One of the best ways people take action to change their communities is by starting petitions. In the age of instant communication, online petition sites have made these formal declarations of support much easier to start, support, and distribute for consideration.
Two incredibly popular versions of the online petition platform are Change.org and iPetitions. Change.org may be better known and arguably more quickly influential, which can help the visibility of your cause. Yet, iPetitions can make just as dynamic of a petitioning platform with the right support.
In this article, we’ll compare the logistics of setting up petitions through these two platforms. And we’ll explore factors that make them impactful to help you gage which may be most effective for your cause and advocacy goals.
Are Signatures Enough?
First, let’s establish that when it comes to online petitions, it isn’t easy to measure the effectiveness as you would any other metric.
In an article for the New York Times, Author Christopher Mele reminds us that it takes much more than a staggering number of signatures to make a petition compelling.
It takes signatures from the right people, at the right time, and with the right kind of support behind the cause. Petitions are more effective when coupled with rallies, protests, and other, more direct forms of activism.
No matter what petition platform you choose, if you do nothing but gather signatures, you are unlikely to see the kind of change you are striving for.
Change.org Versus iPetitions: Logistics
Both Change.org and iPetitions are online petition creation and signing platforms that aim to provide free public access to mass change. These sites share quite a bit of logistical similarity, in both their setup and vetting processes.
Setup and User Support
Change.org’s setup for creating a petition is an easy, four-step process. You choose the issue, name your petition, add appropriate tags and descriptions, upload a cover photo, and you’re done. There are simple, step-by-step instructions along the way and frequent links to their help center.
iPetitions has a simple setup too. It’s an all-in-one petition creation form that asks you to fill in the name, description, and cover image for your petition, allows you to customize the URL and asks that you verify you’re not a robot before publishing the petition. It’s swift and straightforward, with enough information throughout the form to avoid confusion. However, according to Social Brite, iPetitions has experienced severe issues of petitions expiring or becoming unavailable quickly.
In summary, Change.org appears to have a cleaner site setup and petition management systems, as well as easier access to help. But both platforms are easy to use.
Vetting of Petitions
Change.org’s community guidelines expressly prohibit hate speech, content that is in any way affiliated with hate groups, impersonation, bullying, and violence against children. Violations of these guidelines can be reported to their help center. But that doesn’t mean that its moderation system is better. There are hundreds of false or satirical petitions created and uploaded to the site every day, many of which gain thousands of signatures.
The infiltration of false petitions can potentially minimize the effectiveness of real campaigns. A popular YouTube channel, entitled “I Hate Everything,” created a satirical petition against the website itself in protest of its poor moderation.
As for consistency in vetting petitions, Change.org has been criticized for having a moderately liberal bias when it comes to supporting and content. In contrast, iPetitions has a better reputation for being a platform that allows broad support for interests and causes without endorsing one specific mindset.
Connection to Petition Targets
The most crucial part of any petition is engaging the target of the cause to acknowledge it.
According to the iPetitions Frequently Asked Questions page, there are two options when it comes to delivering the final petition.
You can deliver the petition yourself, by either printing a hardcopy of your petition to take to your intended recipient by hand. Or you can email it directly to them through the site’s built-in messaging option.
You can also use iPetitions’ output services in sending a professionally formatted hardcopy and creating a custom URL for them to access where they can review all the signatures. This service does cost a fee, which is not publicly disclosed.
With Change.org, although they do not offer a direct output system onsite, they do have a step-by-step guide for actively engaging with your petition’s target. It instructs how to set up the meeting and the best ways to follow up and seek accountability. They also offer easy update options to keep your signers involved in the process. This guide is entirely free and available to the public.
To summarize the comparisons in this category, iPetitions makes it easy to send the petition to the intended target through its in-built output features. And Change.org provides better guidance on how to ensure effectiveness and manage engagement.
Both platforms have similar goals and are devoted to promoting positive change.
According to their About page, Change.org is used by more than 200 million people worldwide. It claims to be the leading online petition platform, with a simple setup process. They say anyone can start a petition for free using their site. And that policymakers have the opportunity to actively engage with the petitions and make real, meaningful differences.
According to their About page, iPetitions is about using the power of the internet to transform society through the hands of ordinary people. Their primary goal seems to be making petitions easy and free for anyone to use without the aid of a massive marketing team or advertising campaigns.
