Why You Should Start Your Signature Gathering Effort Early

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Signature gathering

It Pays Off to Start Signature Gathering in Advance 

For groups and organizations that are interested in getting a measure on the ballot, signature gathering can be a costly, time-intensive, and pain-staking affair. You’ll need to raise the money to pay an expensive field consultant to manage the process for you. There’s a steady unease about hitting your numbers, and all of this is compounded with the stress of knowing that the success of your effort hangs in the balance. 

That’s why we recommend starting your signature gathering process early. By early, we mean really early, like more than a year out from when the signatures are due. With your effort being a long way away, time is on your side. You can gather a lot of these signatures using volunteers, instead of relying entirely on an expensive consultant. Of course, all of this is subject to approval by an attorney – you want to make sure signatures collected a year in advance are permissible and will be valid. But a signature gathering effort that runs for a longer period of time comes with several important strategic advantages, including the following. 

Lower Cost
First off, starting a program early is considerably cheaper than running a late-breaking, last-minute program. An early signature gathering program can lean more on volunteers to collect signatures, instead of just using paid staff. With the ongoing labor shortage, the cost per signature has risen, using paid firms and volunteers help to lower those costs. You probably won’t be able to do all your signature gathering using volunteers. Likely you’ll still need to hire some paid staff to augment the work volunteers are doing or to help with signature validation. But if you start early, you can maximize paid staff, such as by just hiring people to help gather signatures around big events. Or you may be able to hire paid staff to help you in the last few months as you finish up the program. It’s true that there may be more staff time required to run a volunteer program on the organizational side, but the cost savings can be worthwhile. 

Collecting Signatures Around Election Day
Starting more than a year from when signatures are due lets you use Election Day as a collection point to gather signatures, which comes with several built-in advantages, including the fact that there’s a regular and consistent crowd to recruit from. If you aren’t gathering signatures around an election, you typically will go to a shopping mall, outside a popular restaurant, or a festival or concert to collect signatures. But the people you encounter here all have something else in mind, they want to shop, eat, drink, or just enjoy their evening. However, the people you run into as they are going to vote are already exercising their civic duty, so they’re more likely to sign your petition. Another great advantage to signature gathering around elections is that you can be fairly certain the people you talk to are registered to vote, so each signature should be valid. While you can never really be sure that someone you meet at the mall is registered to vote (very few people want to admit to a stranger that they’re not registered to vote) you can feel pretty good that people walking into a polling place are in fact registered. 

Volunteers Get Bought In
As discussed, running a signature gathering program more than a year out lets you use volunteers to help collect signatures. And a volunteer signature gathering effort allows you to get volunteers engaged early on. If your measure makes it onto the ballot, you will already have a built-in pool of volunteers you can recruit from to run a canvass or phone bank. Since your volunteers will be familiar with the effort and bought in to the process (they did, after all, help get it on the ballot), they will be more likely to volunteer their time to the campaign for the persuasion effort than someone who has not already volunteered. 

Reputation as a Community-Led Movement 
Signature gathering efforts that start late will often use paid staff that are brought in from outside a community. This staff won’t know all the local hangouts where people go to congregate, and they can collect a lot of signatures at once. Sure, they will Google where the malls and hotspots are, but they probably won’t know that there’s a regular group of third shifters who go to Art’s Pub at 7 am every morning after they get off work. When a signature gathering operation uses local volunteers, it also starts off with a strong reputation. Volunteer signature gathers give the appearance of an effort being community-led, instead of something that’s being pushed by a national organization who don’t have the community’s best interests at heart. 

Have questions about how to start your signature gathering efforts off early? Reach out to The Campaign Workshop