Color as Cause: Where does pink go from here?

What cause will pink choose?

Earlier this week, we looked at how a name can frame an issue or idea. So can color.

The AIDS movement brought “color for a cause” into the mainstream with the red ribbon. Susan G. Komen took it to new heights with pink. They successfully made pink synonymous with breast cancer. From travel mugs to cupcake baking cups, you could pinkify your life and help erase breast cancer. Seemed like a win-win.

At some point, pink fatigue set in. Terms like “pink-washing” and “pink think” popped up. Organizations like Think Before You Pink were created to counter the proliferation of pink products flooding the market.

When the news hit that Komen would no longer fund Planned Parenthood, the pump was primed for some pink bashing. And heads they did a-roll.

Now that the crisis has passed, the question is: what will become of pink?

Here are two options:

#1  Carry on with business as usual
#2  Give pink a second lease on life

Pink is currently framed as the color of breast cancer. Perhaps it should be re-framed more broadly as the color of women’s health. 

Breast cancer is a women’s health issue. So are heart disease, depression, and osteoporosis. In North America, women out-live men by up to 10 years and on average 3.1 of those years are reduced quality. We’ve gotta get serious about getting women healthy. Maybe pink can help us do it.

Heck, if red can be the color of choice for both AIDS and heart disease and Valentine’s Day can become Generosity Day, the door’s wide open for pink’s next job to be raising awareness about women’s health so that loads more women can lead happier, healthier lives.

Mind you re-framing wouldn’t be a piece of pink cake. Re-framing takes work. Allison FineBeth KanterStephanie RudatAmy Sample WardLucy BernholzTom WatsonLisa Colton, and others kicked things off on Super Bowl Sunday with Take Back the Pink (#takebackthepink). This effort was focused on making pink about breast cancer as a cause, rather than Komen as an organization. It got the ball rolling.

What do you think? What should pink’s next job be? Should pink take on women’s health or stick with breast cancer? 

Word of the Week: Framing

Do you have the right frame?

This is the first in a new series called Word of the Week. Each week, we’ll take a different word or expression and look at how it can help you create  better messaging, punchier copy, and more engaging content.

This week’s word is FRAMING.

“Framing” refers to how you structure or present your cause or issue.

We frame things largely through word choices. For instance, “drilling for oil” sounds pretty different than “exploring energy options”. Whether we’re spending “government funds” or the “taxpayers’ money” makes us think about those dollars differently. “Pro-life” and “pro-choice” are two different frames on abortion.

Why should you care about framing?  Your frame reflects your beliefs. It communicates where you stand on an issue and that, in turn, lets people decide whether they want to stand with you.

Framing is a strategic choice about where you want people to focus. For instance, in 1996, the Canadian government decided to get rid of “unemployment insurance” and usher in “employment insurance”. The goal was to shift the focus from unemployment to finding employment. (It took awhile for people to embrace “EI” instead of “UI” but change is hard, eh?)

Is your organization framed in a way that clearly communicates what you stand for and what you believe?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Valentine’s Day is being re-framed. Bring on the generosity, people! (Yes, that was a hint.)

Messaging Tip: Getting your features & benefits to inform & inspire

Ah the elusive balance between informing and inspiring. How do you compellingly speak to the features of your work and the benefits while keeping it short n’ sweet?

If you’re wrestling with this, the approach we used for this Microsoft cause campaign might be really handy.

Quick background: To celebrate their first 20 years of certification, Microsoft Learning decided they’d rather create a year-long campaign to create better careers and better lives for aspiring IT pros around the world than blow out 20 candles on a big ol’ cake. For the campaign, there are 20 different ways for established IT pros to pay it forward. The ways will be revealed throughout the year. Three are currently active.

Now for the handy tip: Here are the first three Calls to Action (CTAs). Note that each one follows the same pattern: Feature. Benefit.

The advantage of this approach is that you can inform and inspire. You can inform them of the action you want them to take while inspiring them by showing the difference their action will make.

No single approach works in every instance, but if your audience responds well to the inform/inspire approach, give this one a whirl.

