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Develop a Core Message and Mission/Vision

Before communicating with others and enacting a plan of action, it is essential that team members work together to create a shared understanding of what the initiative wants to accomplish and what they will do together to make it happen. The purpose of the initiative and its key elements should be general enough that, ideally, each organization or individual will be able to envision how their strengths or focus can help advance the initiative’s mission/vision. This step may sound easy, but it is frequently overlooked because people assume they have the same goal in mind. Uncovering the commonalities and refining the goal can be more difficult that it seems at first.

It is also crucial that the team have a common understanding of terms and concepts, as well as an environment of respect for clarifying questions about definitions and topics. This is particularly critical for a broad, multi-sector network, where each field has its own priorities and understanding of commonly used words. Whether you are communicating with your team members or with audiences you would like to support your initiative, you want to be sure that what you aim to communicate is what is being heard. Therefore, be aware of the different interpretations of various terms.

The articulation of your mission/vision will be your core message. This is the general message that will be used and should express the concepts that you will communicate to all your audiences. In stating the goals of the initiative, it should also reflect the character of your community and emphasize its values. There are many ways to explain your purpose; you want your message to frame it in a way that will be viewed positively in your community (see sidebar on framing).

Below are several questions to consider while developing your message.

  • 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?
  • What issues exist in your community or state? How is 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.

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 understood 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 data you’ve collected or that exists in the public domain.
  • 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.

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 March 2018

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