Why Online Petitions are Crucial to Your Volunteer Recruitment (and Retention)

By Aaron Viles, Care2

How online petitions help engage volunteers.These days, every nonprofit organization has a website, usually chock full of articles, reports and blog posts about the issues and programs they support. The role of the Internet as a platform for sharing information with volunteers is pretty obvious. But increasingly, real engagement, organization and action are happening online. This is giving nonprofits new ways to communicate with supporters, find new audiences and leverage their volunteer base to get involved, do good work and make change.

Every nonprofit faces the challenge of finding and keeping volunteers. One tool in particular can help groups do both: online petitions.

Finding New Volunteers

The Internet is vast and gives each individual user the ability to connect with people a world away and build a community uninhibited by geography. People today are increasingly mobile and have connections to many places and many causes.

While an issue may seem local or idiosyncratic, you never know which and how many people may be inspired to get involved. An expat may care deeply about the fate of a local park in her hometown. Someone in California may have friends and family in Kansas with whom they can share the good work of a local organization. Put simply: reaching people online gets your issues in front of their whole network and can exponentially raise your exposure and spread your message.

Online petitions are a fast and easy way to get this process started. First, they present a clear message and opportunity to make an impact. Good petitions have a clear ask directed to a real person with the power to act. This short and sweet format, with active, persuasive language, helps distill nonprofits’ missions into something concrete; educating people about what drives their group while actually moving the ball forward on their issues.

Keeping Volunteers Engaged

Many researchers have found that the key to keeping volunteers is to understand what motivates them to get involved in the first place. Once they’re onboard, the challenge is to keep them active with your organization and issue. Research suggests that the more committed a volunteer is to an organization, the more likely they are to remain involved.

Getting people to feel committed requires engagement and making their volunteer work seem meaningful. Asking supporters to sign a petition—either in an email or over social media—is a fast and easy way for you to get volunteers to take substantive action. Signing a petition has a real, significant effect that can make supporters feel better and more connected to your organization and mission.

Plus, engaging people online can actually be a gateway to encouraging offline involvement. In 2013, Pew found that nearly one in five users of social networking sites said information they learned there inspired them to get involved offline. Even more exciting, researchers in Norway found that local voluntary organizations that communicated with their supporters online were more likely to grow, and (this is the best part) they found that the online engagement didn’t just replace the traditional face-to-face activities. This meant that finding ways to connect to volunteers online actually increased total engagement, strengthening their relationships with volunteers.

People volunteer for lots of reasons, from having a personal connection to an issue, to the desire to meet like-minded people and make friends. But common among these motivations is the desire to be part of a community doing good. Giving people a chance to make a difference and a place to take collective action fosters this sense of both community and efficacy that makes your organization and your relationship with your supporters stronger.

Has your organization used online petitions to engage volunteers and supporters? Tell us about it in the comments!

Aaron Viles is a Senior Grassroots Organizer for Care2. He works with citizen authors on The Petition Site to create petitions that will win concrete victories for animals, the environment, and other progressive causes. When not in front of a screen or on a conference call, Aaron can be found doting on his daughters, pedaling furiously to keep up with the peloton, and serving as a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance and his church.

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