Bonus: Saw this ad while out and about earlier this week. (I was stopped when I took the picture, for the record. ) Washington State Lottery used it on their current bus campaign: “When you play, students win.” Same approach: Feature, benefit. (The picture is lousy but you get the point!)

When you play, students win.

How do you balance features and benefits?

Dreaming of words

A few weeks ago, I wrote about dreaming in action, about how ‘dream’ is both a noun and a verb. I encouraged us all to live our dreams every day. It was lofty, existential stuff.

This week, I’ve been dreaming about words. That’s right. Words. More precisely, I’ve dreaming about a day when the English language would catch up with the awesomeness that is the work being done every day to make the world a better place.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve long dreamed of a day when we in the non-profit world would define ourselves by what we are versus what we are not. That dream turned into an experiment in crowdsourcing an alternative to the word ‘non-profit. (Non-profit meaning non-progress, after all. Ew!)

But I’m also dreaming about other words. We talk about mission and cause and impact and inspiration and that’s all important. The problem is they’ve all been used so much that they’re losing their meaning. They might, gulp, end up on Big Duck’s Words to Avoid List!

It’s not that they’re bad words. It’s that they’ve become blah. Sort of like ‘innovative technology solution’. (What is that anyway?! As opposed to, what, an un-innovative technology solution?) I’m dreaming of infusing those words with vim and vigor so they get your blood pumping and your heart racing. They need to be resuscitated or replaced.

Am I whining? Yeah, a little bit. I admit it. (And as I say to my kids, “I don’t speak whine.”)

So instead of whining, I’ll redirect my energy toward something more positive and productive–scouring the globe for words that do justice to the work of  all the hard-working people who are making the world a better place.

So tell us: what words do your work justice?


Brand is Lame

I’ve been thrilled to hear more and more mission-driven organizations talk about their brand. It’s downright happy-making.

In this day and age, understanding your organization’s brand is imperative if you want to stand out while staying grounded. When the three elements of brand (visual, narrative and experiential) come together in a compelling and consistent manner, you create an engagement-rich environment.

Here’s what doesn’t thrill me. When someone uses the word ‘brand’ instead of  ‘organization’. To illustrate:

“Donors just love our brand!”

Really? Have you heard a donor say: “I support Organization Awesome because I just love their elevator pitch.” Or perhaps, “Organization Awesome is my #1 partner-in-good. I mean, look at their logo!” Might how you talk about your organization (narrative aspect of your brand) and your logo (one piece of the visual aspect of your brand) resonate with a donor? You bet. But it’s that you are effectively speaking to what they care about through these things that makes their hearts go pitter pat.

What donors–and anyone else engaged with your organization–love is your cause and your mission. They care about what you do and how you do it (your mission) and why you do it (your cause). (Here’s more on the difference between cause and mission, if that last sentence made you furrow your brow.)

The word ‘brand’ is trendy. That’s fine. It risks ending up on the Banished Words list, but it’s fine.

What’s not fine is if you let its current celebrity status distract you from the whole point of having a clearly articulated brand–so people can connect with your cause and engage in our mission!

In Sum: Brand for brand’s sake is lame. Brand for the purpose of connecting with supporters who are passionate about your cause and lit up about your  mission is awesome.

[DIY Moment: If you’d like some help figuring out your brand, here’s a free resource.]



Cause & Mission: Big Diff

You often see ’cause’ and ‘mission’ used interchangeably. Not sure why. They’re quite different.

Here’s what I mean:



Causes can be broad (example: improving public education) or specific (example: music education in elementary schools in East Vancouver). Importantly, multiple organizations share a cause. This makes sense. We’re tackling big problems and it’s going to take lots of people-power to make progress on them. One organization isn’t going to single-handedly improve public education, right?

Mission is about your WHAT/WHO/HOW. This should speak to how you are advancing your cause, whether you’re an individual or an organization.

WHAT do you do?

WHO are you helping?

HOW are you doing it?

Each of these questions need a specific answer that, as a whole, is unique to your organization. And I mean ‘unique’ in the true sense of the word: something of which there is only one.

Share your cause. Own your mission.

Does this make sense? Do you know the difference between your cause and your mission?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?