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How Change.org Measures Its Massive Impact

With a beta site that is allowing companies and politicians to respond directly to petitions, the growing online organizing platform is finding new ways to gauge the power of the people who launch campaigns for change.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Even if you've never visited Change.org, a petition site that bills itself as "a platform for change," you may be familiar with some of its campaigns, like the nanny who successfully petitioned Bank of America to drop its $5 debit card fee, and the petition to convince Ikea to include a gay couple in its Russian catalogue. Change.org doesn't push any specific agendas—any user can start any campaign. But like any good organization, it is very interested in measuring its ever-growing impact. Here's how the company does it.

The seven-year-old site, which began focusing primarily on petitions in 2011, boasts some impressive statistics: There are over 60 million active users in 196 countries, approximately 12 successful petitions each day, and one third of all users have signed a winning campaign (some of the most successful can garner millions of signers). But founder Ben Rattray says that the company mainly cares about measuring and advancing two key concepts: civic participation and the responsiveness of the petition "targets"—the people and centers of power being petitioned.

"The goal isn't just to check off changes that we care about," he says.

In the civic participation arena, that means measuring the number of people who have been involved in successful campaigns. In the civic participation arena, that means measuring the number of people who have been involved in successful campaigns. In January, Change.org announced that number: one million people in the U.S. It's an important measurement—people who participate in winning campaigns are much more likely to re-engage with the site, either by signing other petitions or starting their own. "There's a difference between the number of campaigns that succeed and the number of people who participate in successful campaigns," notes Rattray. "Campaigns that win have more signatures [than those that fail]."

Change.org doesn't yet have metrics to measure the responsiveness of business and government officials to its petitions. But that will soon change; the site recently launched the beta version of a platform that lets decision-makers respond to petitions. Already, big businesses including Ikea, LinkedIn, and Southwest Airlines have responded to campaigns. Change.org is also working with the Senate Rules Committee to formalize a process that allows government officials to easily respond.

"It's a huge opportunity for elected officials. Usually it's really hard to reach constituents," says Rattray. He speculates that officials may be less beholden to special interests if they can capture the public's attention through platforms like Change.org.

For brands, the platform is an opportunity for damage control, and to prove that they actually listen to consumers. But not all responses are created equal. Take, for example, Southwest Airlines' uninspired, corporate-speak response to a campaign asking the company to end its ties with SeaWorld:

Southwest has a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are currently in a multi-year contract with SeaWorld, and we are not contemplating changes to that at this time. We are engaged with SeaWorld related to the recent concerns being raised. We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.

Thank you for engaging with us and for your patience; it is our responsibility and obligation to fully evaluate the issue with all our Stakeholders.

For this reason, Change.org plans on measuring responses from businesses and government officials and signers' responses to those responses. So when a congressman posts a response to a petition, signers will be able to vote on whether they support the response, whether it was reasonable, and so on. "It's more 'Is this an authentic response?' It's not necessarily if they agree to make changes."

Change.org also measures revenue, of course (the company makes money by allowing organizations and users to pay to promote petitions). But Rattray maintains that there's an alignment between purpose and revenue on the site—the more people are engaged, the more sponsoring organizations can gain recognition, and the more money Change.org has in its coffers to give members new resources. "It's a virtuous cycle," says Rattray.

The company is working on an arsenal of tools to make member campaigns more effective (i.e. a simple way to reach out to the press about campaigns). But no matter what tools are offered in the future, Rattray believes that the impact metrics will remain the same. "It's all in service of the same goals," he says.

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