Opinion: Is Profit or Mission Key to Change.org?

Online-petition company Change.org is “testing the boundary between profit-making and social activism,” a Wall Street Journal business columnist writes in an assessment of the firm and its model for generating both revenue and public action on consumer, environmental, and other issues.

John Bussey reports on his experience in joining Change.org, a for-profit B Corporation, a designation that lets it plow profits back into the company rather than pay it to shareholders. Change.org allows members to launch or sign petitions and accepts advertising from nonprofit activist groups that want to recruit new members.  [Editor's note: The previous sentence has been corrected after Change.org told The Chronicle that the Wall Street Journal article on which this summary was based was incorrect. Change.org says it does not sell e-mail addresses of its members.]

Change.org hosts some 15,000 new petitions a month and expects to earn $15-million in revenue this year. “The reason we’re making money is that it’s the necessary condition to having impact,” said Ben Rattray, the firm’s CEO.

But Clay Johnson, an author and expert on using social media for fundraising, said he had “huge problems” with the Change.org model. “It’s dangerous to monetize ‘change’ because there’s an economic incentive to sensationalize,” Mr. Johnson said.

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