Seven Steps to an Effective Petition
By Janice Holland for ELCR
Members of the equine community should strive to be aware of what is happening at the local, state, and national levels and the potential impact on equine activity. Being aware of any potential threats to the equine community early on will give you the much-needed time to organize and develop an effective plan to counteract the threat. Examples of potential threats include lack of access to public land for equine activities, encroaching housing developments, and planning and zoning changes that can negatively impact horsekeeping.
There may be times when organizing against a potential threat that a well-organized and supported petition can strengthen your position. A good petition can help not only make others aware of the issue but can demonstrate significant community support of your cause to your defined decision makers. Below are seven steps to developing an effective petition, with examples and additional resources.
- Clearly define your cause.
You will want to have a clear, concise, well-defined mission and opening statement. Having an eye-catching title and good visuals will also be beneficial. You want to attract people to your petition. Do your research before writing your petition and know the key points you want to get across. It is also advisable to research the opposing side to your petition as well. You can use this information to form your justifications. Remember to include facts in your petition that support your points to boost your legitimacy. Make sure that you do not let your emotions interfere with what you are writing. Inflammatory or highly argumentative statements, without backing, may cause people to not sign your petition.
Include a clear “call to action.” What is it you want people to do after they sign your petition? How else can they support your mission/petition? This could include having them share the petition with others they believe will sign, writing letters to people who can bring about the change you want, attending meetings in support of your cause, or volunteering to help in other ways.
2. Define the decision-maker(s) you want to influence with the petition.
You should determine who will be making decisions regarding your cause. Anyone involved in the decision-making process should be aware of your concerns, and petitions should be directed towards them. For example, if you are working to allow for equine access on a local trail, then sending the petition to a state lawmaker will likely be ineffective. Instead, direct the petition to the town council or county government. Larger issues, such as potential loss of access to state or national parks, will require targeting state or federal departments.
3. Identify your target audience.
Be clear on who the audience is that you need to target. Who are the people who will be most affected if your petition fails? These stakeholders are key people to have sign your petition. What is the best way to reach these people? And are there other groups or organizations that might also support your petition? For example, if you are working to ensure continued trail access after a housing development is built nearby, you should contact local hiking and biking groups who might also be negatively affected.
Develop a list of people who may be influential in getting your request heard. So, who are some of your supporters? These people may be able to write letters to the decision-makers or aid in other ways. Perhaps there is a news anchor who is a member of an equine club? Can they help to get the word out through their broadcast or contacts?
You will also want to know who the decision-makers are so that you can send your message to the correct people and can send others this information. For example, if the county economic development association is involved, have their contact information available to those who sign your petition so they can send additional letters of support.
- Decide what type of petition(s) you should use and how to promote it.
Once you have your petition written, you will need to decide what versions you want to use. All types of petitions have their pros and cons, and you might find a combination of several forms beneficial. You need to make sure that you do not have duplicate signatures, and that all signatures are legitimate. Some organizations will require a form of “authentication” of the signature, such as the zip code or county where the person resides.
If you would like to collect signatures in person you should consider where you should be located and when. You want to have maximum exposure to people who are willing to sign. If, for example, you are protecting a show facility from the threat of development, then being at events held onsite, and collecting signatures of participants and attendees, would be helpful. Posting people in the registration area or at the entrance to the stands would be of benefit. Make sure the people collecting signatures have clipboards, plenty of pages, and working pens. These people need to be very polite, well versed on the issue and instructed not to cause a backup on site. Excessive delays may cause people not to sign. You could also have a stack of petitions laying in an obvious place or have a booth designated where people could stop, learn about the issue, and sign your petition.
Having signage to attract people can help in securing signatures You could also leave a stack of petitions at businesses that support your cause. You will need to assign volunteers to routinely collect completed pages from wherever petitions are left so they can be sent on to your targeted decision-maker(s).
Another option is to have a petition that can be sent digitally or emailed to people and organizations. Include information on who they should contact, such as a legislator, with details on how to contact them. Include sample wording for a letter that can be sent. Use websites of groups that support your cause to send the message.
Use of social media is another excellent way to get your message out and attract people to your cause. Organizations and individuals can post, like, and forward information on how to sign a petition and how else they can help.
News outlets, such as TV, radio, and print may also be helpful in sending your message. Is there a local newscast and/or newspaper that might carry a broadcast or article? Find out if there is someone on their staff with an interest in your cause. The personal touch with a local “celebrity” could help.
External agencies can also be of help, especially if it is a national cause. There are a variety of petition sites that can get both national and international attention to your cause. Be warned that some sites cost money. Some sites also ask for contributions, and it may appear the money is going toward your cause; however, this is not always the case.
- Be aware of deadlines and rules.
Nothing can end a campaign as fast as finding out your petition was too late or did not reach the appropriate people. If you are trying to influence a decision on land use in your town, check with the town office to see if signatures need to be received before a specific meeting, such as a public comment forum. There may also be rules on what types of signatures will be accepted. For example, a city or town may only allow signatures from residents, while others may accept signatures from outside the immediate city limits, such as county residents. Also check to see if the original petitions need to be submitted, or if copies/electronic versions will be accepted. Some organizations will only accept original signatures.
- Make sure to follow up.
Once petitions are submitted, you should contact the organization to make sure they were received. It is advisable to keep a copy of signed petitions for your own records, when possible. You should also get acknowledgement, in writing, that your petitions were received. Once petitions are submitted you should also determine what the next steps should be.
- Continue to be a presence.
Make sure you know when meetings related to your cause are being held and be there to voice your support. Get the word out if the meetings are public so that others may attend. Know how others can show their support. Sometimes meetings will not allow public comment, but people can submit statements in writing before the meeting.
Make sure to have copies of information and resources for others to use. If possible, have copies of the petitions, with signatures, available at meetings. You want to continue to show how much support you have.
Consider contacting other organizations such as clubs, state horse councils, and other groups who will be negatively impacted by the issue you are addressing. Are there club meetings you can attend to gather more signatures and support? For example, if a park is being rezoned for development, are there hiking groups or bird-watching groups who also use this park? Attend a meeting and rally them behind saving the area.
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