Over the years we've learnt a lot about how to word a petition, how to grow a campaign and… how to win it! That is why, here, we want to share some tips on how to win yours.
Do you know the difference between a PETITION and a CAMPAIGN?
A PETITION is the text you ask people to show support for by signing. If you’re lucky, doing this can be enough to achieve the change you want, but often to get real results you need a hard-hitting campaign. Petitions can be useful:
- to build a supporter list and base of supporters;
- as a simple action for the public to gain awareness, join your campaign and show support;
- to mobilise support that already exists in the community.
A CAMPAIGN is everything you do online and offline to push for the desired change in addition to, and beyond the petition: spreading the word in social media, organising protests and other street events, meeting with politicians to pressure them, getting journalists interested, arranging collaborations with other activist groups for support and much more. Thus, a petition is a tactic within a campaign, alongside other tactics.
Ready? Start your petition and campaign!
Do you have any other questions? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page (FAQ)
STAGE 1: Launching a petition
Set a goal: Your first step is to think of a goal that is achievable and specific. So, rather than calling on the government to “Stop Climate Change”, pick a concrete outcome that would help achieve that goal – introducing a carbon tax, for example, or banning the import of oil from tar sands.
Choose a decision-maker: Who are you petitioning to? Find out who has the most power to deliver the changes you’re asking for and address your petition to them. Is it your local council, or a government minister? A European Commissioner? Or maybe an europarlamentarian? It’s a good idea to be as specific as you can – this holds your decision-maker accountable and makes it harder for them to shift responsibility onto others. At YouMove Europe we can help you figure out how to pick the right European targets, whenever relevant.
Consider who your audience is: When drafting your petition consider your audience - the people you want to sign the petition and support the campaign. Think about the people you want to understand, sign, and share the petition. What do they need to be told to inspire them and make them feel part of the movement?
Create a punchy title: Your title is the first thing people will see, so make it short, specific and to the point – that way, they’re more likely to want to find out more about your petition. If your petition focuses on a particular place, include that in the title too – e.g. “Keep our Parisian libraries open”. Also, try to look for a way to make it a positive action, even if you’re trying to stop something - e.g. "Protect whales and endangered sea creatures! Stop the new macro harbour at Tenerife".
Pick a picture: The picture of your petition is often the first thing people see. It's your first trump card to make sure you grab their attention. Does it provoke interest without making people uncomfortable? Does it work with the petition title? Does it prompt curiosity so that people will click on it to find out more? If the picture is yours, perfect! But if you don't have any, you can get free images on websites like Pexels or Google Photos (try always to make sure they are copyright free). On the other hand, using free online tools like Canva or Photopea you can edit them to make them unique and unmistakable.
State the purpose of your petition: This is what your petition is asking for – i.e. “We need a full enquiry into the Qatari corruption scandal and stricter rules to fight corruption and bribery in Europe.”Try to keep this short – you just want a few lines to get across your key demands. There is plenty more space below to explain why it’s important. Also, keep the ‘ask’ of your petition to just one thing. Don’t call for everything at once, pick the one thing that would make a difference now, be strategic. Summarise it to two or three lines at most.
Give more details: Why is it important? This is where you make your case for why other people should be signing your petition. This is your moment to explain the problem in the best possible way, but remember: people usually don't stop to read for a long time, so try to make a few things clear from the beginning:
- What’s the problem? Who’s being affected? Why is it urgent? Why now? Is there a risk if we do nothing?
- What’s your proposed solution? What will be the positive effects of this action?
If you have lots of information, you can include links to articles or research about your issue, all the better. Depending on the type of campaign you are running, you might want to be as scientific and precise as possible, so make sure you have enough background literature to support your petition. It’s often really effective to include a personal story too – have you or someone you know been directly affected by what you’re campaigning about?
Lastly, but most importantly, if you are new to the issue area you want to do a petition on, you should ask for input and feedback from people who have studied the issue, people with lived experience of it and/or other organisations already working on the same or similar issue. Thus, not only will you come into contact with possible collaborators and supporters, but also, the more information you have and the more precise you are, the more legitimate and reliable your petition will be.
