With the end-of-year fundraising season in full swing, chances are your inbox is filled with appeals from nonprofit organizations and causes that want your support. Regardless of cause or tone, these appeals have something in common: they showcase the good work done by the organization over the past year and ask for your help in keeping the momentum going. The challenge for the fundraising and communications professionals behind these appeals is figuring out a way to stand out in the crowd. As the most successful of them know, that work should begin long before the holidays roll around.
That’s another way of saying that good fundraising is all about relationship building. Just as a great date on Valentine’s Day won’t make up for a year’s worth of dating disappointment, waiting till December to tell your supporters about the good work your organization has done is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. To be successful in the fundraising game, you need to cultivate a year-round relationship with donors — and not just by telling them what your organization has done. One of the best ways to do that is with an online petition.
Not convinced? Here are five reasons to think again:
An online petition directly involves donors in your cause. Almost every nonprofit has a newsletter, but when it comes to engaging your supporters, sharing information isn't enough. The widespread popularity of social media has broken down many of the traditional barriers between nonprofit organizations and their supporters and constituents. According to Blackbaud, a leading provider of nonprofit software and services, people expect to not just learn from but to communicate and engage with the organizations they support. Online petitions are a great way to create an interactive experience for supporters that can enhance donor engagement and further an organization's mission. Take the example of Animal Haven, a small no-kill animal shelter in New York City. The group started a petition asking people to pledge to adopt their next pet instead of buying it from a store. Not only did the organization's petition garner more than twenty-six thousand signatures, many of the people who signed it went a step further and shared stories about the pets they'd adopted, in the process connecting their experiences with the organization's mission to find a home for every pet in its care.
An online petition can connect you to new supporters. Advocacy campaigns aren't just about engaging people who are already in your camp. An online petition is a golden opportunity for nonprofits to collect new email addresses for their mailing lists. In a 2013 report, the Pew Research Center noted that even older baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation have, on average, more than fifty Facebook friends. Pair that with the fact that two-thirds of adults in the U.S. have engaged in a civically minded action online, and you have the makings of a potent audience-growing machine. Indeed, getting just one person to share your online petition can have a multiplier effect that leads to hundreds and even thousands of new supporters.
An online petition can expand your donor base. Studies have shown that people who take an online action on behalf of a nonprofit are up to seven times more likely to donate to that organization. It makes a lot of sense. Research has shown that regular engagement is a reliable way to increase an individual's commitment to a cause or organization, and regular engagement with existing supporters often pays exponential dividends. In a 2014 survey, for instance, NTEN and Charity Dynamics found that while people tend to give to multiple organizations, their favorite charity got a disproportionate share of their giving. What's more, younger people — those under the age of 40 — were the most likely to want to stay involved with the organization through things like petitions and matching pledge campaigns.
An online petition can raise your organization’s profile. Sometimes petitions go viral, and when they do, media coverage and the attention of policy makers are sure to follow. While those things are great, the best reason to launch an online petition is to remind people you exist. Put simply, people are busy — with work, family, their hobbies, and all sorts of other demands — and it's easy for them to let the causes they care about languish on the back burner. An online petition is a great way for your organization to get the attention of old supporters and potential supporters at any time of the year and to make sure you are on their radar.
An online petition can increase your impact. Let's not forget about the real bottom line for advocacy groups: effecting change and making a difference on the issues they care about. Petitions are one of the oldest forms of advocacy and continue to have real sway with the powers that be. Just last year, for instance, Anglo-American, a large mining company that hoped to developed a huge copper mine near Alaska's Bristol Bay, abandoned its plans after national environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and a number of local groups submitted nearly a million signatures in protest.
From keeping your donors involved and engaged to moving the needle on your own issue, online petitions are a key tool in the networked nonprofit's toolkit. So after the holidays are over and the last of the year-end gifts has been processed, be sure to get a head start on next year's fundraising by making an online petition part of your year-round donor outreach strategy.
Randy Paynter is founder, president, and CEO of Care2 and the Petition Site. A pioneer in the online advocacy field, Paynter is dedicated to helping empower others to take collective action in support of their social and environmental causes.