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How to write a petition

Online petitions, with the right strategy and proper framing, can help your organization achieve a number of important goals simultaneously:

  • Engage new supporters and promote your organization and your cause. 
  • Generate press by providing an interesting angle and primary source for journalists.
  • Apply significant pressure on decision makers – they receive an email every time someone signs your petition.
And that's just the beginning. Here's a guide to get your campaign started with an online petition. We also offer an introduction to online petitions webinar chock full of examples of organizations doing great advocacy with 

What you want to change?

Start by identifying a goal that is achievable and specific. It’s unlikely that an online petition will “End World Hunger,” but they can accomplish concrete steps towards that goal, such as increasing funding for a specific project in a specific country or community. Try to hone in on a tangible outcome or specific example that would indicate success. If you can answer this question succinctly, you have a strong goal.

Who can make this happen?

Direct your petition to the decision maker who has the most influence over, and ability to solve, the problem you want to fix. If your issue relates to public transportation in your city, your mayor or council is probably better than the President or Prime Minister. Better yet, find the head of your city's transit department. It can also be helpful to include others who can influence your key target, such as Public Relations or Communications staff, when you're adding email addresses to your petition. 

Here are some tips for choosing the right decision maker:

  • Pick a decision maker with power on the issue. This can be an elected official, a business, or an individual.
  • Who can help your issue the most? A local mayor or store owner may help more than the President or Prime Minister. Consider whether a specific elected official could be encouraged to be a champion for your cause.
  • Add multiple pressure points. Include others close to the decision maker who might be susceptible to pressure (company spokespeople, PR officials, etc.).

Why should others care?

Here is where you make your case to the audience and convince them to sign your petition. Describe the problem and solution you’re trying to achieve, and why it’s important for people to take action. A personal story that puts a human (or animal) face on a bigger problem can be more compelling than just describing the bigger issue. A story of saving a foster mom’s home from foreclosure is more likely to engage new supporters than statistics about the housing crisis. We’ve seen organizations have great results by using a community member’s story to frame the organizational action or even just a few sentences from one person’s story to start the petition.

What information does the decision maker need to take action?

This is the part of the petition that new supporters are signing. Each time someone signs your petition, this is the letter that will be sent to convince your target to take action. Short, well-researched, polite letters can inspire action, while long messages or threats will get your petition ignored, if not blocked. Think of it this way: your letter is the start of a conversation, or a negotiation, with your decision maker. It should be thoughtful and to the point, while also clearly stating your requests. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind when drafting your letter:

  • Keep your letter short. Recipients are busy and are more likely to read a short letter.
  • Be respectful and informative. Recipients and signers are more likely to respond positively to your petition if it is well researched and avoids an overly aggressive tone.
  • Check your spelling and grammar. Even the smallest errors can lower the credibility of your petition letter. There’s a spell check built into our tool for this purpose. Avoid using ALL CAPS.

Still need some help? Click here for examples of good petition letters.

Last step: Optimize your petition!

Take the time to optimize your petition to make it stand out. On the “Edit Your Petition” page, there are a few things that will increase the chances that your petition will make an impact:

  • Add the decision maker's contact information and email so they receive the petition letter.
  • If possible, add multiple pressure points: others close to the decision maker who might be susceptible to pressure (company spokespeople, PR officials, etc.).
  • Use the “Add Elected Officials” feature to make targeting easier (US-only).
  • Word to the wise, do no target press! Nothing will kill your chances at a story faster.
  • Upload a compelling photo or video.
  • Edit your title. The default title formula of ask + target it isn’t always very catchy. Try to make it snappy!
  • Finally, write a letter to your decision maker: make it short, succinct, authoritative and polite. We’ve seen decision makers are most responsive to well thought-­out, well-­researched requests.

Want more information about getting the most out of online petitions?

Join us for our introduction to online petitions webinar chock full of examples of organizations doing great advocacy with, and have the chance to ask your questions to our online petition experts.

“Showing how regular people can shift the balance of power.”

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