- A Change.org petition that calls for “Justice for George Floyd” became the most-signed US petition in the site’s history, racking up over 11 million signatures.
- After people sign the petition, Change.org urges them to “become a hero” by donating money to “get the petition on the agenda.”
- But some donors are now criticising Change.org after realising donations made through the site don’t go to petition organisers or Floyd’s family. Instead, Change.org keeps the money, which it says is used to promote the petition on Change.org’s own site and elsewhere, and to cover other operational costs.
- Change.org includes disclaimers about how donations are used, but some complained that they didn’t realise until it was too late.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
But Change.org is now facing backlash for prompting users to donate after they sign the petition – and funelling those donations back to Change.org itself.
This is part of the site’s fundraising model: Change.org does not pass along donated funds to petition organisers or to affected parties like Floyd’s family, but rather keeps the money and uses it to “circulate” petitions more widely on its own site.
The site says this in the form in smaller print, but none of the donors Business Insider spoke to said they knew that was how the donations were being used, and said they felt duped by vague wording that led them to believe the donations were going to support organisers or Floyd’s family – and that they haven’t been able to get refunds.
A Change.org spokesperson told Business Insider that the company spends the money raised from petitions to further circulate petitions, and on operating costs for Change.org’s site. The George Floyd petition is being featured in a Change.org ad campaign displayed on 118 digital billboards across the US and has been promoted to more than nine million visitors to Change.org’s site and millions more on Facebook and Instagram, according to the spokesperson.
“The money raised from petitions goes toward helping the campaign win and helping us build and maintain our technology platform, making it possible for us to provide people with the tools they need to win the change they want to see,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson declined to say how much Change.org has raised from the Justice for George Floyd petition, citing company policy against disclosing petition-specific revenue. The spokesperson added that people who donated and want refunds can request them by emailing the site’s support team, who will “aim to be as responsive as possible to refund requests.”
Change.org is a for-profit, venture-backed company that hosts activist petitions written by members of the public, gathers email addresses from signees, and encourages people to circulate the petitions heavily on social media. While for-profit, Change.org is a public benefit company with B Corp status. It has raised$US72 million from backers including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.
After people sign the Justice for George Floyd petition, Change.org urges them to “become a hero” by chipping in $US3 to “get this petition on the agenda.” Once people click through to the next page, Change.org prompts them to choose between $US3, $US25, $US50, or $US100 donations. Smaller text below the donation buttons clarify that the money will be used to advertise the petition on Change.org’s own website.
Some donors say they felt misled by the company. Multiple people who gave money told Business Insider that Change.org’s disclaimers weren’t clear enough, and were incredulous to learn that none of the money would go to protest organisers.
A Twitter thread clarifying Change.org’s donation model was shared widely over the weekend and garnered hundreds of replies from people who said they donated and felt duped.
PSA: please *DO NOT* donate when change[dot]org asks you to donate after signing a petition. despite their name, they are a private corporation AND NONE OF THE FUNDS raised from their petitions go towards organizations or people who put the petition together.
— ????#FreeThemAll (@stacysuh) May 29, 2020
Dara Pierce, a resident of Oakland, California, signed the petition Friday, after which she felt galvanised to take more action. So when Change.org prompted her to donate money “to get this petition on the agenda,” she quickly chipped in $US25 for the cause.
It was only after donating that she realised her money wouldn’t go to the organisers of the petition, which calls on signatories to “help us get justice for George and his family,” nor would it go to Floyd’s family.
“I feel kind of stupid, honestly,” Pierce told Business Insider. “I should have read the fine print but I assumed the money would be going to the Floyds or to the organisers at least.”
Pierce wasn’t the only one with such an experience.
“I saw the request for a donation and of course wanted to help the cause and it wasn’t until after I donated that they mentioned that the money would be going towards ‘promoting’ the petition,” Chryss, an Australian citizen living in Dubai who donated $US25, told Business Insider.
As of Wednesday, the petition page says that over 8.5 million people either contributed money or shared the petition on social media, without providing a specific breakdown. At least one signer gave $US1,000, according to an auto-scrolling list of donors on the site.
Change.org’s site says that “every $US20 will advertise the petition 250 extra times on Change.org,” but doesn’t specify how that might translate into impressions or clicks, the metrics by which most online ad sales are measured. By contrast, advertisers spend roughly $US2.80 per 1,000 impressions on Google ads, according to the ad analytics firm Adstage.
Some people also voiced confusion about how Change.org’s donations model because the company previously did host crowdfunding campaigns, allowing people to donate to a campaign organiser with Change.org taking a 5% cut of each donation. According to an FAQ page, Change.org “decommissioned” the fundraising tool in 2019.