Social Media for Nonprofits San Francisco


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This presentation was given as part of the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference in San Francisco on 10/11/2012.

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  • Who’s signed an online petition?Who’s created an online petition?Who’s wondered whether online petitions really work? Well, today I’m going to show you that they do work with some amazing examples, I’ll tell you why they worked, and I will tell you how your organization can also use online petitions them for advocacy, engagement and list building. Like so many of the great social media platforms we’ve seen today, online petitions help us tell stories to engage supporters. We see inspiring stories every day on
  • So, at, we’ve seen so many amazing petitions started by our users, and so many inspiring stories.Stories like Zach Wahls delivering petitions asking the Boy Scouts of America to end their ban on gay scouts and leaders.
  • Stories like the 5th grade class of teacher Ted Well who loved The Lorax so much that successfully petition Universal Pictures to make sure that the Lorax movie website included environmental education.
  • Stories like recent college grad and part-time nanny Molly Katchpolewho grappled with Bank of America over their unwarranted $5 debit card fee….and won. Amazing stories, all told through petitions, all that have had an real, tangible impact, just because someone decided to take one action that turned into a landslide of collective action.
  • is home to that collective action, 20,000,000 active users that create over 20,000 petitions each month in over 150 countries around the worldWe an open platform that empowers individuals and organizations to make real change.We are also a certified B Corp, that’s a social benefit corporation and we have an incredible business model…we connect those passionate individuals with organizations looking for new supporters.17,000 Organizations have collected33,000,000 signatures with our free services, and we have helped hundreds of clients large and small who work on a diverse set of issues build membership.Suffice to say, we see a lot of petitions, and we know what makes them work. 
  • But we didn’t invent the petition. Petitions have been around for a long time, they are one of the oldest politicaltools in the book and just one form of collective action that organization have used to gather support.
  • Just like call-in campaigns
  • Marches and rallies…But today, technology (internet, mobile connectivity) provide an unprecedented opportunity to increase the efficiency and impact of the time proven model of collective action. Yesterday, if you convinced someone to take action, all you got was that one vote, that one phone call, or that one signature. Today, collective action has been amplified into campaigns like this…
  • Trayvon Martin petition, calling for justice for a young black man shot and killed in Florida whose killer was never charged, until this petition galvanized the collective action of hundreds of thousands in a way not possible before. Called “the most viral petition of all time.” It’s incredible to see what kind of impact petitions can have…
  • Especially since people are getting more and more comfortable with getting involved with causes through social media and online petitions. Case in point, the Obama Administration launched its own petition website “We the People” to solicit public feedback about priorities for the administration.
  • You’ve seen petitions on social media. This is just a quick search of public posts on facebook that mention “petition”
  • And the same on Twitter.
  • Not surprisingly, nonprofits have embraced online petitions as an easy, free and effective tactic in their advocacy toolkit, just like they were early adopters of Twitter. Nonprofits no longer need to just broadcast information, but they can empower people to become activists,like GLAAD did with their #standupforellencampaign when they encouraged Ellen fans to thank JC Penny for standing through a twitter hashtag and an online petition. That’s harnessing the power of networks to amplify your message.
  • I don’t have to tell you that time and resources are limited and there are a LOT of options competing for that time and resources. This is the conversation prism created by Brian Solis and JESS3 that map out the social landscape by category and platform. This is the “it’s complicated out there” slide. ( great thing about online petitions, if done right, online petitionscan achieve a number of different goals simultaneously: engage old and new supporters, apply pressure on decision-makers, generate media, even do list-building for you. And they are great content for social media.
  • But I’ll take that one step further to say that online petitions ARE social media. Sharing is built into petitions, through email and other social media channels. Petitions foster conversation and build a sense of community around issues comments on the petition itself to comments on Facebook shares.Just like social media, online petitions help you tell stories directly to your supporters, but with the added benefit of pressuring decision-makers with an email sent every time someone signs, and having a signature total and signature list do download and deliver in person petition delivery.
  • To make change, you need more than a story, you need a Theory of Change. Show of hands? Roadmap to an overall objective. It’s explanation of how a nonprofit’s outcomes and activities will achieve mission success. It’s also super handy for online campaigns and petitions.A winning petition has a goal that is specific and achievable. Your mission may be to end world hunger, but one petition will not do that. However, one petition can save your local food bank.Once you have your goal, work backward to think about who can help you with that goal. Ask the question: "Which single individual literally can make the decision or enact the change we want to see?” This could be an elected official, a business or an individual.(Admiral Center:
  • What makes a winning petition? Why do some petitions go viral and others don’t? Let’s look at an example that’s what we call DIRTy.That’s an acronym for what makes a strong petition story: Dramatic, inspiring, relevant and timely.Those are the key ingredients for engagement; You might filter you campaign through a personal story, or center it around a news story like the U.S. election, but you have to have a hook.Use storytelling of personal narratives to help people understand the critical nature of your work.
  • Groundswell…an interfaith coalition of clergy working towards a shared moral vision for a better world. I love that mission statement, by the way. They do a lot of campaign around childtrafficking, and have been hammering hard on, the defactovenue for human traffickers to advertise young girls since Craigslist shut down their erotic services section in 2010.Groundswell the top tier advertisers on (such as H&M, AT&T, American Apparel, IHOP, Lulu Lemon, and more) and launched a campaign calling on them to stop their advertisements until Village Voices shuts down the adult services section of Backpage.
  • Supporters of the Petition began Flooding the facebook pages of these Top Tier Advertisers with requests for them to stop advertising on Backpage (essentially taking over their facebook pages)Supporters began tweeting about the facts of Backpage making $$ off of these advertisements (26 million a year)
  • Supporters began tweeting about the rally Groundswell held in New york
  • This lead to media coverage on all major news outlets, such as: CNN (anderson cooper), MSNBC, ABCAs well as blog posts on major new outlets, such as: Seattle Times, New York Times, Huffington PostNikKistrof
  • It was a hugely successful campaign in the sense that most advertisers targeted--around 35 (H&M, AT&T, IHOP)--pulled their advertisements due to Social Media tactics:“Village Voice Media (VVM) will split off from its controversial online advertising site and create a new company for its struggling chain of alternative weekly newspapers and websites, VVM president Scott Tobias said.”
  • Winning petition checklist:achievable ask, specific targeting, compelling story, provocative image, engaging title
  • All told, this petition has been shared thousands of times on Twitter, Facebook and Email, and that’s just the first wave of sharing through the risk of sound sacrireligious as a social media conference, at we continue to seethat email is still the most responsive and impactful way to communicate with supporters, and online petitions are a great way to get exposed to those new supporters.
  • Email is still the most popular online communications channel. This chart shows the # of accounts above and the # of messages sent on each channel every day.Heather Mansfield well known nonprofit consultant:"I would choose 10,000 e-Newsletter subscribers over 10,000 Followers on Twitter, 10,000 Fans on Facebook, or 10,000 Friends on Foursquare… COMBINED.”So as you think of your ladder of engagement, think about trying to convert your followers to email. And we can help with that.
  • Of course, the point of all of these ways to communicate with your supporters is to make an impact in the real world. That’s what online petitions are about. That’s what is about.
  • Social Media for Nonprofits San Francisco

    1. 1. Petition To Win: Smart Solutions toBuild Communities, Attract Supporters and Engage Constituents
    2. 2. Make it D.I.R.T.y:Dramatic · Inspiring Relevant · Timely
    3. 3. Achievable askSpecific targeting Compelling storyProvocative image Engaging title
    4. 4. What are YOU going to change?