What is a petition?

A petition is defined as a formal request to an authority. 

Use a petition to express support for or opposition to a particular cause, issue or action. A petition should contain background on a specific problem and the change being requested. Demonstrate the strength of public interest and support behind a cause by gathering signatures. The goal of a petition is to gather enough signatures and public support to persuade the recipient to consider the matter seriously and potentially make changes or take the requested action. The recipient or authority is the person who can make the change happen. It could be a member of the government, a company, or an institution like a school or a hospital. Targeting a decision maker in charge at one of these places is generally more effective than targeting the institution as a whole. 

Other kinds of petitions

Other meanings for petition may include:

A petition to appear on a ballot in an election

A petition letter to a college, university, or your employer

A petition to a court seeking non-monetary relief, such as a child custody case

The last two definitions generally do not need to gather signatures to show support, but must be a formal written request stating the background information on the issue, and the action requested.

How do petitions work?

Petitions are a way for the public to voice their opinions. They can be used to change a wide range of topics, including social and political issues, policy changes or environmental concerns. Anything from a new stop sign in your neighborhood to a new national law in Congress is game for a petition. The only limit is your imagination! 

You can use either online or hard copy petitions to present your cause to the authority in charge. Online petitions can be easily and quickly distributed to a wider audience through email, social media like facebook, or through advertisements. Paper petitions can be brought door-to-door to gather signatures, or left in one location where interested people are likely to be. Either paper petitions or links to online versions can be posted in real world locations, like local bulletin boards in coffee shops or libraries, to gather local support.

The number of signatures generally depends on the number of people who would be impacted by the change, so a neighborhood change would require fewer signatures than a national change. Think of the signatures as public pressure on the decision maker.  The more people behind you, the more likely they are to listen and make the change happen!

How do petitions win?

Start by targeting the right decision makers with a clear and compelling message. Build public support before delivering your petition to the decision maker. You can even mobilize signers in letter-writing campaigns, social media escalations or fundraising to up the pressure. By getting attention on their issue and public interest on their side, petition starters make the change they want to see. petitions work! Victories happen on petitions every day. These victories influence major policy change and the small changes that impact day-to-day life. Find out more about how to write a petition here. 

Ready to start your own petition?

Start a petition

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September 12, 2023 2:08 am