Issue Frames and Winning Campaigns

Bolder Advocacy -- Pat Libby is the author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 steps for advancing any cause effectively (SAGE Publications, 2012), from which this column is adapted. Libby is also a clinical professor and director of the Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research, University of San Diego.

I love advocates. I love advocates because they’re willing to give up some personal comfort—a cozy night by the fire, dinner with friends, a favorite TV show, etc.—to work on a cause because they’re passionate about it.
Credit: Just Economics of Western North Carolina

“Living wage” is an example of a fantastic frame that conveys powerfully the meaning of the campaign. Credit: Just Economics of Western North Carolina

The flip side of that passion is that advocates are often so single-minded they have difficulty understanding how to frame their issue so that it has broad appeal. They think “every person who learns about this will be on our side”—that if only people have enough information they will be persuaded. They also hang out with people who think like they do—after all, most of us do—which makes it even more difficult for advocates to begin to understand how anyone else can think differently.

Advocates also forget that most people don’t take time to educate themselves on issues. They don’t because they’re too busy juggling work/school/family, or they’re involved with other causes, or they’ve formed a first impression of an issue that may not be accurate (i.e., they’ve already made up their mind even though they’re not that informed about the facts).

The challenge for advocates is to think strategically about how to name and frame your issue in such a way that it quickly conveys a message about what your cause is about in a way that appeals to a wide range of people. (Full Story