STAGE 2: Growing your campaign
Spread the word about your petition
On social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great places to spread the word about your petition – for every person that shares your campaign, many other people will come in contact with it. Multiply that even by a few hundred and that’s a lot of people reading your petition. What’s great is that Facebook and Twitter also make it really easy for people who come across your petition to share it further – this can really help campaigns spread and grow rapidly.
Don’t leave the Twitter and Facebook boxes empty in the form! Write a short, compelling post and tweet so that anyone who signs the petition can easily spread the word.
For Twitter, remember to keep your text below 280 characters and add hashtags and Twitter handles. Maybe the politician you are targeting has a Twitter account and should be mentioned in the tweet?
For Facebook, start your text with a call to action, e.g. SIGN NOW! or Sign and share! and add one or two compelling sentences explaining your cause to the wider public.
Don’t forget to post a story on Instagram with the link, or even better, a post and add the link to your bio. Remember that Instagram boosts reels and vídeos with hashtags, so use them wisely!
A first post on social networks is great, but in reality you should continue posting: for this purpose you will need to create content. Creating your own content and sharing through different mediums such as blogs, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook pages means the tools are in your hands and it’s also a way for you to control the messaging.
There are a thousand ways to activate your campaign through social media. For instance, whenever you notice someone mentioning you or commenting on your content, do reply and share, and ask your followers to do the same. Upload stories - on Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat… - and tweets about what you and your collaborators are doing regularly. Keep your community informed and it will not stop growing!
By email: Email is a good way to reach people who might not use social media regularly. Don’t be afraid to make your email personal and show how much you care about the campaign – people are more likely to take a look at your petition if they know it means a lot to you. Inform yourself before writing it and summarise all the info to be sure that everybody understands and relate to the issue. Use the email list of your organisation or simply email your friends and family.
Get your supporters involved
Think of the people who sign your petition, no matter how few, as a group of people who are there to help you.
Ask them to take simple actions such as: sharing the petition to reach the next target; emailing a politician; sharing their personal stories; joining a Facebook group; or coming to an event - digital or offline. Keep them updated with developments. Take them on a journey with the campaign, without bugging them. You can even ask everyone for feedback on what to do next - bring them into the engine room.
Getting your supporters to share your petition through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email is key. Remember, the chances are that a lot of the people who’ve signed your petition will care about the issue as much as you do – so they’ll be just as motivated to help make the campaign a success. To be a part of something is always exciting!
Organise events: Events are a great way to get attention for your campaign. Stage a demonstration, organise a march, or get in touch with a local venue about running a public talk or gathering. You could also consider a Facebook live event - it’s like a public meeting but online -, or a webinar on a meeting platform such as Zoom or Skype.
Do you know an expert who should be given the floor to present the reality on the subject? Give them a space to talk by hosting a talk. Perhaps there is a documentary/have you produced or a video on the problem? Expose it to an audience and let people get involved. Don't forget that people feel more connected to something when they get a chance to get their hands on it – feeling a part of something bigger than us is one of the many reasons why we humans come together to fight.
Use campaign events and milestones: Have you just reached 5,000 signatures? Or maybe your issue got some important press attention? Did you start a new collaboration? Significant events in your campaign are a great opportunity to revitalise your supporters. Head straight to social media and promote your petition again to capitalise on the key event or milestone and generate more support for your campaign.
At YouMove Europe, we can sometimes support you in mobilising your supporters and spreading the word about your petition. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Look for other collaborations: We are never alone in fighting for causes, and it is more than likely that there are people around you with the same motivations and concerns as you, who are also working to change things. Are there organisations or personalities that can support your campaign by spreading the petition? Many individuals or organisations may help and support the cause if they are asked directly. Also, they can reach other networks of people you may not be able to.
Attract media attention: Local media coverage can give your campaign a real boost. If your petition is about a local or regional issue, email or call relevant local or regional newspapers to ask if they want to write an article about your campaign. Include details of where the public can get more information and sign the petition. If you have the means for it, organising a press conference, if the issue is of regional or national importance, can also be an efficient way to reach the current media landscape. You don't know how to start contacting the media in your area, or you don't know the best way to get their attention? Here are some tips to make sure you'll be heard.
Think what other tactics you could use
In addition to the ones mentioned above, there are many other tactics you can use to grow your campaign further. Some ideas are:
- Reach out to bloggers and influencers: Find popular social media users, blogs or online magazines who might care about your cause. Reach out to them and ask if they would like to run a story about the issue.
