Community Action Works
Community Action Works

How to Write a Strong Petition (Or Other Online Action Page)

Home > Digital Organizing Toolbox >How to Write a Strong Petition (Or Other Online Action Page)

How to Write a Strong Petition (Or Other Online Action Page)

Online petitions and letter writing campaigns are key tools for online organizing. You can use these tools to put pressure on a decision maker, find and recruit new members to join your group, or show the breadth of your supporters.

Of course, not every petition has to put pressure on a decision makeryou can also have a petition that’s core purpose is to find and recruit supporters who care about your issue. For example, you could have a petition for a clean, renewable energy future, and then follow up with the people who sign your petition to come to a meeting on how you get your town to pass a resolution to go 100% renewable.

The tips on this page focus on writing a strong petition and letter writing campaign that does put pressure on a decision maker. Of course, you’ll want to combine a petition with on-the-ground action like a petition delivery or press conference so that your decision maker feels the pressure!

Core Elements of Writing a Strong Petition
  • Have a strong message. A good message is compelling, concise, consistent and controls the frame of the issue. It’s the basis of all of your communications, online and offline. (Need help developing a message? Get help now!)
  • Keep your audience in mind. If you’re trying to get people in your town to sign your petition, then use the messages that will be most compelling to them. Remember that while your neighbors probably aren’t experts in your issue, they do care about your community’s health.
  • Use simple, clear language. Write so that a 3rd grader could understand what you’re saying. Don’t use jargon. Only use one number.
  • Always be recruiting. Be sure to collect all useful information to build your group, including email address, phone number, and cell phone number if you plan to text people later on. See more on recruiting strategy.

Action Network

Action Network is the top online organizing tool we recommend. The samples shown here were made on Action Network. Because you want to use these online actions to build your list at the same time, you want to make sure you can keep all the dataand online petition sites like Change.org don’t let you collect and keep the information on who signs. We can help you get set up on Action Network. Learn more and get started.

 

Petition

A petition is a statement or demand that people sign on to support. The end result is a list of names of people who support your statement or demand. To use a petition to pressure your decision maker, you need to deliver the signatures to them directly. (A press conference is a great way to do that.)

There are two parts of a petition you need to write: the description and the petition itself.

(Note: We’re talking about a standard online petition, which can be used to pressure a decision maker, recruit group members, or both. This is different from an “official” petition, which has specific legal requirements and might be used in special instances.)

Part One: Description

The description simply says why people should sign your petition and how their signature will help the campaign. The description goes on the action page next to where people will sign your petition. It should be short and to the point.

  • First paragraph: Problem
    Describe the problem. What is the threat you are facing or the problem you want to solve?
  • Second paragraph: Impact
    Briefly describe the impact the problem would have. Think about the people you are trying to reach to sign the petition and what speaks to them. Make sure you say who the decision-maker is and why your petition signature matters.
  • Third paragraph: Call to Action
    In the last paragraph, ask people to sign on. Tell them why their signature matters in your campaign. This could be as simple as telling them that their signature will go right to the decision maker.

Example: Petition Description 

Part Two: Petition

A petition can be three simple paragraphs that include your demand.

  • First paragraph: Problem
    Describe the problem. What is the threat you are facing or the problem you want to solve?
  • Second paragraph: Solution
    Paint a picture of the solution. This could be something as simple as the opposite of the problem.
  • Third paragraph: Action
    This is your demandthe action you want your decision maker to take to get from the problem to the solution.

Example: Petition

Letter Campaign

A letter campaign is when you ask people to send emails directly to your decision makers. When people sign on and send a letter, it sends an email in real time. This can be good for getting a decision maker’s attention or submitting comments. (Note: you can send one email to multiple people at once if there are multiple decision makers.)

Letter campaigns are always strongest when supporters personalize the letters themselves. If you’re using Action Network, always check the box allowing supporters to edit letters and encourage them to do so.

There are two parts of a letter campaign you need to write: the description and the letter to be sent to your decision maker.

