Since Change.org began focusing on viral petitions in 2011, one of the criticisms it has received has been that it facilitates "slacktivism," a breed of lightweight, passive action that passes for real engagement. And for about just as long, Change.org’s founder and CEO, Ben Rattray, has been arguing that the petition tool is not only effective, but the beginning of a "platform for social change that empowers movements."
On Thursday, Change.org will launch a new feature with which petition signers can put their money where their signature is. It allows campaign creators to add a donation button to their petitions.
At launch, the feature will only be available in the U.S., though Change.org plans to soon expand to more than a dozen countries. The company will charge a 5% fee on all donations.
Petitions, Rattray argues, are "massively viral, and allow you to in real time aggregate people who support a cause" and crowdfunding is one way to give that group an opportunity to take further action, "augment[ing] the existing virality of the petitions."
Previously Change.org, which is structured as a B Corporation, relied on sponsored petitions, which nonprofit organizations paid to advertise, for most of its revenue. It will phase out that product as it encourages more organizations to use Change.org as a fundraising tool. It will also increase its emphasis on "Promoted Petitions," a feature with which users pay to promote campaigns to one another.
Change.org has tested its crowdfunding product with more than a dozen campaigns. One of them, created by the founder of rape survivors rights advocacy organization Rise, raised more than $20,000 to cover the cost of "traveling to testify at state and federal committee meetings, enabling survivors to travel to meet with key decision-makers at the state and federal level, and empowering local advocates to spread our message of hope and progress in their communities." Another one, started by Tamir Rice’s cousin, raised $6,000 to "put up a billboard in Cleveland, Ohio that highlights the injustice of Tamir’s killing and calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate."
As with crowdfunding campaigns on websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Change.org will not audit the use of funds after the campaign ends.
Rattray says crowdfunding is just the beginning of new features planned to leverage the skills and resources of a petition signatory group. Another option in the pipeline collects commitments to donate monthly to a cause. Rattray is also thinking about how Change.org can help people volunteer their skills—whether legal expertise, graphic design, or ability to show up in person somewhere—to create social change. "Right now, when 100,000 people sign a petition you’re not able to tap into the real resources they have," Rattray says. But, he believes, that can change, too.