For-profit

Change.org

Website:

www.change.org/

Founded:

2007

Founder and CEO:

Ben Rattray

Type:

Activist mobilization website

Change.org is a website that hosts petitions generally related to politics or public policy. Any individual can create a petition on the website, though specific petitions can be promoted based on paid sponsorship or staff discretion. Change.org claims to be the “world’s largest nonprofit-owned platform for social change.” [1] It is a for-profit public benefits corporation owned and operated by the non-profit Change.org Foundation. Change.org Programs, a charitable group, operates alongside the public benefits corporation.

Change.org is officially non-partisan and its management altered its official policy in 2012 to encourage inclusion of voices from across the political spectrum. However, Change.org’s users, employees, and petitions tend to be left-wing. [2]

Change.org claims almost 500 million [3] users in 196 countries. In some countries, Change.org claims to have a similar number of users as voters, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain. [4]

History

In 2007, Change.org was founded by Stanford University classmates Ben Rattray and Mark Dimas as a means of connecting individuals to activist causes. Rattray was inspired to start the website after his brother came out as gay and was purportedly was harassed by friends and family, because not enough people were willing to “stand up or speak out” on political issues. Initially, the website created fundraising tools and social networks for nonprofits, and eventually employed bloggers. In 2010, Change.org launched a petition platform; one of the first petitions was to stop the police in Boulder, Colorado from ticketing homeless individuals. After unexpectedly gathering 200 signatures, Boulder’s mayor ordered an end to the practice. With the surprise success of the petition, the petition platform quickly became the focus of Change.org. [5] [6]

Rattray claimed that Change.org’s first major achievement occurred in 2010 when a petition with 170,000 signatures influenced the South African government to acknowledge the trend of “corrective rape,” or rape intended to turn lesbians straight. [7] The South African Minister of Justice personally reached out to Rattray, who demanded that he meet with the woman who started the petition or he would go to the press. The minister refused, Rattray alerted the media, and soon after, 20 members of the country’s parliament met with the woman. [8]

Transition to Nonprofit Ownership

In September 2021, Change.org became 100 percent owned by the nonprofit Change.org Foundation. The transition was accomplished with funding from more than 50 investors, including LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Ray Dalio, Evan Williams, Jerry Yang, Sam Altman, and Arianna Huffington. [9]

CEO Ben Rattray stated the change would ensure the independence of Change.org and prime it for a new stage of growth as a “civic infrastructure platform” rather than a company.” [10]

Notable Petitions

George Floyd

In 2020, “Justice for George Floyd” on Change.org became the most signed petition in U.S. history with over 11 million signatures by June, and 19 million by July. Change.org was criticized for what some users saw as misleading advertising when the website prompted signers with an ad that urged them to “become a hero” by giving money to “get the petition on the agenda.” Many users assumed the donated money would go to a nonprofit or political cause related to George Floyd, but the funds were collected by Change.org as donations. [11] [12]

Awareness of the discrepancy was promoted by an open letter written by a group of former Change.org employees. Afterward, Change.org removed the solicitation from the George Floyd petition but kept it on the rest of the site. Change.org also launched a $6 million fund to support left-of-center racial campaigns and a separate website for racial justice petitions. [13]

As of July 2020, Change.org raised $9.9 million in revenue based on donations from the George Floyd petition and a similar petition related to Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in a police raid in Kentucky. [14]

2021

In 2021, the most popular petitions on Change.org were to stop the execution of convicted murderer Julius Jones, whose sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; to investigate the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of the Aurora, Colorado police, a case in which the city paid McClain’s family a $15 million settlement; and for the federal government to provide $200 per month to all citizens as compensation for the COVID-19 pandemic. [15]

Earlier Petitions

A 2020 petition encouraged Disney to retheme Splash Mountain, which was based on the film Song of the South, a Jim Crow-era production that depicted negative racial stereotypes. [16]

In 2012, a petition called for the arrest of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. [17]

Also in 2012, a petition caused the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban certain meat products that had been named “pink slime” in press reports from school lunches. [18]

In 2011, a petition targeted Bank of America asking the company to end a $5 monthly fee on debit card use. [19]

Union Relations

In 2012, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a major labor union representing employees in the telecommunications, airline, journalism, and a handful of other industries, paid Change.org $280,000 for services related to advertising. The Service Employees International Union has also paid Change.org for both representational and political purposes. [20]

In 2021, a group of Change.org workers formed the Solidarity at Change union under the CWA. According to the CWA, Change.org was the largest tech company to ever recognize a union. [21]

Ideological Alignment

Change.org asserts that it is a neutral website to promote causes. Co-founder and CEO Ben Rattray has compared Change.org to YouTube in interviews. [22]

In 2012, Change.org received criticism for having partnered with StudentsFirst, an education group run by controversial former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose attempts to reform the Washington, D.C. school district involved limiting the power of teachers’ unions. StudentsFirst later released a statement saying Change.org had refused to renew its partnership due to “business and operational factors with their high-value partners who were pressuring them to take this step.” [23]

Later in 2012, the Huffington Post released leaks from internal communications at Change.org revealing plans to expand its partnerships with right-leaning groups, thereby ending an official policy of only partnering with organizations that support “fairness, equality, and justice,” which Huffington Post considered code words for “progressive” causes. A new FAQ from Change.org stated, “We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree.” The policy change was prompted by the public reaction to Change.org’s partnership with StudentsFirst. [24]

Revenue

Change.org raises money through payments from users for “promoted petitions.” A tech journalist quoted to the site describing them: “Promoted Petitions are advertisements […] Similar to boosted posts on Facebook or sponsored tweets on Twitter, promoted petitions let you pay to show any petition (including your own) to other potential supporters on Change.org or our distribution channels.”