Part One: Description

The description simply says why people should send a letter to your decision maker. It can be short and to the point.

  • First paragraph: Problem
    Describe the problem. What is the threat you are facing or the problem you want to solve?
  • Second paragraph: Impact
    Briefly describe the impact the problem would have. Think about your audience and what speaks to them.
  • Third paragraph: Call to Action
    In the last paragraph, ask people to send a letter. Include the information about who the letter will go to so people will feel more comfortable clicking send.

Example: Letter Campaign Description

Part Two: Letter Campaign

A letter can be four simple paragraphs that explain your demand.

  • First paragraph: Summary
    At the very top, state what you are asking the decision maker to do. If you are contacting your elected official, let them know you are a constituent.
  • Second paragraph: Problem
    Describe the problem. What is the threat you are facing or the problem you want to solve?
  • Third paragraph: Solution
    Paint a picture of the solution. This could be something as simple as the opposite of the problem.
  • Fourth paragraph: Action
    This is your demandthe action you want your decision maker to take to get from the problem to the solution.

Example: Letter Campaign

Still have questions? Get help now!

Writing Great Emails

Home > Digital Organizing Toolbox > Writing Great Emails

Writing Great Emails

Emails are a tool for keeping in touch and following up with your supporters. You probably have a list (or lists) of emails from people who signed your petition, came to an event, and are interested in supporting your campaign. You can use email to share upcoming events, calls to action, news and other updates with your supporters.

It’s important to write a strong email that will catch your supporter’s attention and motivate them to take the action you want them to take, whether that means getting people to come to an event or getting them to make a call to a decision maker.

Core Elements of Writing Great Emails
  • Have a goal for your email. Ask the people reading your email to take one action. Don’t include a laundry list of actions for them to take. Focus on just one action. Ask 2-3 times in your email.
  • Use your campaign message. Your message is the basis of all of your communications, online and offline. Don’t be afraid to repeat your message in email after email. (Need help developing a message? Get help now!)
  • Write for your audience. Remember that while your supporters might not want to know about all the details of your issue, they do care about your community’s health. The first line of your email should draw people in and make them want to keep reading. One way to keep people engaged is by telling a storysome groups have had each member take a turn sharing their personal story related to their issue.
  • Use simple, clear language. Make your email understandable and skimmable. Write so that a 3rd grader could understand what you’re saying. Don’t use jargon. Do break up big paragraphs into bite-sized chunks. You can occasionally bold important text, but don’t go overboard with text formatting. Only use one number.

What You’ll Need

Action Network (or another email platform)

Action Network is the top online organizing tool we recommend for email. Action Network also has all the digital organizing tools you’ll needlike petition and letter campaignsand helps you keep your list well-organized. We can help you get set up on Action Network. Learn more and get started.

Consistent Email Design

Keep your layout consistent. Decide how you want your email to look and stick with it. If you have a header on your email, make sure you always include it. Use the same greetings and sign-offs each time. Consistency builds trust with your supporters and means email providers are more likely to trust that your email isn’t spam.

Strong Subject Line

Your subject line plays a big role in whether or not people will open and read your email. Your subject line should be short (around six words) and enticing. Examples:

  • The clean energy countdown is on
  • Why aren’t more people taking action?
  • What if next spring were pesticide-free?
  • This will affect generations of Vermonters
  • How one big polluter got away with it

Example: Keeping in Touch

Dear Friend of FRRACS,

We want to start this email off with a clear message: We are still fighting. We will keep fighting until we defeat Enbridge’s ill-conceived compressor station proposal.

After receiving a rubber stamp approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Enbridge wheeled into town with their construction vehicles and security crew. They began construction (or as we like to say, destruction) on Tuesday. We were there to remind them that they are not welcome here.

On Thursday, we shut them down.

