Ignore online petition sites at your peril, says Ben Rattray of Change.org

The founder and chief executive of the petition site tells the International Fundraising Congress that non-profits can use sites such as his to recruit passionate people - or be displaced by them

Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray

Online petition sites are a huge opportunity for non-profit organisations that want to recruit people who are engaged with their causes – but charities that ignore these sites could be displaced by them, the founder of the petition site Change.org has said.

Ben Rattray, who is also chief executive of the site that he set up in 2007, was speaking yesterday at the opening plenary of the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands, hosted by the Resource Alliance.

Rattray said that increasing numbers of people were using sites such as Change.org regularly as a tool for social change. This, he said, meant the site was an important recruitment channel for organisations that needed donors and campaigners, because these people were already taking action on issues they cared about. He said that NGOs ran the risk of becoming less relevant if they did not engage in this way too.

Change.org is a US-based website on which users can create free online petitions. Popular petition topics include economic and criminal justice, human rights, education, the environment, animals, health and sustainable food.

"Are NGOs going to become less relevant now because they are being displaced by the attention these other people are getting?" Rattray asked the conference. "If they ignore this type of thing then, yes, that will happen.

"What we’ve been doing over the past few years is starting to work with some of the largest NGOs in the world, such as WWF and Oxfam. It has encouraged them to start their own petitions and pledges on Change.org and to recruit the people who are taking action on issues they care about."

Rattray claimed the site had connected 30 million people to non-profits over the past few years.

He said it was important for NGOs to invest in their online resources. Many built websites, he said, then sat back and waited for people to visit, before becoming disillusioned and concluding that online was a poor medium for donations. He likened this to printing thousands of direct-mail packs and leaving them in a doorway for people to pick up. "You need to invest in it properly," he said.

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