How to start a successful petition?

You think your cause is of regional or even national relevance? You feel like you need to raise more awareness about the issue and put effective pressure on your political leaders? Starting a petition might be the most attractive option for you!

First, a word of caution: making a petition successful – especially if it’s a nationwide petition – will take a lot of effort. When starting out, think about what you want to achieve and who are the people whose heads you need to turn in order to create the change you want to accomplish.

A petition is the right tool, if:

  • You target either political decision-makers or companies who are directly affected by the loss of voters/consumers (and that, thus, are B2C and not B2B companies).
  • Many people are affected by the issue at hand.
  • There is a momentum for your cause: something has changed, news outlets are reporting about your issue or an anniversary/holiday is created to celebrate your cause.
  • Your issue can be condensed into a specific and measurable action. Broad goals like “nuclear disarmament in the world” don’t make for good petitions. Instead, think about a certain region/institution/group of people/etc. for which things could be changed.
  • If your target is a government or legislative body, they normally have petition rules. Get in touch with them to understand their requirements. However, keep in mind that this is not true for all petitions (especially those targeting businesses), and that even one directed at the parliament doesn’t need its consent to be circulated.

Here are the steps you need to follow in order to launch a petition that could start a movement:

    1. Choose a topic and a target for the petition. The petition should tackle as concrete a problem as possible, and target a specific person or institution. It can also be addressed at all the members of your country’s parliament or the local authorities. Formulate the receiver already as clearly as possible, because this makes it easier for people signing it to understand the goal of your petition.
    1. Do your research. What needs to happen for the change that you want to see? Talk to officials and people involved around your topic. The more concrete the steps required to accomplish the change, the better it is for the campaign. Try to make your petition measurable and specific instead of broad and general.
    1. Find out how many signatures you need. What is an impactful number to change the topic? As WikiHow explains, it’s good to think about who will be implementing the petition. Whether it’s a school or a national body, the amount of signatures needed differs. Most government bodies and many other organisations have guidelines regarding the number of signatures required for a petition to be considered.

    2. Tell the story behind the petition. People can relate to other people’s stories. The more technical your topic becomes, the more important it is to tell the stories of the people affected by it, and also why you started the petition in the first place.

    3. Keep the petition language simple and compelling. The easier to understand, the better, as more people are able to identify with it. Let friends and family check the petition text and give you feedback on the draft version. This website lists some great tips on how to formulate a great headline and compelling content for your petition.
  1. Emailing works better than social media. Email everyone you know and ask them to forward the petition to everyone they know. Just creating an event on Facebook won’t be enough, argues this TEDx speaker. Email is more efficient in terms of engagement and collecting signatures. Also, ask organisations to spread the petition to their members and supporters, as they often have a great reach around your topic already.

  2. Reach out to groups, organisations and influential individuals who support your cause. Ask them to share the petition in their networks and to support it publicly.

  3. Petitions are successful if they exist both online and offline, argues this website. Think about events you can attend and where you can talk to people in person to convince them to sign the petition. Normally, each country has official websites for collecting signatures, which give people the possibility to leave their  personal details in their signatures. If such a site is missing, on anyone can start a petition.

  4. Deliver your petition to the targeted people/institutions. Make sure you let your signatories know that you delivered the petition. You should send it via email and also deliver it in person, if possible.

  5. Let people know what else they can do to support the cause. There are often many ways to impact a topic besides signing a petition. Let your signatories know what else they can do about the matter and create a call to action. 

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