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The Frames We've Got vs. The Frames We Need

by Mary Ellms

How many times have you sat down to work on your organization’s newsletter or appeal letter and found yourself drawing blanks? It can be a daunting task to determine what kind of content will engage your audience and encourage people to donate, volunteer, attend events, etc. Should you focus on personal success stories or data or something else entirely? What could you possibly say that you haven’t already said 100 times to not only sway people to support your organization but to keep your long-time supporters engaged?

This appeal to diverse audiences can be a major difficulty in modern communications. One of the biggest problems, as reported by Dr. Lynn Davey at MANP’s Executive Leadership Forum in April, is that public conversation on social issues is guided by schema, heuristics, and biases–mental “frames”–which help organize knowledge and save mental energy but can also prevent us from understanding opposing views. This is why, whether we use success stories or data to talk about our work, we must pay careful attention to how we frame that information for our audiences.


In the “Say This, Not That” follow-up workshop on June 8th, Dr. Davey helped participants reframe messages to avoid tapping into and further perpetuating common stereotypes and biases. One group, for example, came up with several ideas for reframing environmental messages. One of their ideas was to avoid talking about climate issues as an impending catastrophe since that language could play into personal biases regarding politics and climate change. Instead, they chose to focus their messaging on “Yankee ingenuity” and Maine’s historic identity as an environmental leader, themes that might encourage a sense of pride and collective responsibility among the audience.

This kind of reframing is work that we all must do, not just our communications staff. While it is important to use thoughtful framing in our newsletters and marketing materials, it’s just as important to use it in our daily conversations about our work and our organizations. All staff, board members, and volunteers have a responsibility to better engage our communities in our work, and one way to do that is by reevaluating the way we frame our messages.

If you would like to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Davey and your nonprofit peers on revamping your messaging, you’re in luck! Due to the popularity of the first “Say This, Not That” workshop, MANP is offering a second workshop on August 3rd. There are still a few seats left, and we would love to have you join us! We also encourage you to download and use our FREE Frames That Work: A Messaging Toolkit for Maine Nonprofits as you decipher how to “say this, not that!”

One thought on “The Frames We’ve Got vs. The Frames We Need

Steve Mortimer says:

I heard Lynn for the first time at the April Executive Leadership Forum. I was so intrigued by what she said that we met for coffee so that I could pick her brain… for another 2 hours!

After attending the June workshop to further my understanding, I feel like I’m finally getting it (I’m a slow learner!).

I highly recommend this workshop. These are very tough times, and we all need to get our messaging right. Nothing is more important in my humble opinion, and Lynn has it figured out.

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