Key Activities

Activity 1 of 7

Identify Your Audiences

Who needs to hear your messages? Take some time to brainstorm your audiences. Each audience will have a different view of your work and what they need to hear about your efforts.

Groups to consider
  • Partners: Those involved in your work. This includes your leadership team, partnership members, volunteers, and funders.
  • Potential Partners: Those you’d like to engage in your work now or in the future. Recruitment is an ongoing process. Think about which organizations or sectors make decisions related to your health improvement goal.
  • Most impacted: Those most impacted by the issue you’re trying to address. They need to understand how your work will affect them, and they can provide the most direct experience with the issue. Their voices need to be incorporated into your communication strategies.
  • Decision-makers: Those who have the power to give you what you want. Who do you need to persuade to make the specific policies or program you're focusing on happen? Be specific.
  • Influencers: Those who can influence decision makers. Using a tool like Sphere of Influence, can help you identify this audience.
  • Implementers: Those who will make the policy or program happen.

"When you are clear about your goal and find the right strategy, your target audience may be as narrow as a single person.”1

Not your audience

Be sure you’re focusing your messaging on those you can persuade. Your opposition is not your audience.2

Get to know your audiences

Think about your audiences. What do you know about them, and how do you know it? What kind of assumptions, biases, prejudices, or stereotypes about your audience might be influencing your understanding? 

It’s important to consider demographic characteristics, like age, gender, race, and where they live. It’s also important to understand their attitudes and interests. Researchers talk about this as psychographics. It helps you understand not just what people do but why.3

Here are some questions to ask and places to look to help you get to know your audiences:

  • What media do they consume?
  • What truths have they embraced? Whose truths are those?
  • What’s on display on their social media feeds? What issues do they publicly associate with?
  • Why do you think they do the things they do? How does systemic racism impact why they do these things?
  • Who do they follow and listen to?3

We like the Decision-Maker Analysis tool for getting to know policymakers. It lays out a number of questions to help you figure out how a specific decision operates and how you might influence them.

  1. Christiano BA, Neimand A. Stop Raising Awareness Already. Stanford Soc Innov Rev. 2017;Spring:34-41.
  2. Spitfire Strategies. The Spitfire Strategies Smart Chart 4.0.; 2013.
  3. Spitfire Strategies. Mindful Messaging. Published 2017. Accessed June 27, 2017.
Activity 2 of 7

Start the Conversation

The County Health Rankings are a data tool, but they are also a communication tool. They help start the conversation about health in your community. The data tells a part of your community’s story. It’s up to you to fill in the rest.

Engage your community

Consider hosting a public forum or listening session to learn what priorities residents have. Virtual events have the potential to engage more and different community members, including those that experience obstacles attending in-person meetings. Ask community members how they experience the issues raised.

Learn more about how Allen County, Kansas is engaging residents in a meaningful way to make lasting change:

From CHR&R webinar, Partnering with Residents (2018)














The County Health Rankings can also be a great conversation starter. Here are a few tips and tools to use the Rankings to learn with and from residents:

  • Use the County Health Rankings model and your county snapshot to begin these discussions. (To find your snapshot, click on Explore Health Rankings in the orange toolbar above and enter your county under Find County Rankings.)
  • Our discussion guide for County Health Rankings model provides some thought-provoking questions that can spark discussion around the model and what it means for your community.
  • Download the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps 101 slides. These slides include speakers notes and can help you frame your message.
  • Reflect on your County Health Rankings State Reports, which raised awareness about persistent gaps in opportunity by place and race. These reports highlighted data on social and economic disparities based on place and on race and ethnicity, in addition to providing evidence-informed strategies and examples of communities taking action to address equity.
  • You likely have your own data and insights from a community assessment. Use the Rankings as a hook to ignite or re-ignite conversations about your findings.
Bring equity into the conversation

Looking for a way to start or extend the conversation about equity? These short videos have gotten us talking about equity. They could be a useful place to start in your community. Choose one or more of the following videos to watch and reflect together. Our Video Facilitation Guide can help you prepare.

Why is Jason in the Hospital? (from Bernalillo County Place Matters) (3:27)
 Clint Smith – “Place Matters” (from Bacani Films) (3:41) 
Camara Jones -- Allegories on race and racism (from TEDx Talks) (20:31)
Activity 3 of 7

Create a Communications Strategy

Your communications strategy will pull from and build on the work you’ve done throughout the Take Action Cycle. It will help you persuade the right people at the right time to take an action that will lead to meaningful change.

We like Smart Chart 4.0 from Spitfire Strategies for creating a comprehensive communications strategy because it is grounded in research and user experience. Much of the guidance you’ll find here is informed by Smart Chart.

