Mailing the humble outbound petition

Yesterday, I mentioned how allowing people to take private advocacy actions for your cause helps them take additional actions like donating.

You can think of it as a foot-in-the-door technique if you’d like, but prefer to think of it as a valuable part of cultivation.  If there are people who believe in the rightness of what you do, you are providing them and those you serve a benefit by allowing them to take action in an easy and organized way.

And you can see the planets of social influence aligning in a petitioning strategy.  You are triggering:

  • Consistency by asking people to put their money where their advocacy is
  • Scarcity of time, as petitions frequently have a due-by date to them (e.g., “while the legislature is still in session”, “before we testify on the bill”, “so we can present the petitions at our national conference”).
  • Authority, as you will have to be presenting a strong case for your legislation or action
  • Social proof, as you can talk about the thousands who have already taken an action.

So how can you mail a petition to maximum effect?  Here are some tips:

  • To maximize social proof, you can run an online campaign first, so you can honestly talk about how many have taken action already.  In fact, you can think of it like you would structure a matching gift campaign (or, if you read the study on matching gifts, perhaps a lead gift campaign): we have X petitions already; we want Y to have maximum impact; please send your petition by Z along with your most generous donation.
  • Petitions can be a strong way of driving your offline donors online, so be sure to include a URL where the person can learn more about the issue, take the petition action online, and donate.  After all, if you are building urgency properly, they may want their action to happen now.
  • Let your donors exactly what you are going to do with the petitions.  This concreteness will build trust.
  • Actually do what you say you are going to do with the petitions.  So much the better if you can get a picture of the stack of petitions you are delivering to the governor/senator/congressperson/delegate/etc. and report back to the donor with the impact their voice had.  This can be done through a caging vendor if you wish.
  • Avoid policy speak. I have had the pleasure of working on the US highway bill in years past.  When writing about this, it’s tempting to use the language policymakers use for the bill: e.g., “we don’t want another continuing resolution.  We need to get the authorization through the conference committee, so we can then appropriate the money to the program and distribute the Section 402 funds to the states.”  Here’s what your constituent hears:

    smurf
    If they didn’t cover it on Schoolhouse Rock, don’t expect the person to know it.  Remember, your donor/advocate is likely looking for impact, rather than the minutia.
  • Customize your petition to appeal to opinion leaders.  Let’s say your goal is to get Senate cosponsors for a federal bill.  If you have 12 already, you should ask your advocates for those senators to thank their senators for taking the action you want, rather than sending them the same “do this action” petition everyone else gets.  This helps your organization’s credibility.  And since thanking officials is infrequent, you will get a positive reputation that will help you in the future.
  • Make sure your donation ask is tied to your advocacy ask.  You can get specific here — send in your petition to pass this bill and donate to help us advocate for this and other vital legislation.  Those people who are advocates know that advocacy is important and thus are likely willing to donate to support it.
  • Make this one of your conversion efforts for your online advocates.  This fits with the idea of the “one change at a time” conversion effort I advocated recently.

How have petitions worked for you as an organization?  Please let us know in the comments.

Mailing the humble outbound petition

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