Petitions can be very powerful campaign tools if they are done well. The key to success is marketing your petition widely and persuasively.
Keep your petition introduction short and to the point and make sure that your first paragraph makes it absolutely clear what the petition hopes to achieve. Prospective signers often don't have a lot of time. Once you have written the petition, make sure that you take the time to edit and spell-check it, because it will be taken more seriously if it is written professionally.
Collecting signatures for petitions is usually conducted both online and in person these days. This is a good idea to help you get the widest support for your cause.
The internet now has quite a few sites that offer free petition services, some of which give you the option of fully customising your petition. www.gopetition.co.uk and www.ipetitions.com are just a couple of examples.
The real work begins once your petition is written and ready for signatures. You need to let people know that it is there and encourage them to take a look.
How to maximise signatures
If you have created a website for your campaign the first thing you should do is write an update for your page announcing the opening of the petition and placing a prominent link to it on your front page.
You can market your petition by emailing your petitions web address to everyone you know to ask them to support it and ask them to forward the request to their friends too.
Search online for forums that are relevant to your cause. This might be a forum that is geographically specific to your area like a local community forum, or it might be a forum for like-minded people such as a forum for parents with primary school aged children. Once you have found a forum that you think is suitable, post a link to your petition, telling them a little about your campaign and asking people to take a look. Make it personal and polite so that people don’t take offence or think that you are a spam bot.
As well as online forums, you can market your petition on social networking sites. You may already have an online group on Facebook or another social networking site and you should market your petition through that. You can also search social networking sites for groups with similar interests or a similar geographic location if your campaign is place specific. You can market your petition on these too.
If you are a member of a social networking site you can let all your friends (followers/subscribers) know that you have set up a petition and ask them to support it. If can be really effective to ask your social network friends to pass on information about your petition to their friends too by copying and pasting your message into their status update or retweeting it if they are on twitter. This can create a cascade effect that helps you reach a lot more people.
The traditional method of paper petitioning can also be very useful and shouldn’t be neglected. Speaking to people face-to-face can create a greater level of support and commitment for your petition and people may be more inclined to go and tell their friends to support it too. Talk to everyone you know. You could set up a stand in the local town centre (with permission) or at a community event to collect signatures and raise awareness about the campaign. Talk about it in the office, at home, at your knitting group; and don’t forget to take along your paper petition for them to sign as well as the web address for the online petition so they can pass on the information to others. You can also supplement these activities by putting up paper petitions at the local library, on notice boards or even in local shops if the manager wants to help the cause. Do remember to keep a note of everywhere you have put them and go back regularly to collect them!