I was asked by a good friend from the National Human Services Assembly to review and comment on their latest report: Putting Human Needs on the National Radar Screen. I decided to turn the review into an opportunity for growth.
The nonprofit sector is still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, and cuts to programs and organizations have meant that millions of people have been left to fight for what they need the most. And here comes the crux – the nonprofit sector needs to change the language it uses when making the case for programs, communities, and other human services initiatives. According to the report,
“the human development/community development sector lacks a clear voice and message. Important, individual organizations may be recognized but the fabric these various organizations and programs weave – the fabric that holds families and communities together – is invisible to many in the public and to policy makers.”
This mish-mash of messages hurts the sector’s ability to fundraise and connect with the American people effectively. When the sector tries to speak to everyone, it ends up speaking to no one. The main point of the report is centered around the way organizations “frame” their work and their ask of donors. Framing is a crucial part of the solution to the deficit the sector is in currently.
“Of particular relevance to professionals that use data, facts and evidence to advocate in the policy arena, the findings indicate that people interpret incoming data in line with information previously stored in their long term memory. In other words, data that is similar to what the individual has already been exposed to tend to be reinforced, and contradictory data, counter-intuitively, only reinforces what one previously thought as well.”
When we “frame” things correctly, people are better able to decide if the new information fits in with current concepts they already agree with it. And these concepts – these framing tools – help act as a gatekeeper to ensure that opposing view points do not gain traction and influence our beliefs. See how the words used in the diagram transition from negative to positive feelings. The key here is in using terms like these with positive emotional attachments that will allow for “a seed to be planted for a larger frame to grow over time and reshape the audience’s point of view on a particular issue.”
When you have an audience that is polarized and charged (like our current political space), effective framing becomes crucial. The report provides some useful tips when dealing with such a crowd:
- don’t use jargon (they only reinforce old frames)
- connect your organization’s mission to something bigger than its brand
- simply change the conversation around a hot topic, thus providing opportunity to lead
- a fresh interpretation of a hot topic raises few red flags for audience members, so they will be more receptive to building new frameworks
- employ few but powerful facts
- take a broad focus
- focus on solutions
- avoid judgmental language
- show return on investment, particularly when engaging with policy-makers
- communicate interdependence
- put a human face on it
This report was handed to me right before I started a two-week period of training. And I can’t tell you how many times I turned back to this report to help me in my work in reaching an audience who remains baffled by the type of work I do – online community management. “Framing” to me is another form of “velcro learning” — the way we as trainers/teachers connect something new to something old and make it easier for that audience member to cement the learning faster. I’ve learned how to use different words with different audiences to get the same effect, and by simply relating…simply being willing to learn as much as you teach, opens the doors for real engagement.
To get your hands on the report, click here.