How to Get the Whole World to Sign Your Petition
A petition is what we call an “easy lift” — with just a little bit of effort, you can generate attention and momentum around an issue, grow your list of advocates, and pressure lawmakers to act. Plus, a petition helps you raise your state’s or branch’s visibility and potentially gain new members!
Below are some tips and tricks for collecting signatures on your petition, both online and offline. After reading this how-to guide, you may also want to check out Special Delivery! Get Your Elected Official’s Attention. That guide will give you tips on delivering the petition to your target, whether that is a state or federal lawmaker, a governor, or another elected official.
As always, we’re here to help — consider us your resource and sounding board. If you’re not already in touch with AAUW’s public policy and government relations staff, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a petition?
A petition is a statement (anywhere from one to three paragraphs) that can be signed by dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people calling on a specific target to take action. For example, you could collect signatures on a petition to your governor urging him to sign an equal pay bill, or to your state Senate urging them to protect women’s health care. Once the petition goal is reached, you’ll want to deliver the petition to the target so she or he understands the vast number of people who support the action you have chosen.
This kind of advocacy petition is different from official government petitions that are circulated to put citizen measures on a ballot. Unlike an official government petition, anyone can sign your advocacy petition, regardless of whether they are a registered voter over the age of 18.
What is the difference between an online petition and an offline petition?
An online petition is one that can be “signed” through your website, e-mailed to others, and posted on Facebook and Twitter. It exists online and has its own URL, making it easy to spread widely. AAUW policy staff can create an online petition for you and help you distribute it via e-mail and social media.
An offline petition is a hard copy of a petition that can be signed in person at events (including tabling) and meetings.
Petitions are most successful when they exist online and offline. That way you can constantly collect signatures no matter where you are. The text of the petition is the same — the only difference is whether you are collecting the signatures on a computer (online) or on a hard copy (offline). AAUW policy staff can also format the offline petition for you and reconcile the signatures between the online and offline versions.
Tips and Tricks for an Effective Petition
Choose a topic and target.
What is the situation you want to change, and who has the power to make that change? Do you want your governor to sign or veto a bill? Do you want your U.S. representatives and senators to co-sponsor a bill? Do you want your state lawmakers to introduce legislation on a specific issue? It’s important to have a topic and a target, since your petition is most effective when you deliver it directly to the target.
Keep the petition language short and simple.
Regardless of whether people are viewing your petition online or at an in-person event, they have limited time to understand what your petition is about and decide whether to sign it. That’s why you need to keep the text short and simple. Describe the problem (e.g., the gender wage gap) and the solution (e.g., state legislation to ban employers from retaliating against workers who disclose their wages). Then include the ask — the action you want the target to take (e.g., introduce anti-retaliation legislation in your state). It’s up to you whether you include an introductory paragraph to explain to people why they should sign the petition. A well-written petition should already communicate the urgency of the problem and the need for action, and you can always use an e-mail or social media post to provide additional context.
Here is sample petition text:
To the New Jersey congressional delegation:
We the undersigned join with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of New Jersey in urging you to pass the federal End Sex Trafficking Act (H.R.2805/S.1354).
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that forces an estimated 27 million people worldwide — including people in the United States — into prostitution or involuntary labor. According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. The End Sex Trafficking Act would strengthen federal law to advance the arrest and prosecution of the people responsible for human trafficking.
New Jersey is already leading the way with one of the nation’s strongest human trafficking laws. Now we need your support for the End Sex Trafficking Act to ensure women and girls across the country have the same level of protection.
AAUW of New Jersey
[add signatures here]
Decide what information you need to collect from people who sign your petition.
At the very least, you’ll want to collect name, e-mail address, and zip code. Zip code is important because elected officials want to know that the people signing the petition are indeed their constituents. Name and e-mail address will help you follow up with petition signers afterward to keep them posted on the topic and get them more involved in AAUW. You can also collect a phone number for that purpose. It’s a good idea to have a check box on both versions of your petition for people to indicate whether they would like to receive more information about AAUW. That way you will grow your list of advocates and potential members when you collect petition signatures.
Choose a petition goal.
Choosing a goal for the number of petition signatures isn’t necessary, but a goal can help keep your members motivated to collect more signatures. Having a goal can also make it easier to demonstrate to others the impact of adding their name to your petition, because they will see how their name helps get the petition to the “magic number.” The size of your goal should depend on the size of your community and how much time you have to collect signatures (more on that below). In general, if you’ve got a few weeks and your petition is about a hot topic, a good starting goal is 300 signatures. We say “starting goal” because you can always adjust the goal depending on how the petition is doing! If you hit 300 signatures in a short time, raise the bar and see how many more names you can gather.
Set a deadline or delivery date.
Similar to the petition goal, deciding on a deadline or delivery date ahead of time is not necessary to have a successful petition, but it can help you motivate your members and encourage others to sign. Remember, one of the keys to writing your petition text is to communicate a sense of urgency, and a deadline (e.g., “We’re delivering this petition to the governor in two weeks”) helps you do that. Examples of good delivery dates include, but are not limited to, your state’s or branch’s lobby day, an in-district meeting with your elected official, a rally outside the state Capitol, and a press conference. Depending on the issue, you may want to hold off on choosing a delivery date in advance, and instead keep an ear to the ground to determine when your petition delivery will be most effective. For example, if you know that a vote will be happening on state equal pay legislation sometime in the spring but you’re not sure on the timing, start collecting signatures anyway. Then, when you finalize the date, you’ll already have a critical mass of signatures.
Plan your initial online strategy.
The great thing about an online petition is it’s very easy to send out and start collecting signatures! You’ll probably want to promote the petition several times, so try to plot out a basic online strategy. That initial strategy might look like this:
Week 1: Send an e-mail blast with the petition to the members you want to engage. Post the petition on Facebook and Twitter when the e-mail blast goes out, and schedule additional Facebook and Twitter posts throughout the week — it’s probably best to keep it to two Facebook posts in the first week. For Twitter, you can schedule as many tweets as you want over that time period. Share the petition with allied organizations in your coalitions.
Week 2: Send another e-mail blast to a segment of your list (e.g., people who received last week’s e-mail but haven’t signed the petition yet). Continue promoting the petition on social media.
Your online strategy might evolve as news happens concerning your petition topic. For example, if your petition is about violence against women and your state releases new data in Week 3 on the number of women in your state who experience domestic violence, you may want to plan another online push to gain more signatures as a result of that news. AAUW policy staff can help you tailor your online strategy based on the situation on the ground, and we can help you draft sample e-mail blasts, Facebook posts, and tweets.
Think about opportunities to collect signatures offline.
Every event you have is an opportunity to collect signatures, whether it’s a tabling event, issue forum, rally, branch meeting, state convention, coalition meeting … really, we mean every event! All you need are copies of your offline petition and pens. A clipboard is also a good idea if people will be standing when they sign the petition. Remember, AAUW policy staff can format the offline petition for you, so all you have to do is print copies.
Deliver your petition!
For everything you need to know about making your delivery a success, check out Special Delivery! Get Your Elected Official’s Attention.
Don’t forget to let us know how your petition turned out (including the delivery!) by filling out this form.
Resources to guide activists in advocacy efforts.
Learn tips and tricks to increase visibility for AAUW and to spread the word about AAUW’s work.
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