Effective petitions

Guide to Writing Effective Petitions Everytime

No Comments

Crafting Effective Petitions

Petitions on Facebook can help your organization engage supporters, engage the press, and put pressure on influencers, among other things. An ActionSprout petition on Facebook is a powerful tool to reach a wide audience and, when finished, compile the signatures into a CSV so you can export and deliver them easily.

A petition, in general, is a tactic in its own right and requires its own strategy to implement successfully. They are as difficult as you make them. Like many things, getting lost down any number of rabbit holes is all too easy. Also, like many things, chess makes a great analogy.


A strategy is a plan to drive a broader set of goals. It consists of a series of tactics and requires the use of specific resources to achieve those goals. To develop a good chess strategy you need to know the board, the pieces (how the function and work in concert), and the opponent – in chess the purpose is given.

Similarly, when writing a petition you need to know, the purpose (goal of the game), the audience (the pieces, both yours and the opposition’s pieces, if any), the recipient of the finished petition and anyone who stands in the way (the opponent), and the environment (the board).

We’ll look at these individually and develop a little scenario along the way.


This is the core of our discussion. Everything that follows grows from the purpose. Do you intend to deliver your petition to a specific influencer? Is your petition for gathering data about a topic? Alternatively, is it just to engage an audience?

If the purpose is the latter of the three then, have fun, and go nuts. Write it how ever you like, send it out, and promote it. Done.

However, your strategy needs more calculation if you want to deliver the petition or use it for data collection.

The first step is to clearly identify the problem, the solution, who can change it, and if it’s urgent. If it is urgent, leverage it.

In our scenario:

“There are no trash, recycling, or compost bins in the park” (Problem)

“We need 12 trash, recycling, and compost bins, at the entrances and elsewhere” (Solution)

“City Council” (Who)

“There is broken glass, and other junk, making play unsafe” (urgency)

This defines the battlefield, everyone in it, and what success looks like. We’ll construct it into a meaningful headline later.

Answer the following:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is the solution?
  3. Who can fix it?
  4. Is it urgent? Why?


Second, you must know your audience, how to speak to them, what they care about, and why they should care about you, your petition, and your mission. Developing a clear and pointed purpose will help you convey this. Knowing your audience (pieces) will help you convey it in a way they can understand.

audience Effective petitions

Let’s say the park is a popular place, or it would be, for moms (lower to middle class, conservative, 25-40), their kids, and dog walkers.

Answer the following:

  1. Who/what is affected by the problem?
  2. Who cares about the affect population? Why?
  3. What do both populations look like?
  4. Why would they move into action?


The city council in our example may not explicitly oppose the idea. They may not even know the problem exists, or they might, but require an outcry to leverage change. In either case, you need to know why the change hasn’t happened yet and what is required to overcome the barriers. Your job is not just to generate outcry, but give solutions and or tools to help your mission move.

hippy Effective petitions

Is it a budget issue, the cans and installation is too expensive in this budget cycle? Is it an issue of continuing care, who will empty the full cans?

In our scenario, it is not a budget issue but a community education and continuing care issue.

Answer the following:

  1. Who can fix it?
  2. Why hasn’t it been fixed yet?
  3. What is preventing it being fixed?
  4. What is in it for them to fix the problem?

This last question sounds terribly selfish but it is honest.


Defining the board defines the political, social, and economic environment. Bringing recycling and compost bins to a highly conservative community may not go over very well. The bins may not get used, hence the need for a public education campaign. Is this an election year where a city council contender could use this campaign as a talking point?

checking out the landscape Effective petitions

Asking and answering questions such as these will define the landscape and further refine your strategy and tactics.

Let’s say that our environment is conservative, mid west, maybe, small town, with an average education at the undergraduate level. There is a city council seat up for grabs and, luck would have it, a woman has thought about running. She doesn’t have kids but she does walk her dog in the park.

Answer the following:

  1. Is the problem one that the community can or will get behind? Why/whynot?
  2. Is there ongoing care? Who is responsible?
  3. How will it be paid for?
  4. How do you frame your argument in a way that can be understood by all.


Tactics are activities that use specific resources to achieve smaller objectives to advance the overall strategy. In this context, we are talking about rhetoric, delivery of the message, and the finished petition.


Simply stated, rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive communication. In our petition, we need to frame the argument for bins in the park in a way that everyone can understand. Not only do we need to use the right frame but the right words and phrases as well.

frame Effective petitions

In our conservative little town, targeting moms, and leveraging an up and coming city council member, the question remains. How do we frame the message?

Safety. Of course! Let’s make the park safe for our kids. This i where we refer back to our purpose to craft a great headline.

Tell our city council to make our park safe by installing trash bins.

Given the target demographic and average education, the language in the petition should be simple and straightforward, and short. Moms don’t have time, or the want, to read 10 pages of legalese. The rest of the town probably doesn’t either.


ActionSprout gives you the ability to export a printable list of signatures that you can drop onto someone’s desk. In many cases that’s all that’s needed.

delivery Effective petitions

However…theatrics can be fun.

In our scenario, a sack full of cards, drawn by kids and signed by local towns folk, delivered in a sack by kids and the woman running for office, with the local paper in tow, accompanied by a full printed list, might move the needle on this issue.

Have a plan to deal with a volley of questions about community education, continuing care, costs and so on. It’s a good thing we talked about that ahead of time.

The point is to deliver an impactful story that everyone can understand – story being the operative word here.