A group of nearly fifty people gathered early in the morning, bundled up in the cold, surrounded by a few inches of snow. We walked over to the entrance of the construction site just as the sun was rising. As we were walking, a construction vehicle trailed behind. With signs and banners in hand, we stood in front of the gate to the site that Enbridge wants to dig up. Chanting, “Enbridge, go home!” and “No more toxins!”, we sent a strong message to Enbridge that we will not stand by idly while they attempt to dump more toxins on us.

As we stood there, a large truck attempted to enter the construction site. With our backs to the truck, holding a banner that read “Fore River Residents Say NO MORE TOXINS”, we held up construction for over two hours. Four brave community members held the space after the police told the rest of the crowd to move. These four individuals were then arrested for blocking construction. They were initially charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, but their charges were dropped to a civil infraction. They were released later in the day. We are grateful for the action that they took to protect their community.

These four residents risked arrest on Thursday in an effort to protect the community from further pollution and destruction. The Fore River Basin is an overburdened community, as it is surrounded by ten pollution-spewing facilities. These four people had to put their body on the line because Governor Baker and our state agencies failed to protect the community. Gov. Baker, MassDEP, and their regulatory buddies turned a blind eye to this project. Their inaction has left the community with no choice but to fight.

We will continue to resist this dangerous proposal, both peacefully and nonviolently. Sign our pledge to take action to get involved and be sure to join us tomorrow night for our monthly meeting of FRRACS, which will feature a special film premiere.

In solidarity,
The FRRACS Team

Example: Event Invitation

Hi Friend of FRRACS,

As we prepare to let summer go, we look forward to all of the things that fall has to offer: apple cider, crisp weather, a vibrant display of color on the trees, and our 2nd Annual Fall Fest! That’s right. We will be gathering in the park again this year for a fun and festive fall celebration. Bring your friends, family, and neighbors!

The Fall Fest will be held on Saturday, September 28 at the park next to the proposed compressor station site (55 Bridge Street, Weymouth) from 2-5pm.

 

We will have John’s famous homemade veggie soup and bread, a special bridge dedication ceremony, games and activities, tours of the site, and more. We’ll even have a special guest (thanks to our friends at 350 Mass): Charlie Baker in puppet form. It’ll be the first time he has visited the site in any form, so be sure to welcome him!

We hope you can join us!

In solidarity,
The FRRACS Team

Still have questions? Get help now!

Recruiting Your People Online

Home > Digital Organizing Toolbox > Recruiting Your People Online

Recruiting Your People Online

There are people in your community who care about the same things you do—you just need to find them. Often, you find people by doorknocking, holding events, and following up with one-to-one conversations. Using digital organizing tools for recruitment, including online petitions, texting, and social media, can boost your on-the-ground efforts and help you keep your list organized.

Your group might look something like this, with people involved at different levels.

Core Elements of Recruitment
  • Recruit for your actions, but build your group. Don’t just try to get people to sign your petition or come to your event and leave it at that. Always be recruiting people to keep taking action and become a bigger part of your group.
  • Make the right ask. Think about recruiting people as asking them to take one step at a time. People become supporters by taking easy steps at first, and bigger and bigger steps as time goes on. Ask them to make an appropriate next step, getting them a little bit more engaged each time.
  • Follow up is key. Keep in touch. Often people need to be asked more than once, so don’t get discouraged if people say no the first time. Talk to people in-person at your events, follow up with the people you recruit, and invite people to get more involved.

Action Network: A Recruitment Tool for Activists
Action Network is a tool designed to help you build your power online. You can use Action Network to find and recruit new activists, keep in touch with supporters, target decision makers, and keep your list well organized along the way. Learn more and get started.

Digital Recruitment Tools

Make sure you’re using tools that will reach the people you need to reach. Keep in mind that not all of them will be useful all the time. Prioritize the ones you think will best reach the people you’re trying to recruit.

Recruitment Case Study

Imagine you’re working on a campaign to push your town to commit to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030. Your group right now consists of four committed volunteers, but you know you need more people to convince your town to take action.

