In May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said petitions would only be debated in Parliament if they were hosted on the Government’s own website. This raised questions about why organisations should run their own petitions, and how they can deliver change.
Our work with partners has shown that you don’t need a parliament.uk petition to get MPs’ attention, or to create the change you want to see.
By running your own petition, you can keep in contact with supporters and build a powerful, ongoing collective campaign that’s integrated with your wider campaigning, marketing and fundraising work.
In fact, you may not need a targeted petition at all. We’ve seen that handraisers (where people add their name to support a values-based statement, like this example from Tommy’s) can sometimes offer a more effective means of engaging and mobilising supporters for your cause.
Here we explain how it can be done, with two great stories from our partners.
Use your handraiser or petition as a movement-building tool
A petition or handraiser is more than just a list of names. With the right strategy, it can be both a powerful record of support and a dynamic movement-building tool. And by harnessing the potential of both these functions, you can increase the pressure for change.
It can be helpful to see the handraiser or petition as a gateway to your campaign. Rather than signatures being an end in themselves, they’re just the beginning of your supporters’ journey with you (so long as you achieve good email opt-in rates – we’ve got tips on this).
Once petition signers have joined your email list, you can keep them engaged in the cause through regular email updates and simple, meaningful actions. These could be things like:
- asking friends to sign too
- answering a survey or snap poll
- sharing key messages on social media
- emailing or tweeting MPs
- taking part in fundraising events
- donating to fund the campaign
This all adds up to increased momentum, longevity and impact for your campaign, and a greater chance of delivering the change you’re calling for.
The results we’ve achieved with partners like Centrepoint and Dignity in Dying illustrate just how powerful this kind of strategic use of petitions and handraisers can be.
Case Study: Centrepoint – delivering a big win with their first digital campaign
When we first started working with the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, they hadn’t done any digital campaigning before.
By the end of the project, they’d gained 28,000 new supporters and succeeded in changing government policy – and it all started with a handraiser. Here’s what we did:
- Having tested a number of lead generation tools as prototypes, we fully developed the most successful – a handraiser on how Universal Credit (UC) was affecting youth homelessness.
- We promoted the handraiser via Facebook ads, with 67% of those who signed it opting in to receive emails. With testing and optimisation to maximise engagement with the ads, we delivered new email subscribers at a cost of 20p each.
- Alongside the ads, we set up an automated series of ‘welcome’ emails that were sent to all newly opted in campaign supporters over the first two weeks after they signed.
- Supporters were then sent regular campaign emails on the issue of UC, each with a simple action they could take to help build momentum – such as writing to MPs or sharing messages to political parties.
- These actions also included a new petition, which was targeted at the Government and timed to coincide with the spending review. It gained 20,000 signatures and was handed in at 10 Downing Street by young people from Centrepoint.
This online activity supported Centrepoint’s wider campaigning and advocacy work with young people, MPs and government ministers.
Ultimately, this work led to an announcement that the government would allocate £10 million to ensure UC covers the cost of renting for homeless young people – a huge win. Plus, Centrepoint now has a community of active, engaged supporters ready to take more actions.
Case Study: Dignity in Dying – from signing a handraiser to meeting an MP
Our work with Dignity in Dying has shown that a handraiser can sometimes provide a more effective foundation for your mobilisation strategy than a traditional petition.
When we ran an A/B test, the Official Record of Support for Assisted Dying significantly outperformed a petition about the same issue aimed at MPs, bringing in more signatures at a very low cost via Facebook ads.
Dignity in Dying’s main objective is to convince a majority of MPs to support assisted dying. They’ve seen that the best way to change MPs’ minds on the issue of assisted dying is through face-to-face meetings with constituents who support the campaign.
We then designed, tested and refined an online > offline journey that would take as many people as possible from signing the handraiser to meeting with their MP – a very high bar ask.
Our strategy worked – and one MP even changed their mind right away – but it required a lot of the Dignity in Dying team’s time. So we’ve since been coming up with new, streamlined ways to mobilise people to take offline action with their MP, including via events like webinars.
The main take-away here: with an email list that grew by more than 90,000 people thanks to the success of the handraiser, Dignity in Dying has a large pool of engaged supporters it can mobilise. And the webinars are already yielding results: 14 meetings with MPs had taken place within two months of launching the webinars, with many more in the pipeline.
Do you want to run an in-house petition or handraiser, but not sure where to start? Get in touch and we’d be happy to chat.