Former business development manager Sierra Jackson called this model “a little bit disingenuous,” since Change.org often uses confusing language when soliciting, which could lead users to believe the payments are going towards specific causes rather than the website’s operations. [25]

Change.org also has offered memberships which let users “weigh in on upcoming site features.” [26]

Change.org previously offered sponsored campaigns to advocacy groups but had ended the practice as of 2020. [27]

References

  1. “Change.org.” Twitter. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://twitter.com/change. ^
  2. Grim, Ryan. “Change.org Changing: Site To Drop Progressive Litmus Test For Campaigns, Say Internal Documents (UPDATE).” Huffington Post. October 22, 2012. Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/changeorg-corporate-gop-campaigns-internal-documents_n_1987985. ^
  3. “The power of your voice.” Change.org. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.change.org/impact. ^
  4. Rattray, Ben. “Change.org in Now 100% Nonprofit-Owned.” Change.org. September 22, 2021. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://change-org.medium.com/change-org-is-now-100-nonprofit-owned-c2aeaf8d0c66. ^
  5. Geron, Tomio. “The Business Behind Change.org’s Activist Petitions.” Forbes. October 17, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/17/activism-for-profit-change-org-makes-an-impact-and-makes-money/?sh=44a3f9837ffa. ^
  6. May, Meredeth. “Ben Rattay and Change.org.” SF Gate. August 11, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.sfgate.com/living/article/Ben-Rattray-and-Change-org-3781962.php. ^
  7. Geron, Tomio. “The Business Behind Change.org’s Activist Petitions.” Forbes. October 17, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/17/activism-for-profit-change-org-makes-an-impact-and-makes-money/?sh=44a3f9837ffa. ^
  8. May, Meredeth. “Ben Rattay and Change.org.” SF Gate. August 11, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.sfgate.com/living/article/Ben-Rattray-and-Change-org-3781962.php. ^
  9. Rattray, Ben. “Change.org in Now 100% Nonprofit-Owned.” Change.org. September 22, 2021. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://change-org.medium.com/change-org-is-now-100-nonprofit-owned-c2aeaf8d0c66. ^
  10. Rattray, Ben. “Change.org in Now 100% Nonprofit-Owned.” Change.org. September 22, 2021. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://change-org.medium.com/change-org-is-now-100-nonprofit-owned-c2aeaf8d0c66. ^
  11. Holmes, Aaron. “Change.org doesn’t donate the money raised through its record-breaking George Floyd petition – and some donors say they feel misled.” Insider. June 3, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/change-org-george-floyd-donations-petition-keeps-money-2020-6. ^
  12. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  13. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  14. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  15. “Change.org lists top 10 petitions that changed 2021.” Southwest Ledger News. January 6, 2022. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.southwestledger.news/changeorg-lists-top-10-petitions-changed-2021. ^
  16. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  17. Geron, Tomio. “The Business Behind Change.org’s Activist Petitions.” Forbes. October 17, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/17/activism-for-profit-change-org-makes-an-impact-and-makes-money/?sh=44a3f9837ffa. ^
  18. Geron, Tomio. “The Business Behind Change.org’s Activist Petitions.” Forbes. October 17, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/17/activism-for-profit-change-org-makes-an-impact-and-makes-money/?sh=44a3f9837ffa. ^
  19. Geron, Tomio. “The Business Behind Change.org’s Activist Petitions.” Forbes. October 17, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/17/activism-for-profit-change-org-makes-an-impact-and-makes-money/?sh=44a3f9837ffa. ^
  20. Data compiled from the Department of Labor Office of Labor-Management Standards payer-payee search tool, drawn from information filed by labor unions. Queries conducted October 28, 2022. ^
  21. “Workers at Change.org Lead Company to Become Largest Tech Organization to Recognize a Union.” Communications Workers of America. June 30, 2021. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://cwa-union.org/workers-at-change-dot-org-form-union. ^
  22. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  23. Grim, Ryan. “Michelle Rhee Dealt Stinging Blow.” HuffPost. HuffPost, June 21, 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/changeorg-michelle-rhee_n_1610760. ^
  24. Grim, Ryan. “Change.org Changing: Site To Drop Progressive Litmus Test For Campaigns, Say Internal Documents (UPDATE).” Huffington Post. October 22, 2012. Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/changeorg-corporate-gop-campaigns-internal-documents_n_1987985. ^
  25. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  26. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^
  27. Morrone, Megan. “Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis.” One Zero. July 16, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://onezero.medium.com/change-org-wont-save-us-923eaf98e635. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza
    Former Campaign Director
  2. Jackie Mahendra
    Former Director of Organizing
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