Strategies to drive petition creation
During one of our recent office hours we had the chance to show off our new petition creation flow. We also spent some time talking about the various strategies organizations can use to drive successful petition creation. For many of our organizations, petitions are the primary way that members become leaders, and we know that organizations are often interested in new ways to solicit new petitions.
Increasing the rate of petition creation will also increase the odds that your team will discover campaigns that resonate with your audience and grow quickly if list growth is one of your organizational goals.
We decided to catalog the ideas we brainstormed and share them to inspire ideas for your own organizing.
Before you dive into recruiting new campaign creators, you may want to first take a step back to ask some broader questions about your organization and why potential campaign leaders would want to create campaigns on your site instead of one of the other options available to them. What makes your organization special? Why should someone start a petition on your site, and what are you offering them in return?
Maybe it’s your organization’s expertise in a particular issue area that sets you apart. Maybe you’re the only platform that’s operating natively in your country/language. Maybe you’ll offer more organizing help to your petition leaders than the alternatives or you’ll connect them with a broader base of ideologically-aligned potential supporters. Perhaps you’re offering petition starters a curated template campaign on a specific and replicable issue for local leaders to adopt. Maybe your answer is “all of the above!” Regardless, thinking through your organization’s unique value to potential petition leaders is a good place to start, and your answers will likely inform your recruitment strategies.
Similarly, think through what your organization hopes to get out of your distributed organizing and member-led campaigns program. Allowing supporters to launch their own petition campaigns have many potential benefits:
- they allow organizations to scale their impact and potentially expand into new fights or new issue areas;
- they allow an organization to empower their members to become leaders and help prepare those supporters to take broader leadership opportunities;
- they can drive growth by discovering new and authentic ways to talk about issues or discover new issues to campaign on;
- they can provide new context or allow an organization to think and speak about an existing issue in new ways;
- they allow an organization to find authentic stories from real people that are impacted by the issues we campaign on;
- they allow organizations to test more content. By asking supporters to start petitions, organizations increase the volume of content they can test to discover what content supporters respond to positively.
Your organization may be interested in some or all of these benefits, but thinking about your specific goals for the member-led petitions you’re supporting should inform what your recruitment (and your ongoing campaign leader support) process looks like. Answering these existential questions is one of the most important and essential steps to figuring out a recruitment strategy that will work well for your organization.
While we’ve put together some more detailed strategies below, we’ve found it’s also important to remind organizations of the basics that sometimes get missed during more advanced strategic planning. The recruitment strategies will only work if it’s easy for a prospective campaign leader to find the new petition creation form.
Many of the recruitment strategies will also have longer-term results – someone who’s received an email about creating a campaign may not have an issue that they want to work on until weeks later. When someone decides to take action, will you make it easy for them? At the minimum, we recommend:
- Avoid launching your petition platform with alternative branding that distances it from the brand that your supporters know and trust. Be sure to benefit from the brand equity your organization has built up rather than trying to build a new identity for distributed organizing that’s separate from the other work that your organization does. Using one consistent domain for your organization and distributed organizing platform can also have Search Engine Optimization benefits for your platform if your brand already has search engine authority.
- Ensure that it’s easy to find the new petition creation form from your organization’s national or global homepage. If your supporters have a vague memory that your organization allows members to launch petitions, make it easy for them to find the option to do so when they return to your site. This can take the form of links in the header and/or footer that direct people to the new campaign page or it can be large, prominent call to action buttons.
- Ensure that it’s easy to find the new petition creation form from your organization’s help or “contact us” pages. Supporters who are about to email you about a particular issue can likely be redirected to run the campaign on their own. Make it easy for them to take that step.
- If a supporter does email you about an issue they’re concerned about, include the petition creation form and tips to run a successful campaign in your response. Depending on the volume of emails your organization receives, you could include the petition creation prompt in an auto-responder email and/or train the staff members who are responding those emails to remind supporters about the option of launching their own campaign.
- Include a link to the petition creation page on any other action and informational pages that receive a lot of traffic. If someone’s viewing one of those pages, it may spark a campaign idea for them and including a link to the new petition creation form will make it easy for them to get started.
Generally petition recruitment strategies are most successful when they’re targeted. However, some organizations have also found success with broader recruitment strategies, like running Google ads targeting ‘start a petition’ and related searches. This is a competitive set of keywords in English, but bidding on those sorts of keywords may be less competitive or expensive in other languages. Keyword advertising works well because it captures potential supporters in the moment they are looking for a site to launch a petition on, but the average quality of the campaigns that are created may be lower or not values aligned.
