Cropping Your Mission: How Issue Framing Impacts Your Operations
Communications advice often talks about the need to frame your issues in a way that resonates and reflects your audience. But the way an issue is framed is not just a matter of communications. It has material implications for who you are as an organization and how you operate.
For example, I can attack poverty as a human rights concern and suddenly I am embedded within a network of organizations, academics, conferences, literature, and intellectual traditions focused on human rights--some of which may have been completely unrelated to my work had I chosen a different framing. This has material implications for me about what type of knowledge I might need in my organization (e.g. would a lawyer be helpful where one was not necessary before?), where I will spend my time (e.g. what websites to monitor), and who I will talk to.
By the same token, I could be a homelessness organization that frames the issue as one of housing affordability. All of the sudden, individuals who are not necessarily homeless or precariously housed may be very interested in my work (e.g. middle class renters who nonetheless feel squeezed). This may open up a new line of donations. It may also have consequences for mission drift.
Simply put, when you think about how you frame an issue ask yourself "what difference will this make to our operations? Who will be in our network that wasn't there before and who is likely to leave?" It could be that you were a very well qualified homelessness organization and a very poorly qualified human rights organization. Do you have the budget to make the leap either through hiring or training? Will your team follow you there? It could be that you were talking to all the right people before but now you don't even know who to talk to.
It could be that your research tells you a particular framing is likely to resonate with your audience. That may indicate you should be growing in changing. What I'm almost certain won't solve the problem is just slapping on a new coat of paint. If you're going to frame an issue a particular way be prepared to realign yourself substantively behind that framing.