Determine the purpose 

Do you want to:

  • Share knowledge? People need basic knowledge on the issue before they can consider taking action. This will help you gain support for your issue, program, or policy.
  • Build will? This means overcoming the barriers that could stop your audience from taking action. You’ll ask your audience to take a manageable action that is within their comfort zone.
  • Reinforce action? This includes celebrating victories with the people who helped make them happen. If your supporters see themselves reflected in the action and understand the impact of their action they will be more likely to act again.1
Consider your audience and tailor your communication to them

Consider the following:

  • What do they care about? What existing belief or value can you tap into?
  • What existing belief might be a barrier you have to overcome?
  • Does your audience understand why you are interested in the issue? Have you shared that with them?
  • What is their interest in your issue?
  • What’s your message?
  • Who do they need to hear it from?

Find more on this under Develop Your Messaging.

Decide how to get your message out to your key audiences
  • Messenger. Who will best connect with your audiences?
  • Tactics. How will you deliver your message? Think presentations, media coverage (both social and print/broadcast), and direct communication with different groups.
Look for results

 How will you know if your messages are working? Look for outputs (i.e., the things you do or items you produce) and outcomes (i.e., the changes that occur as a result).

Suggested Tools
  1. Spitfire Strategies. The Spitfire Strategies Smart Chart 4.0.; 2013.
Activity 4 of 7

Develop Your Messaging

So, what are you going to say? How will you motivate your audience to listen, to care, and – most importantly – to act? Your messaging can make or break your communication strategy. 

Crafting effective messaging

There are lots of tips out there for crafting effective messaging, most include some common elements.

  • Problem: what’s the problem and how does it align with your audience’s values? You want to make them nod back at you in agreement. As you communicate about addressing health inequities, be sure to frame issues as the problem, not the people impacted by the issue.
  • Solution: describes what you or others can do to overcome the problem. 
  • Ask: this is one specific thing you want people to do. The key here is to be specific
  • Vision: This helps your audience understand the “so what?” What will the world look like if your audience does what you want them to do? It should reflect their values.

Communities we work with like M+R’s 27-9-3 Rule for developing short persuasive messages. The 27-9-3 rule requires you to make your message in...

  • No more than 27 words that can be…
  • Delivered in 9 seconds, with no more than...
  • 3 key points

This is a simple but powerful tool for creating a concise message.

Check out our 20-minute webinar short on using the 27-9-3 rule or dive into the 1-page worksheet.


Keep what you know about your audience front and center

Mindful Messaging by Spitfire Strategies lays out the brain and social sciences behind messaging in a relatable way. We’ve summed up a few key take-aways here.

  • Get to know your audience better. Challenge yourself to understand your audience’s core concerns and barriers. 
  • Identify what’s at play in people’s minds and anticipate their potential responses. If you first think about how people might respond to what you’re asking them to do, you can strengthen your messaging efforts. Consider:
    • What are some potential positive responses and reactions? How could you use them to keep your audience tuned in to your message?
    • What are some potentially challenging reactions? How can you navigate them to keep your audience engaged?
  • Test your messaging. It’s not what you say, it’s what your audience hears. Testing your message can give you some insights into what your audience might hear. This can be a simple as testing two different messages to see which people respond to or as formal as holding a traditional focus group.1

NOTE: Sometimes it seems people are acting against their best interest – this can be frustrating. But it's likely we are making assumptions about what we believe is in their best interest. People have many competing priorities -- their top priority might not be the same as ours. If you feel this happening, stop and ask what you might be missing. Listen for ways to engage in a different way.

If you’re looking for content-specific messaging, check out leaders in the field like the FrameWorks Institute and Berkeley Media Studies Group. They do a lot of testing to be sure messages strike the right tone.

Suggested Tools
  1. Spitfire Strategies. Mindful Messaging. Published 2017. Accessed June 27, 2017.
Activity 5 of 7

Use the Power of Story

Stories spark curiosity and create empathy. Stories go beyond data and statistics and make your work come alive to the people you want to influence. How can you tap into the power of storytelling?

“Story is the single most powerful communication tool we have,” Andy Goodman, The Goodman Center.


What do you want to see happen as a result of your story? Setting the right storytelling objectives will help you produce stories to meet your audiences where they are and move them from awareness to action.1

Stories can:

  • Raise awareness about an issue or an organization
  • Change attitudes about an issue
  • Recruit new partners
  • Develop resources (e.g., funding, volunteers)
  • Motivate people to take a specific action

Storytelling for Good, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, is a deep resource for developing your storytelling strategy. The site has four interactive sections designed to help you strategically craft, curate, and share stories.

