By Ben Rattray, Founder of Change.org, Nick Allardice, incoming CEO of Change.org, and Preethi Herman, Executive Director of the Change.org Foundation.
We are excited to announce that through the generosity of donations of equity from more than 50 of our investors, led by Reid Hoffman and including Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Ray Dalio, Evan Williams, Jerry Yang, Sam Altman, and Arianna Huffington, Change.org is transitioning to 100% nonprofit ownership by the Change.org Foundation.
This unprecedented action establishes Change.org as the world’s largest nonprofit-owned tech platform for social change.
Over the past decade, more than 450 million people have come to rely on Change.org as a platform to raise their voice on issues they care about. As digital services become more integrated into people’s lives, they are becoming the new essential public services — and it’s because of this increasing power that we’ve worked to ensure Change.org continues to be committed to and aligned with the public interest as we scale.
The new nonprofit ownership and governance structure we are announcing today achieves this alignment by establishing the permanent independence of our platform and our legal responsibility to our mission of empowering people everywhere to create the change they want to see.
This secures the long-term stewardship of Change.org as a digital public utility committed to the public interest.
This new structure also positions us for our next phase of growth: from a single product company focused on petitions to a civic infrastructure platform that empowers people everywhere to use their voice, money, and time to build healthier, more participatory and responsive democratic societies.
Building an essential public service, funded by our users
We have always sought to build an important public service using the best of consumer technology — and over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of growth.
People now use Change.org in 196 countries, and in some countries usage is close to the number of total voters in elections. In the United States 54% of the public uses Change.org, in the UK it’s 56%, and in Spain it’s 52%.
This growth has been driven by the 70,000+ campaigns that are now launched on our platform each month. While the most visible campaigns are national or global efforts that mobilize millions of people, the majority are local campaigns making small changes with hundreds of signatures at a time.
To support and accelerate this increased usage, we have been heavily investing in tech-enabled expert support and mobilization:
- Expert Support at Scale: Leading campaigns to create real change is often hard. That’s why we have teams of experts providing advice, support and guidance to people leading campaigns — it’s like a personal trainer for activism, and 100 percent free. Since the start of Covid-19 we have scaled this service by more than 100x, and now provide support to 20,000 campaign starters every month.
- Technology for Mobilization: Finding the people who are interested in supporting a campaign can also be difficult. The Change.org technology platform combines easy and intuitive storytelling tools with a powerful machine learning and automation system that has helped campaign organizers reach an audience of 1.65 billion people on Change.org since the start of 2020, attracting 935 million signatures and 285,000 media articles.
To fund these free public services we’ve also innovated on our business model, and today we are fully and proudly funded by millions of our users. After years of work, we’ve successfully transitioned from an ad-based revenue model to a user-driven revenue model in which users can chip in money to promote and grow the campaigns they care about or become monthly members to make our platform free for everyone. Both of these products have a user satisfaction score of nearly 90, and by the end of 2019 we became financially self-sustaining from user-contributed revenue.
A hybrid structure to maximize our long-term impact
After reaching the critical milestone of financial sustainability, we started to consider how we could set up the organization to further scale our impact, particularly in the context of a declining public trust in tech companies.
As a platform focused on democratic empowerment, we have always worked to create an organizational structure that closely aligns our interests with our mission and the public interest. It’s why we’ve only raised money from mission-driven investors and why we were one of the first tech companies to become a Public Benefit Corporation. As we explored how to set up the organization for scaling our long-term impact, we looked at how we could deepen our alignment with our mission and the public trust in our platform.
After more than 18 months of work, we’re excited about having created a hybrid organizational structure that achieves two goals:
(1) Preserve our ability to continue to operate as a fast-moving and innovative tech company, and
(2) Ensure that this company and all of our activities are ultimately responsible to our mission and the public interest.
This hybrid structure enables us to combine the ambition and growth trajectory of a tech company with the mission-focused stewardship of a nonprofit.
Similar to organizations like Mozilla and The Guardian, we will now have a nonprofit governing board — The Change.org Foundation — which will oversee two mutually supporting organizations: (1) Change.org Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), a wholly owned corporate subsidiary, and (2) Change.org Programs, the charitable activities of the Foundation:
- Change.org PBC: Focused on building the technology products and services that can scale to support more than 1 billion users globally to raise their voice on the issues they care about. Change.org PBC will continue to run as a company focused on innovation and growth, governed by the non-profit Change.org Foundation.
- Change.org Programs: Focused on empowering the most marginalized people and communities globally. One of the risks in scaling a tech platform is that the most marginalized people and communities with least access to technology, resources and power are overlooked or harmed. We’ve designed a structure that aims to avoid this result by creating a dedicated team that focuses on empowering the least powerful people around the world to make the change they want to see.
