Originally published April 27, 2015.
People-powered campaigns are not just changing the world for the better, they are also changing the culture of engagement in society and in politics -- democratizing democracy itself. Join Jennifer Dulski, former Vice President of Yahoo, as she talks about the future of digital activism, what it takes to create a successful campaign and proves that it is possible for companies to make both a significant positive impact in the world and to do well financially.
You were previously Vice President of Yahoo and founded your own tech startup, what inspired you to join Change.org?
I have always been interested in the power of technology as a force for solving big problems. While the internet has revolutionized commerce, information distribution, community, and entertainment, it hasn’t yet realized its full potential to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. At Change.org, I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the experience I have scaling companies towards building technology that empowers people to create meaningful change in their communities and in the world every day.
Digital activism is a growing trend, how do you see it developing in the next 5-10 years?
Technology has made it easier than ever before for people to mobilize and take action around the causes that matter to them. Change.org users are now winning nearly one victory per hour through our platform, on campaigns that span across every issue imaginable, from access to healthcare to women’s rights, to protecting the environment.
The next wave of digital activism will move from mobilization to dialogue, where decision makers in positions of power will use tools like Change.org to more effectively listen to their constituents and engage in direct conversation. In the past year alone, we’ve seen decision makers - including companies like Facebook, Coca Cola and IKEA, and elected officials including mayors, members of Parliament and presidents - respond directly to Change.org users on more than 3,000 petitions.
We also plan to strengthen digital activism over the next few years by making it more global, more local and more mobile. People everywhere will be able to take immediate action based on their location and on real-time news and events they see happening around them. And governments, elected officials, and businesses will be able to directly engage with citizens, making our democracies more democratic.
In your experience, what does it take to create a successful campaign?
From looking at victorious campaigns, here are three key elements that winning campaigns have in common:
1. They tell a personal story
Meaningful personal stories are at the center of nearly every winning campaign we see on Change.org. People who share stories about hardships and challenges affecting them, or someone close to them, do a better job of engaging people to sign and share their petitions. The more vulnerable and honest the story, the more likely it is that others will relate to it and respond.
Compelling photos and videos also help communicate the story and make it easier for people to relate: petitions with a high-quality photo or video are seven times more likely to win than a petition without a photo.
2. They make the right ask to the right person
To have a good chance at creating real and lasting change, it’s important to make a specific request to the decision maker who has the power to make that change.
Petitions on the right issue, with the right ask, can effectively be directed to senior government officials like Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas. This petition from Mary Scherpe is asking for the national stalking law to be updated to better protect victims and also take online stalking into account. Once Mary collected 80,000 signatures, she delivered them to the minister and discussed the issue with him in person. Mr Maas confirmed the impact of the 80,000 signatures and committed to taking action this year. Mary was successful because she told her personal story, and shared it widely with journalists and on social media. Her timing was also right: one year into the term she reminded the minister to take action on a topic that his government promised to review in the 2013 coalition treaty.
It’s also important to note that many successful petitions are small and local. You don’t always need hundreds of thousands of supporters; in fact, forty percent of all winning petitions have fewer than 200 signatures. For example, one petition to allow a 9 year-old to keep his book-lending library open in a small town in Kansas, won with only 33 signatures.
3. They spread the word
The petitions that are most likely to win are also those that are shared the most often. Our data shows that petitions shared more than 50 times, they are twice as likely to win.
The media can also be a powerful ally to raise awareness among a wider audience. Right now, Change.org petitions are mentioned by the press more than 250 times per day around the world. If a petition is getting traction in terms of signatures, it’s likely that a local TV station or newspaper will be interested in writing about it. Getting media coverage for a campaign also doubles its chances of winning.
A meaningful personal story, a network of people who care, and a thoughtful request to the right person have the power to change small challenges and great injustices. Every day, we see people inspired to start and win campaigns on the causes that matter to them.
Change.org has 90 million users, proof that social businesses can go BIG. What would be your advice to anyone starting a social business or wanting their business to be more social?
The most important thing I want to stress is that it is possible for companies to make a significant positive impact in the world and to do well financially. We are proving this is possible and working to pave the way for the next generation of companies that will use the power of business for social good. The better these businesses perform, the more impact they will have.
If you’re not a social good business, but you want to make more of a positive impact, think about the way you interact with your customers and employees. Give your customers transparency, and enter into productive dialogue when they ask for something. And for your employees, focus on recruiting a diverse team and building policies and culture that support the full lives of every member of the team. As an example, at the end of last year, we made sure that our parental leave policy was consistent globally, and equal for all parents. Now every Change.org employee is entitled to 18 weeks of fully paid leave for a new child.
You mentioned that you have one victory per hour on Change.org. Amidst all those victories, when did you feel you were making the greatest impact?
I am grateful to be able to make an impact every day I work at Change.org, and I’m truly inspired each and every day, watching people use our platform to create change from their neighborhoods to their nations. It’s a privilege that the time I spend at work, and the impact I have on the world are aligned.
On a day-to-day basis, my main priority is to scale the company for success. I work closely with the product teams to build our empowerment tools and make sure our platform is stable and increasingly accessible to everyone around the world. Overall, the way I make the greatest impact is to hire great people, set clear and inspiring goals, and then make sure the team has the support and resources they need to do their jobs excellently in full pursuit of our mission.
What makes you a changer?
Our mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see. We are creating tens and soon hundreds of millions of changers around the world -- people who know that their signatures and voices matter, people who know that they can make a difference, who are inspired to start and win campaigns for change.
These people-powered campaigns are not just changing the world for the better, they are also changing the culture of engagement in society and in politics -- democratizing democracy itself.