- Public speeches streamed live: Find a place that has symbolic meaning or is otherwise relevant to your issue. Hold a speech and live stream it.
- Automatic messaging: Create a page that allows people to easily send pre-written texts to the politician you are targeting. Remember, YouMove Europe can support some petitions like this!
- Stencils for download: Provide stencils other people can download, print, cut and use. Make sure the stencils clearly communicate the issue and can be recognised as part of your cause.
- Share your story: Create a page that allows supporters to share their personal experiences with the issue.
- Speaking at an event: Find a conference or meeting where your target is on stage, speaking or presenting. Launch your action around this event.
- Leave a review: Ask people to leave a review for a particular company you are targeting (rating platform, customer centre, app store, etc.).
The possibilities really are endless – let your creativity run wild!
STAGE 3: Making decision makers aware of your demands
Even the biggest numbers on the petition counter won’t mean that the politician you’re targeting is aware of your demands. Even if they have spotted your petition, they can choose to ignore it or even pretend they never saw it – what easier way to not do anything, right? That’s why you have to be persistent.
Use Twitter: Nowadays, the easiest way to approach a politician is to tweet at them directly. Find their Twitter handle and write a brief text, e.g. The construction of the Motorway no. 45 must stop immediately! More than 3000 local people demand that from you, @XYZ. Will you listen to your voters? #StopMotorwayNo45. Ask other people to send similar tweets and look for the reaction. Sometimes a small Twitter storm is enough for a politician to at least acknowledge the ask and meet with activists.
And email: It is always a good idea to maintain the formalities and send emails to the people to whom you address your petition, introducing yourself, explaining your petition and, later, keeping them up to date on the achievements in terms of collaborations and number of signatures you are getting. Don't let them forget about you.
Be persistent: Virtual space is useful, but it is personal contact that usually makes the difference. As we said in the beginning, you can use email to ask the decision maker for a reaction, but if you don’t hear back within a reasonable time, don’t be afraid to chase them up on the phone. If you still don’t get an answer, keep trying until you do – don’t let your campaign go to waste because the politician’s office missed your call. Be persistent, but don’t go over the top – remember you want your conversation to start on the right foot!
Prepare your message: Clearly and concisely explain your concerns, tell them about your petition and set out what changes you would like them to make. If you’re planning to deliver the petition signatures in person, let them know when you’ll be coming to do the hand-in and ask if they can be there to receive your petition and discuss it with you. Remember, always be polite – don’t give them any excuses to ignore you.
Select the right moment for your petition hand-in: It’s often tricky to know when it’s the right time to deliver your petition. Sometimes this decision is made for you – there might be a key deadline in the legislative process around your issue coming up. Otherwise, look out for opportunities when delivering your petition might have maximum impact – like when your issue is getting a lot of media coverage. Remember, you don’t only get one chance to deliver your petition – you can keep handing it in as you gather more signatures and support for your campaign grows. In addition, you will also want to keep abreast of when and how laws and other parliamentary decisions will be voted to make sure that your petition delivery is timely. Ask us for help with this. We are here to help you!
Next steps for your campaign
Follow up with the commitments made by politicians: If you get a response from a decision-maker when speaking to them, try to make sure you’ve got it down in writing. If they’ve agreed to make the changes you’re asking for, that’s great – let everyone know about your success, but don’t take your foot off the gas just yet! Make sure you agree on a specific timeline and follow up with them regularly to check that progress is being made.
Don’t give up: Your decision maker might not give you the response you want to hear, but don’t give up. A refusal to make the changes you’re asking for doesn’t have to be the end of a campaign. Bad news can often give a campaign a real boost. Reach out to your supporters, tell them what’s happened and ask them to help you keep growing your petition until the decision maker has no choice but to deliver the changes you’re asking for.
Also, remember: Whether positive or negative, an answer is not the end of a campaign! It may be a good time to review and check - has power shifted? Have the barriers shifted in any way? Is it time to escalate further?
When you win, spread the word! Go to social media and celebrate! Every win activists achieve on YouMove Europe encourages more people to take the plunge, start their own campaigns, and get their voices heard. Step by step, we’re making Europe a fairer, more democratic, more equal and more environmentally friendly place to live.