Changes are afoot at Change.org.
Since the petition site launched in 2010, Change.org, one of Inc.'s most audacious companies, has been rankling big businesses and elected officials alike by elevating the voices of their customers and constituents. The site has 50 million users launching petitions on everything from ending the government shutdown to convincing M&M's to stop using artificial dyes, and while many of those petitions have been successful, there's never been a way for the people in power to talk back. Until now.
On Wednesday, Change.org announced a new feature called Change.org for Decision Makers, where members of Congress will be able to respond to petitions that are directed their way.
"People keep saying we need more citizen voices inside government," says Jake Brewer, Change.org's head of external affairs who is leading the initiative. "With this product, we're bringing the government out to where the people are, versus bringing the people into where the government is."
Elizabeth Warren and Paul Ryan are among the few who have already been verified and set up dedicated pages on the site. Of course, Congress is just a first step for Change.org. Within a few weeks, the Decision Makers portal will open to all elected officials, and business owners, Brewer anticipates, will have access to the site by the end of the year.
Change.org has been criticized in the past for its business model, which involves promoting petitions from paying sponsors. It's possible that they'll face similar resistance to the idea that businesses and Congresspeople will now be able to use the site to spread their own propaganda or attempt to invalidate petitioners' complaints. "We totally expect that users won't always like the responses, because they'll be press release-y, inauthentic, or might not address the problem," Brewer says. "But what I'm most excited about is the ability of users to respond to the response. That's a conversation."
And knowing Change.org's enthusiastic audience, Brewer says, "I think decision makers will be punished for not engaging effectively, because our users will be able to continue organizing when something isn't right."
No revenue model has been attached to the Decision Maker platform yet, and Change.org, whose founder and CEO Ben Rattray vowed never to sell or go public, has no plans to make money from this part of the site either. Brewer expects, however, that more people will visit the site, knowing people like Senator Warren and Representative Ryan are listening. And the more people who visit, the more attractive Change.org will be to its sponsors.
"More eyeballs is a better value proposition, but it's not the reason we're doing this," Brewer says. "Our fundamental priority is to create impact for others and to empower as many people as possible to create the changes they want to see. More people will make more change when they work with the people making the decisions."