June 16, 2015

9 Tips for Creating Successful Petitions on Change.org

If you followed our Down to the Wire campaign to save the James River this spring, you probably noticed a crucial piece of our outreach: the online petition hosted by Change.org.

Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform, with nearly 100 million users in 196 countries. Such widespread use around countless causes and campaigns underscores the power of combining a time-tested tool -- the petition -- with social media and global connectivity.

In today’s toolkit, we’re walking you through top tips for a successful online petition on Change.org so that you can better raise your voice about the preservation issues you care about.

Determine the mission of the petition.

The most successful petitions ask for something specific that a decision maker can help change. For example, the Down to the Wire Coalition had a clear directive for Dominion Virginia Power: Don’t put power lines across the historic James River. Strong petitions also usually propose reasonable solutions to the problem or issue -- in our case, using existing river crossings or finding alternative, less historic locations.

Tip: “If you can't summarize the ‘ask’ of your petition in one clear and concise sentence, it's probably too broad,” says Carly Quaglio, Associate Client Manager at Change.org.

Set a reasonable goal.

The James River petition initially aimed for 15,000 signers, but once we passed it, we kept increasing our limit based on the strong response. But a reasonable goal for you might not be in the tens of thousands. Base your goal on your community and your campaign’s needs. Ask, what does success look like to you? It could be 500 signers or 500,000; the point is to find the sweet spot of meaningful response.


Identify the decision maker – a.k.a. the person in charge.

Ask, who has the power to help you change this? In our case, we targeted the petition toward Thomas Farrell, Dominion’s CEO. Also consider which constituents are most affected by this issue, and which decision makers might help lend influence to your petition. (It can help to have a public figure on both sides of the issue.)

Tip: “Many online petition tools allow you to collect signatures online, but require you to deliver the signatures to your decision maker offline when you’re finished. Because email is so direct and effective, when you type in the email address of your recipient, Change.org's tool will notify your decision maker about the petition and keep them updated through the process!” says Chelsea Coffman, Associate Client Manager at Change.org.

Write a compelling petition.

Include a personal story that shows who’s affected by what’s happening -- for example, the people of Virginia who would lose a historic viewshed forever. Demonstrate the impact of this issue on individuals and the wider community.

Tip: “Describe the problem and solution you’re trying to achieve, and why it’s important for people to take action. If you have any research or articles to support your position, be sure to reference any juicy statistics or quotes, as well as any stories that connect the issue to real people,” Quaglio says.

Tip: Choose images carefully -- people (specifically children) and animals are great for inspiring people to sign. Video also works well. Keep your titles clear and concise. And try to avoid the word “pledge”; it doesn’t work as well as other, stronger calls to action.

Get out the word.

Follow up with people and continue the conversation. Engage with them after the petition is complete, especially if project is ongoing. Show people their impact along the way; it will help keep them as advocates.

Tip: Use Change.org’s update tool to share updates on your campaign with all your signers.


Use multiple channels to encourage conversation.

Facebook, Twitter, and other online communities help you build momentum for your petition. Build your case across social media. Engage both your signers and the decision makers with regular updates and responses. Think of it as the online equivalent of going door to door -- you still need to pound the digital pavement to rally supporters.

Tip: “Hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of signatures are a great way to get your decisionmaker to take notice, but then what? If your petition doesn't succeed overnight, phone calls, press conferences, and meetings can help keep your issue front and center,” Coffman says.

Deliver the petitions.

Plan an event with the decisionmaker to share all petition signatures, and invite the media to participate. You can download your list of signers and petition comments for in-person deliveries, similar to what we did for the James River campaign.

Know your campaign tool options.

The Change.org campaign tool offers brand recognition, reach and influence, and a built-in audience (many of whom are passionate about preservation and conservation causes). You have two options: Sponsored (paid) Campaigns vs. organic (free) ones.

  • Change.org worked with the National Trust on the James River sponsored campaign to target people in Virginia as well as in a national campaign. This campaign was shown to Change.org users after they'd first signed an organic petition featured in a Change.org email. Once someone signed our Sponsored Campaign and opted to receive more information from us, Change.org delivered that supporter's email address to our team for follow-up communication.
  • Organic campaigns are longer in length and easily shareable. Many organizations we work with create organic campaigns to use alongside their Sponsored Campaign for social media. Here are some examples of campaigns currently taking off on the platform: NFL relinquishes tax-exempt status (victory!), Call for an Executive Order to End Child Marriage, and Ask Wendy's to offer a veggie burger.
  • The key difference? Sponsored Campaigns allow you reach a huge number of targeted supporters in a tight timeframe, while also connecting you with supporters interested in your cause for long-term engagement, movement building, and fundraising.

Explore Change.org.

Take some time to browse the site and see what other organizations and causes are doing. See what victories look like, and get inspired! Don’t be discouraged by varying numbers or reach -- if your cause is important to your community, others will care, too.

Have you ever used Change.org to advocate for a preservation cause? Share your story in the comments.

For more info, check out Change.org’s Tips and Guides.

Julia Rocchi is the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.


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