The investors who have made this possible
The only way we could make this transition happen is with the unprecedented and generous support of our investors, who represent some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, business visionaries, and philanthropists.
We’re deeply grateful for their support for this new structure, and want to thank the investors who have helped enable this transition by becoming founding donors of the new nonprofit-owned Change.org:
We want to particularly thank our lead investor, Reid Hoffman, without whose support and generosity Change.org would not be what it is today. When we faced our most challenging moment amidst a business model shift in 2017, Reid took the risk of personally investing $30m in Change.org, while pledging to donate any of the profits to charity. He has since helped turn around the organization financially and drive sustainable growth, and with the gift of all of his equity to the Change.org Foundation he is donating much more than his previous public pledge. We cannot thank him enough for what he has done for Change.org, our mission, and our users around the world.
In total, more than 90% of investor equity is being donated. We are also proudly part employee-owned, and in order to make Change.org 100% nonprofit-owned, the company is redeeming the remaining equity and retiring employee-owned options in a manner that ensures the continued financial health of the organization.
Leadership for our next phase of growth
We’re also making a number of leadership changes as part of this transition:
Executive Chair — Ben Rattray
Our founder, Ben Rattray, has led Change.org as CEO since the launch of the company in 2007. With this structural shift in our governance, Ben has decided that going forward he can best serve the organization by transitioning from CEO to Executive Chair of the new Change.org Foundation Board, supporting both Change.org PBC and Change.org Programs.
CEO, Change.org PBC — Nick Allardice
The Change.org PBC Board conducted an extensive CEO succession search that spanned over 6 months, and after interviewing many outstanding candidates, unanimously appointed Nick Allardice, former Chief Product Officer, to serve as permanent CEO of Change.org PBC.
Nick brings a rare combination of skills to the role as a seasoned technology executive, successful entrepreneur, and lifelong social movement campaigner. He has been a core leader at Change.org for 10 years, and has led many of the company’s most important advances. Prior to leading Change.org’s Product Development team, Nick spearheaded Change.org’s global growth and campaigns teams.
Before Change.org Nick co-founded Live Below the Line, an international digital fundraising platform that raised tens of millions of dollars for fighting poverty. He was part of the team responsible for some of the largest and most successful anti-extreme poverty campaigns in Australia’s history, and has served on the boards of a number of climate, poverty alleviation and care economy nonprofits.
Executive Director, Change.org Foundation — Preethi Herman
In 2016, we launched the Change.org Foundation to support nonprofit programs around the world that were high-impact and required philanthropic support. Change.org’s nonprofit activities now span more than a dozen countries and successfully support tens of millions of people thanks to a group of remarkable social entrepreneurs around the globe led by Preethi Herman, who has served as Global Executive Director. We are excited to say that Preethi has agreed to continue to lead Change.org Foundation as Executive Director in this new structure, leading all Programs among other responsibilities, and to continue as a member of the Change.org Foundation Board of Directors.
Board of Directors
Over the past few years we’ve been fortunate to have a highly engaged board committed to driving the organization’s financial sustainability and growth in impact, and we are deeply grateful to them for their guidance and support. As we transition to this new structure, we will be creating a newly expanded Change.org Foundation Board, and in the coming months will be announcing several new board members.
The first member of the new Change.org Foundation Board that we’re excited to announce is Regina Wallace-Jones. Regina has a rare background as a dual career professional in both the tech sector and in public service. She is the SVP of Product Engineering at Mindbody, the leading global wellness company, and has served as a tech executive at Facebook, eBay and Yahoo!. She was also elected to East Palo Alto City Council and recently completed her term in the capacity of Mayor of the city. Regina is the founding board president of StreetCode Academy, a patron of Black Girls Code, and board member for Women Who Code, and we feel lucky to have her leadership.
Hope for the future
As we look to the future, we simultaneously see immense challenges facing the communities we serve, and an extraordinary and increasing power that people have to address those challenges.
We consider ourselves lucky — we get to look across the dozens of countries where we have operations to see the tens of thousands of small and large ways people are working together to shape their institutions and communities for the better.
The way this happens is sometimes hard, messy, often too slow, and frequently set back. But the big picture story of people-power is not reflected in the despair-filled daily headlines. We are at a moment in time where people everywhere are more empowered, more connected, more capable and have more voice and agency on the issues and institutions that affect them than at any other time in human history.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen this again and again — from thousands of local campaigns to address school and essential worker safety, to millions of people supporting industries and workers decimated by the pandemic, to countless personal campaigns like the successful efforts to ensure the right of birthing mothers to be accompanied by their partners in hospitals. People are organizing together online when they couldn’t gather in-person, raising their voice, and shifting the policies of governments and businesses.
We believe this is just the beginning of what is possible, and hope you’ll join us (we’re hiring!) as we work together to build a digital public utility that can power the next era of change.
Ben, Nick & Preethi