Soliciting Campaigns By Email
Often some of the easiest recruitment strategies involve recruiting petition creators who are already on your broader email list. Below are some email-focused recruiting strategies:
- If you’re not doing so already, consider adding a small recruitment ask to the footer of all of the emails you send. This can be something as simple as “Is there an issue you care about?” with a link to your petition creation page.
- Send rolling recruitment emails to your existing list asking them to create campaigns in their area. Asking a small percentage of your supporters to start a petition via email each week can help ensure a steady stream of petitions are launched.
- Email your list asking them to sign existing member-led petitions. This is a great way to increase the reach of your member-led campaigns, while also modeling good campaigning. These emails work best when they tell the story of a petition creator who’s just like the reader, who decided to launch a campaign on an issue important to them, and now needs the reader to help their efforts by signing the campaign. You can then easily include a link for supporters to launch their own campaign. Some organizations even use a template that allows them to automatically create an email recruiting signers based on the content of the petition being linked to.
- Do you see an issue in the news that would be a good campaign opportunity? Send a request to your list asking them to lead a campaign. Even if there is already a similar petition targeting the issue, this can be an interesting way to find new ways of talking about that issue, while also reminding your existing supporters that they can be leaders too. Some organizations have a meeting each morning where the team pitches campaign opportunities pulled from the day’s news.
- Send a survey to your list asking them how much (1-5) they care about an issue or ask them a yes/no about whether your organization should campaign on that issue. When someone says that they care about the issue and/or think that your organization should campaign on it, immediately show them a petition creation ask. This allows your organization to get feedback from your supporters on what they care about, find out which segment of your list cares a lot about a specific issue, and also recruit new campaign leaders. (You can also consider collecting any campaigns that are generated into a Landing Page, which will allow people who care about the issue to quickly find other campaigns to sign.)
Recruiting new campaign creators is often more of an organizing challenge than a simple sales pitch. Some of the tactics that we’ve seen work:
- Take a ‘rolodex’ approach. For any issue, your team likely knows someone who’s working in that area in their professional capacity or who has previously run a campaign on that issue. When something hits the news or a campaign in that area seems timely, reach out and ask them to start a campaign on your site.
- Recruit staff at partner or single-issue organizations to create petition campaigns. Using ControlShift’s partnerships feature to share list growth with those partner organizations can also be a good incentive for them to create a campaign on your site.
- If your organization’s structure allows for it, ask elected officials to create petitions on issues they would like to champion.
- Where appropriate, reach out to independent activists or those impacted by an issue by researching those interviewed in news articles about that issue.
- Some organizations also monitor social media, especially Twitter, looking for people who are talking about the organization’s issue area. Organizers then reach out to these users with resources, including the ability to start a campaign on the issue that they’re talking about. This approach is most effective when it’s rooted in relationship building and organizing. The organizations for whom this works well are usually offering expert advice on the issues these users are facing and providing other resources – these interactions are generally not transactional or a copy/paste response.
- When you get press requests about member-led campaigns, ensure that the story of the campaign is that of an ordinary person creating the petition through your site and using the tools and support you’ve provided. This can inspire people who read the press coverage to start campaigns on other issues. The links back to your platform from news sources also help to improve your site’s search engine rank. Using PR to place stories about petitions into local media is an effective strategy for driving impact on the petitions themselves, but is also an opportunity to tell the story of how someone used your site to launch a campaign. Ordinary people launching petitions are often more compelling messengers in the press, especially when they have a personal connection to the issue, than your organization’s institutional voice.
- ControlShift’s Efforts tool is an easy way to take a national campaign and break it into many local petitions targeting local decision makers that are led by local supporters. It can also be used to manage a series of independent campaigns that share a common theme. Because the Efforts tool involves more admin input, it can be easier for someone who has not led a campaign previously to launch their campaign.
- If you have a field organizing team, make sure they know about the platform and how to integrate it into their offline work in the community. As they’re having conversations with supporters in their local area, the distributed organizing platform can be one of the tools that the field team offers.
- If you have a policy or research team, recruit them to write petitions on the issues they are writing policy papers on. Find ways to open up campaigning to the rest of your organization instead of having it siloed into the digital team.
- If your team works with celebrities to promote your cause, an open petition platform can allow your team, the staff of the celebrity, or the celebrity themselves, to author and launch petition campaigns in their own authentic voice.
- Finally, if you’re not sure where else to turn, start a petition yourself about an issue you care about.
Once you’re driving the creation of a consistent and steady volume of new petitions, the challenge shifts to identifying campaigns that should be nurtured by your team, and finding ways to grow their audience and invest in the leadership of the people who authored each one. We’ll tackle that challenge in a future blog post.