Want to Change the World but Short On Time? Try Online Petitions.

Petitions Do Work! See These Examples

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When you care about an issue but you’re pressed for time, online petitions can be a way to take action in just a few minutes. But do they have any effect?

Maybe you think that virtual petitions are virtually useless, or feel, “It’s too easy – it can’t possibly make a difference!”

I hear that doubt frequently. But having run the Care2 petition site for nearly 15 years now, I know that online petitions can work.

Here’s why:

Real World Examples

Just ask Abigail Geer. Over 65,000 activists worldwide signed her petition to ban the use of live ponies on carousel rides in Spain. Or Phyllis TIetjen from Texas, who was able to stop the destruction of 500-year-old oak trees with her online petition. David Kennedy, a UK resident, used his online petition—which garnered over 55,000 signatures—to stop a geese cull at Lake Windermere, part of England's spectacular Lake District.

Signing a petition also creates a ripple effect. When you sign in support of a cause, you are not only showing your friends what you care about; you’re also inspiring them to get involved.  Plus, it just feels great to be standing in unison with so many other like-minded people across the globe. You are part of something big. It’s rewarding, and doesn't cost a cent!

As an added bonus, online petitions get media attention, and they can provide great solace for the victims they are supporting.

How to Find and Sign a Petition

Now that you know online petitions are very popular, you're probably wondering where you can find them. The Petition Site at Care2, MoveOn.org, and Change.org are three of the biggest. So where can you find an online petition to match your passions?

If you visit the The Petition Site, you'll find petitions for virtually every interest, from saving puppies from puppy mills to demanding an end to child marriage in Syrian refugee camps.

Oftentimes, you’ll encounter a petition via email or while browsing social media.

But if you’re feeling altruistic or want to research causes similar to one in your local area, The Petition Site has its campaigns broken down by broad topic areas like ‘Education,’ ‘Health,’ ‘LGBT Issues,’ and ‘Environment/Wildlife.’ So, when creating a petition, it’s important to choose the category your cause most accurately falls under, so that like-minded people can find you naturally.

For example, click on the ‘Health’ tab at the top of The Petition Site, and you’ll see a drop-down menu with the sub-categories of ‘Aging,’ ‘Children’s Health,’ ‘Drug Safety,’ ‘Food Safety,’ ‘Reproductive Health,’ and ‘Women’s Health.’

Clicking on ‘Food Safety,’ you are taken to a page that breaks down active petitions by popularity and sponsorship (either a nonprofit or individual activists). Want to encourage Starbucks to stop using GMO products? It’s as simple as clicking the ‘Sign’ button on this page and filling in your name, email address, physical address and an optional comment.

Once you’ve signed one petition, your information is saved and you can sign in one click. Just five minutes of activism a day can potentially have far-reaching effects around the globe!

The Potential for Local and Global Impact

While some petitions are about Causes with a capital C, many feature very local issues and often see quick results.

Let's take a look at some recent ones: Tracy Parsons, from Tennessee, gathered 3500 signatures and was able to save Barktopia, her favorite local dog shelter.

In drought-ridden Los Angeles, Karina Soto was outraged that the city was planning a giant water slide during California’s worst drought, but 11,000 people signed her petition, enough to change the minds of the Los Angeles City Council.

Then there is Lianne Mandelbaum, whose nine-year-old son Joshua suffers from a peanut allergy. On August 31, 2013, Mandelbaum became angry at the way she and Joshua were treated by United Airlines. When she and her son boarded a plane from Denver to Newark, the gate agent told her that the crew would not make an onboard announcement about Joshua’s allergy.

That had not been what she had been told when she called the airline well before boarding.

Horrified that United refused to accommodate her child's life-threatening allergy, Mandelbaum started a petition requiring airlines to institute a Bill of Rights for food allergic children and adults.

Now that over 32,000 people like you have signed her petition, she has gotten the airline’s attention: United has changed its policy. United pledged that flight attendants will alert passengers who are seated near individuals with peanut allergies and ask them to refrain from eating nuts.

How to Start a New Petition

Whether you’ve personally been affected by an injustice that needs a collective voice to provoke change, or you’re simply supporting a neighborhood charity, you may be inspired to start your own online petition.

Look for a petition platform with experienced campaigners who can help make your petition powerful by spreading the word and with a design optimized for maximum reach and impact.

As an example, here are the steps you will be guided through if you decide to set up a petition at The Petition Site:

  • Come up with an attention-grabbing title that clearly explains your petition's goal. Here’s a good one: "Tell Swiss Zoo To Stop Killing And Eating Its Animals.”
  • Decide on your target: the person or group with the power to give you what you're asking for. Find specific names, rather than "Company President.”
  • Write a summary. This is your chance to tell everyone why this issue is important, and why they should sign your petition. Leave your phone number if you'd like free professional help on getting the word out.
  • Click on "Start My Petition." If you're not already logged in, you'll be prompted to start an account and do so.
  • Add a great visual; upload your own or select from The Petition Site’s library. An image that defines your cause and will attract signers to your page is a crucial element!
  • Finally, add your letter directed to your target.

That's it! Your petition is now ready to go live.

Once your petition is out there, signers and sympathizers may offer feedback to help with rewording and promotion. Engage with people and promote your petition via social media. The more people become passionately involved, the larger legs your petition will grow to reach new audiences.

Yes, you can make a difference! Small or very specific wins can add up to something much bigger, which is really the way all change happens. Start creating the better world you desire. There's no need to wait for some organization or the government to step in. An online petition is a great first step that can often become the impetus for real change.

Randy Paynter is the Founder, President and CEO of Care2 and The Petition Site. He is a pioneer in the online advocacy field that is dedicated to helping empower others to collective action in support of their social and environmental causes.