What Associations Can Learn From the Death Star Petition
An unusual request from the public to the White House highlights the importance of engaging and talking to your members, even if you can’t grant their wishes.
It looks like Star Wars has taught us more lessons than just how to wield a lightsaber. Associations can learn a few things from an out-of-this-world request that appeared on the White House’s “We the People” website, which allows members of the public to post petitions for signature by their fellow Americans. The ask? That the government allocate funds to build a Death Star.
The White House had committed to responding to any petition that garnered more than 25,000 signatures. The Death Star proposal drew more than 34,000. The White House eventually denied the request, citing an estimated $850 quadrillion price tag in an era of cost cutting, and declaring that, as a policy matter, “the administration does not support blowing up planets.”
As Forbes reported, the answer was both funny and informative—a response that leaders in the association world can applaud. Here’s why:
The tone was right.
The response is articulate, humorous, and packed with information, pointing to infrastructures already in place that the public may have forgotten about (the International Space Station, space missions such as a probe that will fly to the sun, and White House-sponsored science fairs are some examples listed). The administration took something as high profile—and memorable—as the Death Star petition and used it to inform the public and promote public discourse.
It’s extremely shareable.
The Death Star petition went viral on social media sites, and the White House response garnered even more reaction. A quick search for the hashtag “#deathstar” brings up a host of tweets not only reporting that the administration responded but also spreading its message and boosting the White House’s image as approachable.
As Forbes noted, “While the line was meant to get laughs, what followed was an engaging look at the administration’s space policy and a pitch for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, a far cry from the absurdity of the petition.” Social media proves the point:
Not a bad return on the White House’s investment of time.
It faced The request head on.
Although clearly the White House couldn’t grant the request, it had to respond. By tackling it head-on, the administration helped ensure that the response was well received. While most associations don’t have to deal with off-kilter requests like many of those the White House has received, sometimes the solution your members want (reduced fees or a more centralized conference location, for instance) just aren’t possible. Instead of ignoring the problem or the request, associations can take note of what the White House did: address what they can solve, acknowledge what they can’t, and take advantage of opportunities to educate members and reinforce the organization’s message.
How have you handled tough questions from your members?