In this Letter, we examine bond activation induced by nonmetal surface promoters in the context of dehydrogenation reactions. We use C–H bond activation in methane dehydrogenation on transition metals as an example to understand the origin of the promoting or poisoning effect of nonmetals. The electronic structure of the surface and the bond order of the promoter are found to establish all trends in bond activation. On the basis of these results, we develop a predictive model that successfully describes the energetics of C–H, O–H, and N–H bond activation across a range of reactions. For a given reaction step, a single data point determines whether a nonmetal will promote bond activation or poison the surface and by how much. We show how our model leads to general insights that can be directly used to predict bond activation energetics on transition metal sulfides and oxides, which can be perceived as promoted surfaces. These results can then be directly used in studies on full catalytic pathways.