

For more information

To learn about different ways of conducting petitions and pledges online, read our free article, A Few Good Online Petition Tools.

To learn about advocacy in the age of social media, read Influencing Public Policy in the Digital Age: The Law of Online Lobbying and Election-Related Activities.

This article was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Thanks as well as to the following nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice and other help: