Numbers, consistency, and online petitions: what they mean for your nonprofit and its ladder of engagement

Let’s talk numbers, shall we?

To start, let’s grab the number 1.92. 1.92 is the number of times more likely someone signing an online petition is to donate to a similar cause after signing. This was quantified by researchers Yu-Hao Lee and Gary Hsieh in their study Does Slacktivism Hurt Activism?: The Effects of Moral Balancing and Consistency in Online Activism.

So, I sign your online petition, I am then almost twice as likely as someone who didn’t sign that petition to give money to a cause that is similar to yours.

Notice that didn’t read “give money to your organization”. Mark that. It’ll be on the quiz later. The researchers also found that I’m more likely to take other actions in support of similar causes after signing your petition, provided those actions don’t cost me much.

A great example: signing another online petition.

Lee and Hsieh attribute this finding to a psychological need we human beings have to be consistent. We take one action. The next opportunity that comes along to take a similar action, we take it, too, because, hey, it’s what we do. We find psychological security in consistency.

Next numbers to consider: “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands”. That’s the money that large organizations with deep pockets pay to online petition services according to Ben Rattray, chief executive of, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal. They pay this money to be featured on the petition site after your petition is signed. Why? Because they are banking on this psychological need for consistency. I sign your petition on said service, I am more likely to sign theirs which is featured after.

What’s more, that large organization with deep pockets is getting the contact information for those signing their petition. When they do, they ask them for a donation and, as Lee and Hsieh show, they are nearly twice as likely to give than someone who didn’t sign the petition.

It’s a strong enough generator of qualified leads that these sponsorship fees form the core business model for online petition services. And it’s no wonder. With thousands of new petitions being started on petition sites each month with a host of motivated individuals and organizations actively encouraging their friends, neighbors, and supporters to sign those petitions, massive numbers of people are being directed to that funnel of qualified leads.

So, you work hard to promote your petition on the online petition site. You tweet and Facebook and blog your way to success, and score my signature on that petition site. And you may not even get my contact information based on the arrangement you have with the petition site. But the site did. And, chances are good that a sponsoring organization did, too, because I signed their petition and maybe donated. Which means that all of your efforts to get me to sign your petition have been smashingly successful in moving me up the ladder of social engagement.

It’s just not your ladder of social engagement I’m climbing.

Is this mean, nasty or evil? Nope. Not if the arrangement is clear. It’s an elegant business model for the petition sites and the large organizations that fits perfectly with their self-interest and missions.

But, in the end, that’s the wrong question for your nonprofit to ask, isn’t it?

The question on this little quiz that you need to answer is this: does this arrangement make sense for your nonprofit and its mission? If not, talk to us about Soapbox Petitions and how you can reclaim your ladder of engagement.

Nonprofit news, strategy, and tactics sent straight to your inbox
Sign up for the Soapbox Engage newsletter

This entry was posted on Monday, May 26th, 2014 at 4:19 pm and is filed under advocacy, nptech, petitions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.