Word of the Week: Framing

Do you have the right frame?

This is the first in a new series called Word of the Week. Each week, we’ll take a different word or expression and look at how it can help you create  better messaging, punchier copy, and more engaging content.

This week’s word is FRAMING.

“Framing” refers to how you structure or present your cause or issue.

We frame things largely through word choices. For instance, “drilling for oil” sounds pretty different than “exploring energy options”. Whether we’re spending “government funds” or the “taxpayers’ money” makes us think about those dollars differently. “Pro-life” and “pro-choice” are two different frames on abortion.

Why should you care about framing?  Your frame reflects your beliefs. It communicates where you stand on an issue and that, in turn, lets people decide whether they want to stand with you.

Framing is a strategic choice about where you want people to focus. For instance, in 1996, the Canadian government decided to get rid of “unemployment insurance” and usher in “employment insurance”. The goal was to shift the focus from unemployment to finding employment. (It took awhile for people to embrace “EI” instead of “UI” but change is hard, eh?)

Is your organization framed in a way that clearly communicates what you stand for and what you believe?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Valentine’s Day is being re-framed. Bring on the generosity, people! (Yes, that was a hint.)

Dreaming of words

A few weeks ago, I wrote about dreaming in action, about how ‘dream’ is both a noun and a verb. I encouraged us all to live our dreams every day. It was lofty, existential stuff.

This week, I’ve been dreaming about words. That’s right. Words. More precisely, I’ve dreaming about a day when the English language would catch up with the awesomeness that is the work being done every day to make the world a better place.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve long dreamed of a day when we in the non-profit world would define ourselves by what we are versus what we are not. That dream turned into an experiment in crowdsourcing an alternative to the word ‘non-profit. (Non-profit meaning non-progress, after all. Ew!)

But I’m also dreaming about other words. We talk about mission and cause and impact and inspiration and that’s all important. The problem is they’ve all been used so much that they’re losing their meaning. They might, gulp, end up on Big Duck’s Words to Avoid List!

It’s not that they’re bad words. It’s that they’ve become blah. Sort of like ‘innovative technology solution’. (What is that anyway?! As opposed to, what, an un-innovative technology solution?) I’m dreaming of infusing those words with vim and vigor so they get your blood pumping and your heart racing. They need to be resuscitated or replaced.

Am I whining? Yeah, a little bit. I admit it. (And as I say to my kids, “I don’t speak whine.”)

So instead of whining, I’ll redirect my energy toward something more positive and productive–scouring the globe for words that do justice to the work of  all the hard-working people who are making the world a better place.

So tell us: what words do your work justice?


Brand is Lame

I’ve been thrilled to hear more and more mission-driven organizations talk about their brand. It’s downright happy-making.

In this day and age, understanding your organization’s brand is imperative if you want to stand out while staying grounded. When the three elements of brand (visual, narrative and experiential) come together in a compelling and consistent manner, you create an engagement-rich environment.

Here’s what doesn’t thrill me. When someone uses the word ‘brand’ instead of  ‘organization’. To illustrate:

“Donors just love our brand!”

Really? Have you heard a donor say: “I support Organization Awesome because I just love their elevator pitch.” Or perhaps, “Organization Awesome is my #1 partner-in-good. I mean, look at their logo!” Might how you talk about your organization (narrative aspect of your brand) and your logo (one piece of the visual aspect of your brand) resonate with a donor? You bet. But it’s that you are effectively speaking to what they care about through these things that makes their hearts go pitter pat.

What donors–and anyone else engaged with your organization–love is your cause and your mission. They care about what you do and how you do it (your mission) and why you do it (your cause). (Here’s more on the difference between cause and mission, if that last sentence made you furrow your brow.)

The word ‘brand’ is trendy. That’s fine. It risks ending up on the Banished Words list, but it’s fine.

What’s not fine is if you let its current celebrity status distract you from the whole point of having a clearly articulated brand–so people can connect with your cause and engage in our mission!

In Sum: Brand for brand’s sake is lame. Brand for the purpose of connecting with supporters who are passionate about your cause and lit up about your  mission is awesome.

[DIY Moment: If you’d like some help figuring out your brand, here’s a free resource.]



Cause & Mission: Big Diff

You often see ’cause’ and ‘mission’ used interchangeably. Not sure why. They’re quite different.

Here’s what I mean:



Causes can be broad (example: improving public education) or specific (example: music education in elementary schools in East Vancouver). Importantly, multiple organizations share a cause. This makes sense. We’re tackling big problems and it’s going to take lots of people-power to make progress on them. One organization isn’t going to single-handedly improve public education, right?

Mission is about your WHAT/WHO/HOW. This should speak to how you are advancing your cause, whether you’re an individual or an organization.

WHAT do you do?

WHO are you helping?

HOW are you doing it?

Each of these questions need a specific answer that, as a whole, is unique to your organization. And I mean ‘unique’ in the true sense of the word: something of which there is only one.

Share your cause. Own your mission.

Does this make sense? Do you know the difference between your cause and your mission?


Top 3 Resolutions for Mission-Motivated Marketers

Historically, at the end of each year, I set six resolutions: three personal and three professional. This year, I would like to add three more to the mix.

These three are the resolutions I’d love to see all mission-motivated marketers stick to in 2012. Like drinking 8 glasses of water a day or stretching after every run (two of my three personal resolutions), these aren’t fancy, far-flung resolutions. They are the ones that, if you stick to them, will yield Big Results in 2012.

  1. Do Less: Release yourself from the notion that you have to do it all. Facebook, newsletters, Twitter, annual report, Foursquare, Tumblr, Storify. All can be great tools when it comes to marketing your mission and they all take time and money (as ‘time is money’) to do well. Both of those are scarce resources. Do less and you have time to do it well.
  2. Keep your on-line presence fresh: A languishing website makes supporters think you’re a languishing organization. Let your awesomeness shine through! At least once a month, go to all your on-line properties and make sure they’re up-to-date. For your website, update at least one page with brand new content. Block the time on your calendar now.
  3. Post your Top 3 Goals where you can see them: Research shows that writing down your goals and sharing them with someone else ups the chances you’ll achieve them by 33%. I haven’t found research that putting them where you can see them also helps, but have seen first-hand what a different it makes. Write ’em down. Put ’em up.
Those are my top 3 resolutions for mission-motivated marketers. What resolutions do you have for 2012? How do you plan to make them stick?