Vicky Browning: We must speak to our audience with language that resonates

How people think about issues is often framed by the way in which they are presented, writes our columnist

Vicky Browning
Vicky Browning

It's clear that the gap between how charity communicators assume people think and how they actually do is wider than we realise. Organisations talking about important issues fail to connect with large numbers of people.

Genuinely understanding our audience's perspective is key, especially when it's very different from our own. Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, for example, focuses on changing attitudes towards LGBT people in sport. It uses sport as a way of reaching audiences that would not usually engage with Stonewall, and is built on research showing that only a hard-core minority of sports fans are hostile to LGBT people: the rest are accepting.

Other charities, particularly in the children, human rights, criminal justice and anti-poverty sectors, are doing interesting work on reframing. Frames are sets of choices about how information is presented: what to emphasise, how to explain it and what to leave unsaid.

How we think about an issue can depend on the frame in which it is presented. For example, when the criminal justice charity Transform Justice asked members of the public "given the importance of free speech, would you favour allowing a hate group to hold a political rally?", 85 per cent said yes. When the question was changed to "given the risk of violence, would you favour allowing a hate group to hold a political rally?", those in favour fell to 40 per cent.

If we want to shift perceptions and attitudes about the issues we care about, we need to understand the values of our different audiences and speak to them in language and value frames that resonate with them, not those that alienate them.

Vicky Browning is director of CharityComms

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