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Develop Your Message

The concepts, language, and stories that will be most effective in achieving your initiative’s goals will vary from state to state, and sometimes community by community. Your message should reflect these concepts, be clear, and tell the story of child development and prevention in your state/community. As a group, you may want to review possible ways of framing the message based on information gathered from stakeholder conversations[1].

If you have the necessary resources or connections, working with a communications professional or team can be helpful in tailoring your message for desired audiences.

Below are several questions to consider while developing your message.

  • What issues exist in your state? Can you make this initiative relevant to the most pressing issues?
  • How can you explain the importance of sustaining the relevant work that schools and community partners are doing in your state or locality?
  • Are there success stories you can tell? Telling a positive story that your audience can relate to will help them understand and remember your initiative.
  • What concepts or terms will be most effective in your state and communities? For example, which will gain more acceptance: Social and Emotional Learning, school climate, or character development?

Tips for creating effective messages

Develop an “elevator speech” — a concise, overarching statement that defines what you want to accomplish, as well as why and how you want to accomplish it. It should take no more than one minute to say and its precise wording should be used for all audiences.

The message should be positive and offer opportunities for action. It should not overwhelm listeners with the many challenges you face or with too much information, but should convey a sense of urgency.

Develop a series of proof points, or sub-messages, that support and expand on your elevator speech. These should provide specific information about the initiative, its impact, benefits, and the appreciation of participants. Different points can address different audiences or types of interactions (e.g. individual vs. group.)

Be prepared to back up any statements you make with the data you’ve collected.

Decide in advance which program elements you will talk about with different constituencies and stick with those until, in your assessment/evaluation as a group, you determine that these are not effective or that other elements would have a greater impact.

Create talking points for each team member and messenger. Talking points ensure that the most critical information is conveyed accurately and consistently and that everyone who is representing your effort stays on message.

The first iteration of talking points will not only be for recruiting your Action Team members but also for Action Team members to use when they make contacts. The talking points will continually evolve as the purpose of the communication changes.

See the Tools and Resources section for example of talking points.


[1] Effective framing changes the conversation on social issues. For background on the concept of “framing,” see: Susan Nall Bales and Franklin D. Gilliam Jr, Communications for Social Good, “Practice Matters: The Improving Philanthropy Project,” April 2004:

“Messages conveyed by mainstream media take on the value of public narratives about the ways of the world, and different types of stories produce different social learning. When news frames public issues narrowly, as problems of specific people or groups, support for policy proposals plummets. When a media story highlights conditions and trends, by contrast, public support for policies to address the problem increases dramatically. Further, how the media frame or present public issues is critical to the final resolution of public problems. Not only can framing affect whether the solution to any given social problem is judged by the public to be individual or collective, but the media’s use of a specific frame is an important influence on the way people judge the relevance and legitimacy of a communication’s implicit or explicit call to action. This set of findings elaborates the communications concept called ‘framing.’”


Updated June 2015

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