Do Change.org Petitions Actually Work?


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Petitions have long been used as a means for people to voice their oppositions and demands, express support for a cause, or cry out for change. Historically, petitions were written documents that required a physical signature. But, with the rise of the internet and social media, petitions can now be electronic documents signed online, such as those found on Change.org. But do they work?

Change.org petitions are an easy way for people to support a cause from wherever they are, but whether they successfully bring about the petitioner’s proposed change or raise enough awareness about a specific issue depends on the subject and the petition’s call to action.

For example, is this a cause that people are sympathetic to and will support? Are there other online petitions like yours? Will an online petition help to further the cause? This article breaks down the answers to these questions to give you more insight into Change.org online petitions and their success rates.

Why Change.org Online Petitions Are Popular

Change.org is a website that offers a straightforward way for people to set up a petition to push for change or support a cause. These petitions are easy to set up. And people can sign online petitions electronically with minimal information, such as their name and email address.

Change.org petitions are popular because they are easy to share through social media. Sharing helps to raise awareness with other people who may have similar interests (Source: NY Mag). The Change.org platform is also successful as it shares petitions for other causes that people may be interested in signing.

Benefits of Change.org Petitions

An online petition may not always bring about the change it intended to. But that does not mean it has not helped various causes, either.

  • Change.org petitions help to alert people of an issue. They allow the petitioner to explain the problem to interested parties. People supporting the proposed solution to the problem can sign the petition with their name and email address.
  • Petitions help to rally supporters and donors around a cause. When people are aware of an impending issue, they may choose to become more invested in finding a solution beyond signing a petition. They may get more involved by volunteering at a local charity or donating toward the cause.
  • The Change.org platform helps to raise awareness for other issues that may be important to the petitioner. Once a person has signed a petition, they are shown other available petitions for signatures; this can help increase the awareness of other issues that a petitioner may be interested in.
  • Interest in a Change.org petition reflects what people find essential. Change.org petitions perform a valuable function in that they serve as a gauge for politicians and companies to understand what is important to the people. The attention these online petitions attract depends on the cause supported and who they ask for the change. An online petition may be powerful enough to change the government’s policies or the products that a company chooses to sell. A popular online petition can even grab the media’s attention, who may be willing to do a story based on the response.
  • Change.org petitions help with additional forms of activism. A Change.org petition may be used alongside letter-writing campaigns, calls to legislators, or peaceful demonstrations. An online petition can act as the first step for getting someone engaged in a cause. When an online petition can point people who sign them to other courses of action that they can take, they can be a beneficial way to raise awareness and engagement.
Two men sitting at a table while looking at a laptop screen. Text across the image says, "An online petition may not always bring about the change it intended to. But that doesn't mean it was unhelpful."

What Makes a Change.org Online Petition Successful?

A lot of things can affect the success of a Change.org online petition.

The most important criteria for success with an online petition is whether it centers around an issue or change that people support.

Current events or topics in the news and on people’s minds may see more engagement.

Tips for Creating a Successful Petition Campaign

A few helpful tips for a successful online petition include:

  • Express the emotional stakes – Write a compelling narrative as to why someone should care about this issue. When people feel that something is wrong, they may be more willing to act and support a petition; this is the time to tell the story and what impact the issues have on you or others.
  • Stir up a sense of urgency – When people sense urgency, they are more likely to take part in the petition. Be sure to communicate the speed of the situation and its timeline.
  • Help people take the next step – Structure your narrative so that signing the online petition is not the last step. You can help people become more engaged in a cause by showing them how they can take part beyond signing a petition. Whether it is donating to the cause, volunteering, or writing letters—you can engage people beyond an online petition.
  • Make your goals clear – Online petitions are not all created equal. Vague goals or targets may be difficult to stand behind if they do not have a clear call to action. While they may raise awareness for a cause, their lack of direction may cause more harm than good.  For example, advocating for better gun control laws may be less effective than advocating for a specific aspect of gun control laws, such as increasing the waiting period for receiving a firearm or license.  Other clear goal examples include calling for a company to add or change a diversity policy, or asking a politician to vote yes or no on a particular law.
  • Get community support – Causes worth sharing usually have the community’s support; this support can help highlight truly impactful causes versus those that may be more of a personal request.

What’s the Best Way to Share My Online Petition?

Getting people to engage with your online petition requires more than just posting it to the Change.org site. There are several ways to promote it:

  • Share it on social media. Change.org allows you to share your online petition on Twitter or Facebook easily. To promote your petition, talk about it in social media groups. You can also create a Twitter hashtag that allows people to follow your campaign.
  • Send email correspondence. Tap into your friends and family in a communication that includes the link to your online petition. You can ask them to sign the petition as well as share it with others.
  • Send petition updates. Keeping your base informed about the status of the campaign keeps them motivated.
  • Suggest additional steps. You can also engage your base to go beyond just signing your petition. You might suggest that they donate to a specific charity, share the campaign with their friends, or talk about it on social media to raise awareness.

Getting Your Recipients to Sign Your Petition

Plenty of people may receive your online petition via email and assume it’s a form of phishing, therefore deciding not to click on the link you provide.

Phishing is a common way that hackers gain personal information from people. When receiving an email that looks like it is coming from a credible source, unsuspecting recipients may unknowingly give out financial or confidential information through this scam.

One way to combat this and guarantee that more people sign your petition is to provide education about what a phishing email usually looks like:

  • The email message is written poorly or has misspelled words.
  • The “from” address does not show that it is from change.org.
  • Links included within the email do not point you to the change.org website.
  • The message asks you to supply personal or financial information; legitimate change.org petitions only ask for your signature, name, and email address.
  • When you receive an email inviting you to complete an online petition, it will include a link, not an attachment. If you receive an attachment, do not open it.

