Should a Petition Be Part of Your Advocacy Strategy?
Change.org, the largest online platform , claims it has engaged more than 87 million people. And that’s just one platform. There are many others, as well as groups — National Nurses United comes to mind — that survey their own members. Even the White House dabbles (sometimes with funny results).
So, should petitions be part of your advocacy strategy? To get some perspective, we checked in with Paul Van Remortel at Intermarkets Inc., which recently launched a free petition platform for conservatives called StandUnited.org.
How has the digital advocacy space changed over the last decade?
At the time I left Capitol Hill, where I worked for almost seven years, Twitter and Facebook did not exist. I got into web development and built a grassroots management platform for advocacy groups to keep track of outreach to members of Congress.
Back then, grassroots tools lacked the most ubiquitous communications medium: social. Digital advocacy today is more powerful because of the social effect. If you need to bring a lot of pressure to bear quickly, social is the way to recruit supporters.
How have petitions developed over the years?
Petitions have impacted public discourse all over the world from pre-modern Imperial China, to the British House of Commons in the 18th and 19th Centuries, to modern-day American politics.
The rise of the Internet and increased access to technology have given the old-school petition a new renovation. Now, not only can people mobilize from the convenience of their homes or offices, but they can also be assured that lawmakers and decision makers hear their message.
As we’ve seen with platforms such as Change.org and Care2, the online petition is becoming increasingly powerful.
How do organizations benefit from online petitions?
It’s difficult for organizations to recruit activists beyond their membership or supporter base. Even if they have a popular issue, people who don’t have a connection to the organization are not inclined to take action on its behalf.
Like Care2 and Change.org, StandUnited is designed to connect organizations with these activists. We are trusted platforms that host and deliver petitions on a broad range of issues. At StandUnited, our users are comfortable signing multiple petitions on our site. We put the highest value on our user experience. And organizations know that we connect them with activists who engage on their issues, activists these groups would not otherwise be able to reach.
Online petitions are also flexible, in terms of topics and format, and timely. A petition can be created, signed and sent to decision makers very quickly.
Tell us more about StandUnited.org.
Since many existing tools are tailored to traditionally left-leaning issues, we saw a real demand for a space where conservative-leaning individuals can come together to advocate for free-market principles. That’s why we launched StandUnited.org in January.
StandUnited delivers individual petition messages to federal and state legislators and regulators to ensure they receive real-time feedback from their constituents. Right now, the top three issues that are gaining momentum on our site are freedom of the Internet, Common Core and term limits for members of Congress. But citizens have started petitions in nearly every issue category.
With the new Republican-controlled Congress, we hope StandUnited will be a podium that will give conservatives a voice to help shape the legislative agenda.
Will petitions be more local or nationwide?
Both. Local issues develop really quickly, but national issues can really galvanize large swaths of support.
Do you expect the 2016 Presidential candidates and their supporters or detractors to adopt online petitions to engage activists and build their lists?
Since the presidential campaign is so dominant this cycle and is wide open on the GOP side, we definitely expect the candidates will look to adopt online petitions to their advantage. As they develop their respective issue agendas, online petitions will provide them with a valuable platform to build recognition and support.
What new tactics are being used to rise above a crowded advocacy echo chamber?
Undoubtedly, there are many platforms and players in the digital advocacy space. We believe that targeting the right people with the right message is key to rising above the noise.
For example, linking advocacy groups with citizens who are passionate about their issues benefits both parties. It arms organizations with the ammunition to prove public support for their cause, and it links individuals with groups who are actively organizing and fighting for a cause.
Do you have any tips or best practices to get noticed by decision makers?
There are several ways to improve a petition’s likelihood of success. Make sure the petition seeks to achieve something attainable and that the target of the petition has the power to make it happen. Believe it or not, many online petitions don’t do this.
Also, explain why the petition is important. Tell the human side of the issue. Write the petition in a voice that a constituent would use in a personal meeting with their elected official. And use a powerful image, or even better, a short video to explain the petition.
When you mobilize a large number of people who raise their hands in support for a cause, decision makers can’t help but take notice. Numbers speak volumes.