Collect stories

Introduction to Storytelling provides guidance on the elements of a good story, how to collect stories and identify best uses, and how to create a story bank. Consider gathering personal stories from community members affected by the issues you’re working to address.

Leverage Pop Culture

Television and film also provide powerful stories that you can leverage for good. AndACTION gives groups a heads up about upcoming film and TV storylines that feature their issues. 

  1. Your Content · Hatch for Good. Accessed June 27, 2017.
Activity 6 of 7

Deliver Your Message

Once you know who you’re talking to (your audience) and what you’re going to say (your message), you get to decide how you’ll deliver your message. You’ve got lots of choices.

The communication tactics you choose will depend on your unique situation. You’ll want to keep in mind your goal, what resources you have to support your tactics (e.g., budget, time, skills), and what’s appropriate for your audience. In other words, be thoughtful and strategic as you decide how to deliver your message.

The delivery

Choose one or more of these delivery tactics:

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Conference presentations
  • Phone calls
  • Letters, postcards, email
  • Newsletters
  • Letters-to-the-editor and op-eds
  • Press conference
  • Paid advertising
  • Social media
  • Websites
Be direct

You want your tactics to be as direct as possible. What that means will depend on your audience.

For example, if you are working on policy change, working with policymakers (often elected officials) is essential. Communicating with Policymakers: Delivery Tips 101 provides concrete tips for delivering your message to policymakers. The tips here are geared toward an in-person meeting but can also apply to phone calls and direct correspondence.

Make Presentations

You can give presentations to community groups and civic groups (like the Kiwanis or Lions Club), faith-based groups, neighborhood organizations, nonprofits, parent teacher associations, and other formal or informal groups from whom you want support. Don’t just invite people to come to you – go to them!

Select your online platforms

Should you use Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat to reach your audience? Storytelling for Good, a deep resource for developing your storytelling strategy, offers a short assessment to help you decide which storytelling platforms make sense for you and your audience.

Bring your stories to life

Beyond the big social media platforms, the landscape of online tools to help you tell your stories is vast and continually evolving. DigitalStory.Tools is a directory of tools and resources to help you build your digital stories. It’s a site to help journalists stay on top of their digital storytelling game, but you can use it too.

Here are a couple of our favorite recent discoveries:

  • StoryMapJS – If your story revolves around geographical locations, try Storymap from Knight Lab. It allows you to use photos, text, and video on maps.
  • Timeline – Is your story more chronological? Try Timeline, also from Knight Lab.
  • Canva – Provides templates and graphic elements you can easily drag and drop to quickly design a social media graphic or infographic.



Activity 7 of 7

Use Media and Social Media

Connecting with the media can seem daunting, but it’s a key way to reach and influence decision makers. Which media sources do your key decision makers watch, listen to, or read? Start there.

But first, are you ready?

Read the following statements. Would you answer yes to most or all?

  • We are clear about what we want to accomplish.
  • Our messaging is tested and ready to go. We’ve got our elevator pitch down!
  • We have stories to share that can spark curiosity and create empathy.
  • We have our spokespeople lined up and ready to talk to the media.
  • We are prepared to get the maximum mileage out of media coverage. We’ll share articles or news clips via social media and have a plan for a follow-up letter to the editor.
Get covered

There are a variety of ways to use the media ranging from letters to the editor to strong advocacy techniques like events that generate coverage through outrage or theater (e.g., American Legacy Foundation’s Truth campaign). Not sure how to get started with media advocacy techniques? Media Advocacy, one of our go-to tools, has you covered. It includes tips for things like:

  • Writing letters to the editor, press releases, media advisories, media statements and op-eds
  • Conducting successful editorial board meetings
  • Contacting the media
  • Interviewing do’s and don’ts
  • Using social media
And speaking of social media

Taking your message digital can be a great way to reach a lot of people, but remember it is only one part of your larger communications strategy.

A few keys to getting started with effective digital outreach are:

  • Determine your objectives
  • Identify your priority audiences
  • Identify the most effective platforms to use
  • Decide how much time and effort to invest
  • Track your success and adjust your strategy as needed
  • Create content appropriate for the platform (e.g., website, social media, email).1, 2

If you’re using social media, bookmark or print Digital S.M.A.R.T.S.: A guide for nonprofits and keep it handy. It provides tips for creating content, tracking your success, and maximizing your presence on social media. Digital S.M.A.R.T.S. also covers setting guidelines for social media and includes a sample policy.

  1. Office of the Associate Director of Communication at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit. 2011.
  2. Spitfire Strategies. Digital S.M.A.R.T.S.: A Guide for Nonprofits. Accessed June 27, 2017.