This is great information to share in an early communication with your base and prospective base. Let them know you are legitimate and help them protect themselves against those who aren’t.

Do Change.org Petitions Ever Result in Real Change?

Slacktivism is a relatively new phrase that refers to people who support a cause by doing simple measures, yet they never really become invested in the cause itself. It is often associated with social media actions, such as liking a page on Facebook or signing an online petition.

Slacktivism can be an effective way to engage the public, who may not be aware of the issue, as it is relatively low-cost and easy to access.

Slacktivism is a trendy way for people to show support for and take part in a campaign. They can easily share their activities online with friends, thus encouraging more engagement.

The downside to slacktivism is that it does not require much investment on behalf of the person signing the petition. Even if the campaign is popular, it may not result in action being taken as very few people, if anyone, were engaged in the cause beyond signing the petition.

With this in mind, Change.org petitions may seem like they do little more than promoting a cause, but in actuality, some have resulted in major, positive change. The following are six cases in which Change.org petitions resulted in significant changes in law and society.

Man looking down at his cell phone. Text across the image says, "Change.org petitions are an easy way for people to support a cause from wherever they are."

6 Examples of Big Change Prompted by Change.org

Justice for George Floyd

In May 2020, an Oregon 15-year old felt compelled to demanding the officers involved in George Floyd’s death be held accountable. Over 19 million people (about the population of New York) have signed the online petition to date; this is the greatest number of signatures ever obtained on a Change.org online petition.  (Source: Boston News)

While charges may not have been brought against the officers as a direct result of this online petition, it served to raise awareness and allowed people to voice their demands.

Teva Pharmaceuticals

In 2019, Teva Pharmaceuticals announced that it would no longer produce Vincristine, a cancer-saving drug given to children to treat brain tumors, leukemia, and lymphoma. A Change.org petition was set up by a pediatric oncology nurse asking the company to reconsider their decision. After obtaining 215,000 signatures in support, the issue gained national attention. Three months later, the company announced that it would start producing the cancer-saving drug.  (Source: Forbes)

PACT Act

A Maryland high school student started a Change.org petition asking Congress to pass the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, making animal cruelty a felony. While the act was already in existence, it only passed the Senate and not the House of Representatives.  Over 650,000 people signed the petition. Legislators took notice and redrafted the bill, which ultimately passed and was signed into law. (Source: Britannica)

Caylee’s Law

In response to two-year-old Caylee Anthony’s death, an online petition was circulated in 2011, promoting Caylee’s Law. The proposed law would make it a felony for parents or guardians that do not report their child missing if they are in danger. Over 1.3 million people (about the population of New Hampshire) signed this petition. To date, at least ten states have passed a version of Caylee’s Law.  (Source: HuffPost)

Nipsey Hussle

Nipsey Hussle was a rapper and activist who was shot and killed in Los Angeles in 2019. Members of the community started an online petition to rename the intersection near where he was shot to “Nipsey Hussle Square” to honor the late rapper. After obtaining 500,000 signatures just days after his death, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to rename the intersection, by unanimous vote, two weeks later.  (Source: CBS News)

Vandegrift High School Recycling Program

Petitions can be just as effective in a small community. In 2019, a high school student petitioned Vandegrift High School after finding materials that could be recycled were being thrown in the trash, as the recycling bins throughout the school were too small.

The student implored the school to implement a full recycling program to compost or recycle most of its waste and reduce its environmental impact. After collecting 329 signatures from the community, the school agreed to implement this program with the help of the petitioning student. (Source: Change.org)

Do Online Petitions Have Any Drawbacks?

While online petitions can be an effective way to gather support for a worthy cause, it is worth noting they do have their share of drawbacks, and may not succeed as a result:

  • When online petitions are used for causes that people perceive as frivolous or petty, it can affect people’s belief of an online petition’s overall value. Those that support serious causes may seem devalued when placed against those that are less important.
    • For example, almost 40,000 people signed a petition for In and Out Burger to have a vegetarian menu. In comparison, an online petition calling for stricter gun laws in Orlando also received 40,000 signatures.
  • People may be uncomfortable using their personal information to complete an online petition if they do not understand the process or trust the website.
  • With so many petitions listed on Change.org, multiple ones may address nearly the same issue. Rather than accumulating all the responses on one petition, signatures may be spread across many similar causes. Too many online petitions around the same problem can lessen their impact. This may be especially true if none of the petitions gains enough signatures on their own for anyone to take notice.
  • Many times, people sign online petitions because they are effortless ways to engage in a cause. However, most people do truly little, if anything, after they have signed the petition. While raising awareness is a good thing, the cause or issue may be better advanced if people volunteered or donated to their local nonprofit or sent a letter to a company or politician.
  • Popular online petitions can gather a great deal of interest and rack up signatures. But, if no action is the result, people may see an online petition as ineffective and waste their time. They may be far less willing to take the time to sign an online petition in the future.
  • Sites like Change.org have a “chip in” feature where you can contribute money to help promote the online petition. People may be uncomfortable contributing money to a for-profit company to promote the petition, rather than a charitable organization that supports the cause.

Final Thoughts

Online petitions, such as those offered on Change.org, help people voice opinions and demand change. Engaging people to sign a petition has and will be an effective way to garner support for a cause and change for the better. As the popularity of online petitions continues to rise on social media sites, expect them to be the way for people to make a change, either on their own or partnered with other forms of activism.

Author

  • Writing allows me to provide useful information in a way that is easy to grasp. I hope people are able to use my articles as a springboard for learning, advocating and advancing the causes they believe in.

Shenetta Webster

Writing allows me to provide useful information in a way that is easy to grasp. I hope people are able to use my articles as a springboard for learning, advocating and advancing the causes they believe in.

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