Friday, March 4, 2016

How to write an effective online petition in 5 easy steps

Guest Blog
by Angelo Taotaotasi

Online petition signatures play a prominent role in the modern environmental movement.  Learning how to write better petitions will make us better campaigners and allow us to harness the power of our least active supporters. And when I say campaigners, I say it with the understanding that a petition is being created as part of a campaign. Writing and publishing an online petition should never in and of itself be considered a campaign, but it can be an important tool in a larger strategy.  In the world of advocacy, emails are more effective than online signatures. Letters carry more weight than emails. Telephone calls get better results than letters. And face-to-face meetings, especially repeated meetings with influential people, lead to real change.

Petitions can still be very effective when used well.  Here are a few tips on how to use online petitions to protect the ocean:

#1. Use proper spelling and grammar
You know those emails you get from Nigeria asking you to send them money? That’s what policy makers think of when you send them your petition with grammar and spelling mistakes. Try to avoid that. And don’t use slang or emoticons, either.

#2. Be specific with what you are asking
A petition that calls on the government to "Protect the Ocean" or "Save Sharks" won't be very effective because people have different ideas about how to achieve that.  You have to be specific by spelling out which law or which management practice it is you want to change.

#3. Target the person or organization you want to take action
Are you asking your legislature to pass a law? Do you want the president to sign it? Do you want the foreign minister to support something at an international meeting? Whatever policy it is you want changed, there is a real human being who will have to either change it or carry it out. That person has an email address and an office with both a mailbox and a telephone. Figure out who that person or persons may be, and make them the target of your efforts.

#4. Deliver your petition
All your effort creating a specific ask to a targeted person with proper grammar and spelling will have been a waste of time if your petition is not delivered. Some of the petition websites deliver emails to the targets, but not all of them do. You can also deliver your petition in person by printing it up, putting a cover sheet on it and carrying it to your target’s office. You can also deliver it via the media. Call up your local reporter and tell them how many people signed your petition and see if they’ll write a story.

#5. Be Creative
And most importantly, stand out from the crowd. Policy makers receive a barrage of communication from their constituents. There are already a mess of ocean petitions out there, not to mention petitions for everything else under the sun including guns, jobs, government spending, education, and you name it. There is an advocacy group for every issue these days. You need to make your voice and the voice of your supporters heard above all that noise.  What’s your creative idea?

BONUS: Give your supporters something else to do
And remember, an online petition is the least effective tool in your advocacy arsenal. You should have it available for your least active supporters to sign, but at the same time you should also be helping your more active supporters send emails, make phone calls, and set up meetings.

We encourage your feedback and ideas you may have. Please leave them in the comments section of this blog, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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