Also, both platforms have shown success in fulfilling their mission. Local victories on iPetitions include campaigns such as the reinstatement of an unfairly discharged army officer and the lowering of fees for visitors to the York Public Art Gallery. Change.org has had powerful impact too, from calling for a change in the laws in Florida to protect athletes from heatstroke to the George Floyd petition, which was one of its largest petitions ever and became part of the modern-day civil rights movement.
Like most large companies in the public spotlight, online petition sites have faced their share of controversy and change in public opinion over time. Most of the issues people have with these sites come from their monetary donation systems.
Change.org was under fire in the past when a donation button appeared after users signed a petition titled “Justice for George Floyd.” This donation button claimed to help cover the costs of advertising and “get the petition on the agenda.” But according to many unhappy donators, Change.org failed to disclose that the money was not directly linked to the petition at all. Instead, it was funneled directly into Change.org as a business.
This didn’t sit well with users given the business structure of Change.org. According to Wade Rathke of Chief Organizer, Change.org is considered a “B Corporation,” which is a for-profit company that claims to pledge its revenue back into its social benefit services. Founder of Change.org, Ben Rattray, said in an interview with CNN Business that his company “is using business for social good.”
A pressing issue to many potential signers is the legitimacy of petition sites overall and the credibility behind the links they see in messages from friends and social media advertisements.
In an age where everyone is taught to be suspicious of unfamiliar links for fear of contracting a computer virus, having a well-known and verifiable brand is essential. A verifiable brand helps people feel comfortable and confident in the content. And people are more likely to trust websites they know or have heard of.
iPetitions has a clean, professional website that is free from outside advertising. Their social media profiles are filled out and active, with more than 9,000 followers on Facebook and 11,000 followers on Twitter. Someone unfamiliar with iPetitions could reasonably conclude it to be a legitimate online petition creation platform, with enough activity to feel confident that it has real people fighting for real causes.
In comparison, Change.org has more than 1.8 million followers on Facebook, and another 1.6 million on Twitter, built up since the company’s founding in 2007. Change.org has been around for a long time and has a track record of legitimacy, with integrations available for other popular social media.
Because of its fame and easy-to-recognize branding, Change.org has more brand recognition and is considered more of a household name than iPetitions. Some would contend that because of this, Change.org petitions can amass a substantial number of signatures in less time.
Online Petitions as Vehicles for Activism
Online petitions are typically not effective alone. An online petition is essentially a list of names. And because anyone can set up and sign a petition, these names by themselves may not hold much weight.
Most people agree that the real power of petitions comes with the awareness they bring to important issues and the proof they offer of public support for its resolution.
Petitions can be effective in proving market viability for a company or government’s policies. A business might decide to uphold a petition’s cause because they see there will be an increase in revenue from it. Or a government might see the petition as a starting point for further conversation.
For example, if a petition asking the city for a new streetlight on one corner gains 100 signatures, is linked to the city offices, and forgotten, that will mean very little to the politicians in charge of the decision.
If, however, the petition gains 100 signatures, and each of those 100 people also calls the city offices to voice their concerns for the kids crossing that intersection and their support for a light to make it safer to cross, the council is likely to take notice. They might open debate for more traffic lights overall, or for funding public transportation as an alternative to a dangerous walking path.
The adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” is excellently applied in these situations. What petitions are excellent at doing is garnering support and inspiring conversation. Gathering signatures is just the first step. The most successful petitions are often paired with other advocacy techniques.
No matter which platform you use, you should understand that petitions might not be the sole reason for a cause’s advancement, but they can play a crucial role in it.
Both Change.org and iPetitions are useful for online petitions and have similar user-friendly platforms.
Two factors that stand out to distinguish them are:
(1) The method you prefer to connect to the target of your cause and your supporters. iPetitions has a built-in messaging feature, whereas Change.org does not. Instead, Change.org has more comprehensive guidance on how to follow-up with targets and engage with audiences once the petition is created.
(2) Whether you can, or want to, leverage the visibility of the petition platform’s brand and familiarity. Change.org has a larger social media presence and name recognition. This might help make users and supporters feel more secure about using the platform, although it won’t guarantee the overall success of campaigns.
As discussed in the streetlight petition example above, the ultimate effectiveness of any petition is not necessary the petition itself, but the advocacy actions taken after the petition is setup and signatures start coming in. As the CEO of Change.org advises, online petitions are “the beginning, but not the end, of a movement you’re building.”