Step 1: Start a Petition.
A petition is the best way to start to build your list and identify people in your town who support your work and are interested in joining your campaign. Online petitions are best done in coordination with doorknocking or clipboarding. Tips:

  • Think about the information you want to gather from people so you can do good follow up recruitment later. For example, make sure you collect emails, phone numbers, and any other contact information you might need. It’s best to collect cell phone numbers so you can follow up by text.
  • Your petition will only go as far as you spread it. Ask your friends and neighbors to sign on and share the petition far and wide. Post it on your own social media and email it to everyone you know in town.
  • Keep the language simple so it’s easy for people to sign on.
  • Use the same language on your online petition and your doorknocking petition so you can add your lists together to give to the decision maker.

Step 2: Hold a Great Event
Now that you have a list of people who are interested, you want to invite them to be a part of your group. Plan an open meeting, an ice cream social, a film screening, or any other event where you can meet people in person. Then do plenty of outreach to your list. This is best done in coordination with on-the-ground tactics like flyering, mailings, etc. How to hold a successful event:

  • Hold your event fairly soon after your first contact with people you’re inviting (soon after collecting petition signatures, for example).
  • Create a Facebook event and invite everyone you know in town. Then ask the people in your group to do the same.
  • Send 2-3 emails to your list to invite them to your event. Have people RSVP (an online form is best).
  • Send a text message the week of the event to invite people who haven’t responded. Nearly 100% of text messages are readmuch more than email.
  • Two days before, text or call the people who RSVP’d to remind them.
  • At your event, always have a sign-in sheet and meet as many people as you can!

Step 3: Follow Up with Attendees
Right after an event is the best time to follow up. Send everyone an email thanking them for coming and ask them to take the next step in the campaign. That could be getting a lawn sign for your campaign, coming to a volunteer night, or joining your next meeting. Tips:

  • Stay in touch. Keep following up with people and ask them to keep taking action.
  • Keep track of who came to your events, volunteered, or took action so that you can make an appropriate next ask.
  • When you meet people who you think have leadership potential, call them and ask for a one-to-one meeting where you can get to know more about them and recruit them to take on a bigger role.

Still have questions? Get help now!

Planning a Social Media Action

Home > Digital Organizing Toolbox > Planning a Social Media Action

Planning a Social Media Action

You’re on social media and now it’s time to take your digital organizing to the next level by coordinating an online action.

Your online action should build on your campaign and boost your on-the-ground organizing. Make sure you’re choosing an action that will help your group meet your campaign goals and build your power to win, just like you would in all of your organizing.

Core Elements of Planning Your Online Action
  • Have a goal and a plan. Treat an online action the same way you’d treat any action by having a goal and a plan to meet it that includes recruitment, preparation, and any other goals like media attention or putting pressure on your target.
  • Recruit your top supporters. Define roles for your supporters and ask people ahead of time to participate. Identify people who have influence on social media and recruit them to play a role.
  • Activate your base. Plan outreach to your base to be sure they participate. Send an email out asking your base to like, share, or comment on your posts, or create their own posts, depending on the design of your action. Don’t just hope people participateask them to be a part of it.
  • Make it easy to take action. People are more likely to take action online if you provide a sample post that they can copy and paste. Create a social media guide (example) for your action so people have all the information they need to be sure they’re tagging the right target, using the right hashtag, and staying on message.
  • Prep your content ahead of time. Good content takes time. Prep your posts, images, and any other content you need in advance so that you’re ready to go day-of and have extra content to share.

Online Organizing Actions and Tactics

Here are some examples of social media actions and tactics you could use in your campaign.

Photo Campaigns

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, or Any Social Media
Type: Online Action
A photo campaign is when many individual people post photos on one theme towards one goal. It’s also a good way to show many people supporting one goal and allows people to share their individual reasons for supporting.

