Leveraging Petitions for Online Fundraising

May 9, 2018 Adva Priso

It’s hard to get people’s attention these days. Inboxes are chock-full of appeals from retailers, political candidates, and other nonprofit organizations, all competing for the same eyeballs. And with the midterm elections just around the corner, your supporters will only be more distracted. As we head into the elections – and gear up for end-of-year – you’re probably asking yourself: How can we stand out?

There’s one tried-and-true tactic that helps cut through the noise: the petition. Across our nonprofit clients, petitions have helped organizations engage their audiences – and more importantly, they’ve been serious fundraising tools in their own right by using upsells to solicit donations immediately after the recipient takes action, when they’re most ready to give.

Petitions are “priming” tactics, encouraging your audience to engage more deeply with an issue so they’ll be open to a fundraising ask immediately after signing. And while you might be tempted to wait until the perfect piece of legislation comes before Congress to run a petition campaign, the truth is that you can use this tactic any time, even if your organization isn’t engaging in legislative advocacy.

Finding your call to action

Petitions encourage your audience to feel like part of a community by inviting them to add their voice to a chorus of advocates. That’s why the call to action is so key: It tells your supporters where you stand and asks them to stand with you. Choose a call to action that stays true to your organization’s mission; below are a few options to consider:

1. Actual letters to Congress, a government agency, or another target: This is the most traditional petition, with real messages delivered to a real target. Nonprofit CRMs have tools that can deliver signatures to Congress or federal agencies for you; all you have to do is draft sample letter language that your audience can edit. Because these kinds of petitions often ask the audience to enter their home address or edit a letter, this is the highest-bar petition ask.

2. Messages directed to a person or company without a real letter: Calls to action like “Tell Congress to do x” or “Tell Big Bad Company to do y” can pack a punch, even if you don’t send actual letters to the target. The result is a lower-bar ask that retains some specificity, educating your audience about a critical issue and driving activism numbers that you can use in future targeted advocacy efforts and press communications.

3. “Take the pledge”: Not comfortable targeting a person or company with your petition? No sweat. Messages inviting supporters to “take the pledge” give your audience a chance to show their commitment to an issue. Pledges asking supporters to, for example, support refugees, stand up for women’s rights, or reduce waste allow activists to feel involved with topics that might otherwise seem remote.

From Call to Action to Campaign

Once you’ve got your call to action in hand, you’re ready to create your campaign.

Compelling, action-oriented communication like a petition drive has three key components:

1. MESSAGE: Keep it clear and concise, and put your call to action front and center, so the reader knows immediately what you’re asking them to do.

2. VISUALS: Aim for eye-catching visuals that elicit an emotional response.

3. CONTENT: Tailor your content to your channel, whether it’s an ad, email, or a website.

When you create your petition page, make sure to include an upsell. This all-important page thanks the supporter for taking action, then briefly reminds them of the work your organization does and asks them to donate.

Once your campaign is live, don’t sit on your laurels: Test your petition and donate forms to make sure you’re getting the best possible response. And remember: Many petitions can be evergreen. If you find a call to action that works, don’t be afraid to update the copy and send it again.

In these days of busy inboxes, the petition stands out because it gives supporters the chance to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. You’ll want to start using it as soon as possible (if you haven’t already), and keep this essential tool in your toolbox as we move into the busy midterm season.

Want to learn more about fundraising with advocacy? Click here to watch my webinar recording with Blackbaud and consultant Caroline Stuart-Freas.

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