New Report Uses Reframing Strategies to Explain Nonprofit SectorOctober 3, 2019
The National Council of Nonprofits, a National Human Services Assembly member, in September released the report “Nonprofit Impact Matters: How America’s Charitable Nonprofits Strengthen Communities and Improve Lives,” demonstrating nonprofits’ commonalities and aligned interests to enable them to “advance their missions even further to shape a better future for everyone.” “Nonprofit Impact Matters” artfully incorporates several reframing features to tell a coherent story about the value of this diverse sector as well as the “current context in which nonprofits are operating.”
Overall, the report’s structure mirrors the reframing playbook for “an effective narrative for social issues” by answering the below FrameWorks Institute questions about charitable nonprofits (or 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations, excluding private foundations) in each of the following corresponding report sections:
- Why does the issue matter to society? → “Nonprofit Missions Matter” (and each report section includes a “Why This Matters” explanation)
- How does it work? → “Nonprofits at a Glance”
- What impedes it? → “Nonprofits Face Challenges”
- What promotes it? → “A Call to Action: What You Can Do”
“Nonprofit Impact Matters” integrates other notable FrameWorks Institute reframing recommendations, including:
- Define terms: The beginning of the report, “Reading the Fine Print,” spells out what nonprofit broadly means and how it is used in the report, as well as provides the data sources the report uses, so readers don’t default to their own assumptions about meanings.
- Explain how it works: “Nonprofit Missions Matter” shows how “nonprofits improve lives,” build democracy, “solve problems,” cultivate leadership, promote civic engagement and lift the economy, so people understand the benefits and how they’re achieved. “Nonprofits at a Glance” provides facts about how nonprofits operate to dispel common misconceptions, without restating myths that serve to reinforce those misconceptions.
- Use a reasonable tone: While “Nonprofits Face Challenges” explains the obstacles before nonprofits, the report refrains from taking a confrontational tone or using crisis language that could alienate readers or cause them to disengage because the problems seem too big to solve.
- Normalize and avoid “othering”: In discussing the various functions of nonprofits, the report does not use language that would prompt an “us” or “them,” “worthy” or “unworthy” stance toward recipients that can discourage support for solutions.
- Articulate collective benefits: The report consistently reminds readers that nonprofits serve everyone in society with language like: “Every person in the United States benefits from the work of nonprofits in one way or another,” nonprofits “enrich the lives of everyone in our country,” “creat[e] more equitable and thriving communities,” “provide a way for people to work together for the common good” and offer “indirect benefits.” It also includes a list of examples of how readers and their family members benefit from nonprofit services.
- Provide solutions: “A Call to Action: What You Can Do” focuses on four specific action steps, such as “amplify the power of nonprofit networks” and “advocate for your mission,” that nonprofits can take so the enumerated challenges don’t seem too overwhelming to address.
- Put data in context: The report uses explanatory background information to give numbers meaning, so readers don’t revert to unproductive misunderstandings.
- Frame images: “Nonprofit Impact Matters” prioritizes images that show multiple people interacting in communities and public spaces and avoids images that are tightly zoomed in on an individual.
- Overlay the Building Well-Being Narrative: While the report is inclusive of human services, it also encompasses other nonprofit subsectors such as arts and culture, so it does not fully lend itself to the Narrative, but uses elements when appropriate, such as:
- The construction metaphor: “Nonprofits Are Building Blocks of Democracy,” “build community,” “building and sustaining thriving communities across the country.”
- Explanatory examples from across the life cycle: “America’s 1.3 million charitable nonprofits feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten, and nurture people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, from coast to coast, border to border, and beyond.”
We are thrilled that the National Council of Nonprofits, the country’s “largest network of nonprofits,” relied on research-based communications strategies in the development of such a valuable resource for the sector.
SPOTLIGHT: The New York Times Applies Construction Metaphor to Health Care Policy
The New York Times‘ September 22, 2019 column, “Is America’s Health Care System a Fixer-Upper or a Teardown?,” by Margot Sanger-Katz and Tim Enthoven underscores the power of explanatory metaphors to translate complex policy issues into tangible examples well-known to the public. By comparing Democratic candidates’ health care proposals to home construction, including architecture, demolition, design, flaws, repairs and costs, the text and illustrations explain various health insurance systems, from the existing structure to candidates’ proposed plans. As FrameWorks Institute describes, “Explanatory metaphors use what people know about familiar objects or experiences to help them understand an abstract, unfamiliar, or misunderstood system or process. Carefully developed comparisons allow people to grasp concepts quickly and get to surprisingly deep understandings.” As we’ve learned, the Construction explanatory metaphor connects human services to a concrete, familiar example to explain what well-being is, how human services build it, what can threaten it and how human services ensure it, associating context with outcomes.