Twitterstorm

Social Media: Twitter
Type: Online Action
A Twitterstorm is a coordinated online action where many people tweet from many individual accounts about the same subject at the same time, using the same hashtag (a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign, like #ClimateActionNow). A Twitterstorm could be linked to a major action, like a march, rally or lobby day, where a speaker could ask the crowd to tweet using a hashtag. This can boost your event on social media and get the attention of people who aren’t there in person, including reporters. But a Twitterstorm doesn’t have to be linked to an on-the-ground action. You can coordinate a Twitterstorm to get the attention of the press, respond to a major event, boost your message, or to meet any number of goals.

Hijacking a hashtag

Social Media: Twitter
Type: Online Action
Hijacking a hashtag is an online action that requires you to identify an opportunity and take advantage of it. This action refers to taking over a hashtag that’s already being used by coordinating a group of people to tweet, using that hashtag, with your own message. For example, you could hijack a hashtag for an event where your target will be to get their attention. Hijacking a hashtag gets your message in front of a targeted group of people who are following that hashtag. This is often very hard to do and requires coordinating a lot of people at the same time, but if done right can be effective in getting the right people to pay attention.

Livetweeting

Social Media: Twitter
Type: Online Tactic Coordinated with On-The-Ground Organizing
Livetweeting refers to tweeting what’s happening at a rally, hearing, or any event in real time. Livetweeting is a powerful way for you to connect with other people who are tweeting from that event, keep people (including reporters) who aren’t at the event up to date, and share your commentary about what’s happening so you can keep your message at the forefront of the online conversation. If you’re coordinating an action that includes livetweeting, make sure you tell everyone what hashtag they should use ahead of time. Even just 2-3 people livetweeting can make an impact, especially if you let reporters know that you’ll be tweeting.

When the Baker Administration sought to use subsidies meant for renewable energy to support biomass and trash incinerators like the one proposed in Springfield, we partnered with Arise for Social Justice to bring people together to speak out against the proposal. The message was that biomass incineration—which can mean burning wood and other natural products—would only exacerbate asthma by making the air quality worse, so together we came up with the hashtag #WeBreatheWhatTheyBurn to highlight air pollution at the public hearing.

Live Video

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter
Type: Online Tactic Coordinated with On-The-Ground Organizing
Live video is a powerful way to get the attention of your supporters. Social media algorithms favor video, and especially live video, and people like to watch video, too. Going live is also a good way to broadcast an event or action for people, including reporters, who can’t make it in person. Some examples of when to do live video are at a press conference or at a protest or any other action. See tips on live video.

Events

Social Media: Facebook
Type: Online Tactic Coordinated with On-The-Ground Organizing
On Facebook, creating an event is a good way to recruit for your event or action and communicate to people who are attending. Make sure you invite all your friends, ask your group members to invite their friends, and post in the event page in the weeks leading up to the event to remind people to attend. It’s also a good way for people interested in attending to ask questions, and will get your event in front of more people on Facebook.

Tagging Decision Makers

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, or Any Social Media
Type: Tactic for Online Organizing
When you tag a decision maker on social media, they get a notification. When a lot of people tag them, they get a lot of notifications. Tagging a decision maker is a great way to get their attention. Tag them when you post photos of actions so they can see the power behind your group, or when you post press that could pressure them to make the right decision. Or, organize your supporters to tag them in a coordinated action so they can’t miss your message. Tagging decision makers can be positive, too. The Mass Power Forward coalition held an action one Valentine’s Day to share the love for legislators who were supporting bills for clean, renewable energy and environmental justice by bringing these key legislators heart-shaped thank you cards, taking a photo with them, posting the photos on social media and tagging them.

Ads

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, or Any Social Media
Type: Tactic for Online Organizing
Ads can be used in many ways—to get more followers on your page, to get people to sign your petition, to make sure more people see an important post, or to share your message with people who aren’t already following you. You can select who you want to target—whether it’s people in town or people interested in your issue—and gear your message to them. Ads cost money, and the range can vary significantly depending on who you are trying to reach. You’ll also need to create a Business Manager account on Facebook and get verified to be able to run ads. But if you have a clear goal and plan, this can be a powerful tool to find new supporters, share your message, and pressure targets.

Still have questions? Get help now!