• Benjamin Miller

Play for the Board not the Pieces

I'll be honest with you. I'm mediocre at chess. But I do know this. When players start out they try as hard as they can to get the other player's pieces. They look at the board and think "Who is exposed? What pieces might I be able to knock off?"

As players get better, they start learning they can also take control of space not just pieces. After all, pieces are useless if they can't move, and you don't need to take out anyone but the king. What you need is a clear path to do that and the rest is just a distraction.

A lot of nonprofit communications is playing for the pieces. How can we increase the number of supporters? How can we convince more people in the middle? That's of course an important part of the game, but it's important to remember that's not all there is.

Some nonprofits play for the board. In communications, "the board" means language itself. That means seizing the force of keywords so you can clear a path to legitimize certain kinds of actions for your cause and block your critics from attacking you.

What is an example of this kind of thinking?

SlutWalk is a transnational movement that is not necessarily intended to win minds in the middle. It's intended to both deny certain actors the ability to use a word ("slut") to deny, or blame the victim for, rape. It also seeks to normalize a set of behaviours (e.g. dressing a certain way) so that if women are interested in doing this they can do so without fear of violence or shame.

There are a few things this example highlights. Firstly, it is clearly a higher risk communications strategy because it seeks to neutralize other actors rather than win their support. Secondly, for that very reason it is not a criticism to say it is "divisive" or "alienating" to some. The point is to erect a dividing wall in such a way that those on one side are restricted in their movement while those on the other can move in new ways.

In the end, it's up to you to decide how best to play, but be aware of all the strategies you have at your disposal.

Photo credit: Michal Vrba

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