Roe deer
Last week, I gave a workshop on Strategic Storytelling at a conference of fundraisers.

Strategic storytelling is the vivid use of stories tied to a framework you design – one that orients the listener/reader to the importance and relevance of what you are sharing.

This framework is like the trunk of a tree on which you can hang lots of stories and examples that support your message.

Choosing the right frame is key. A frame orients the people you want to reach to who you are and suggests what may be most relevant to them.

We all naturally search for frames. When we approach a situation, or get to know an organization, a cause or even a person, we want to know “How should I be looking at this?” and “What could this mean to me?” Lacking other information, we’ll naturally start to frame what we’re seeing through the lens of what we know or our past experiences. And depending on the frame we chose, the world may occur very differently.

Here are two frames through which to look at a situation I experienced last week called “deer on our property”.

Frame one: There’s a family of deer grazing peacefully in our horse fields today and I’m struck by the beauty of the scene. The mist is rising off the fields, the reddish bark of the madrona is catching a hint of light, and a large doe is watching over her new offspring, three babies, each barely eighteen inches tall. When I was five years old, my favorite book in the world was Fleet Foot the Fawn.

The doe perks her ears, notices me and then saunters slowly across the field, babies bouncing around her. Soon she will bound over the fence to the next field, leaving the young to scramble through the fencing, until the day comes when they, like their Mom, can jump it.

Frame two: Every gardener on this island knows this truth: deer are the enemy. Too many of them live on the island with few, if any, natural predators. To be able to grow vegetables and many ornamental plants, you need to have a deer fence. The first year we lived on our property we spent thousands of dollars putting up a fence, leaving half of the property open to the deer.

Unfortunately, the deer don’t always respect our generous limits. They’re the ultimate party crasher if the gate is left ajar a moment. This week, walking through our garden, I spotted a doe inside the deer fence. Big trouble! The last deer who entered ate most of my snap peas, nibbling them down to bare stalks. The deer crasher before that chewed off all the new vegetation she could reach on the fruit trees, cutting our crop of potential fruit in half. Deer inside the fence means war and getting one out is a pain. It’s not hunting season and I don’t own a gun, but if I did, I just might be tempted….

Same deer, same property – but the frame on each scene is completely different.

Frames shape how we see the world.

When Yale created a business school years ago, they didn’t try to be a new and junior version of the Harvard Business School. They created a degree called a “Masters in Public and Private Management” – announcing to the world they were playing a new game, with different values. New frame.

Hospice is sometimes framed, by those who don’t understand, as “where people go to die”. Wrong frame! Hospice is where people, who are facing death, are supported to live life as fully as they can. The frame is life, dignity and support.

People who don’t know the Bellevue Arts Museum might think it a poor cousin to the Seattle Art Museum. However, the Museum has created a powerful frame that links it to a growing and vital Bellevue arts community and highlights its strength in crafts and design, where it stands out as a leader in its field.

AirBNB, faced with criticism that it was encroaching on the terrain of hotels, reframed itself as way to feel like you belong anywhere around the globe. Being able to share someone else’s house or apartment was more than a cheap room, it was access to community. Way more interesting.

My husband, is struggling with how to frame his bike accident and broken hip. Is it just terrible luck and a royal pain in the a–.? Or is it his opportunity to more deeply appreciate what it is to walk, to strengthen his balance as he approaches his eighties, and to appreciate the power of friends as they reach out to him with offers of support.

Strategic framing isn’t spin.

It doesn’t magically make my husband’s pain go away. It sets a context.

Of meaning.

We may use a frame without noticing it, or we can intentionally choose a new frame with which to view a situation. An organization may inherit a frame or intentionally choose a frame that will shape the stories they want told about them.

Creating a frame and setting a context is the first step to strategic storytelling.

Offer the world a frame that puts you at the center of what you do best, builds on your best attributes, and highlights your talent. If you’re an innovator, help people know how to place you and gives them a lens through which to interpret what you do.

Yesterday, with the help of friends, we got the doe out of the garden. Today, I’m back to a positive frame for watching the deer: enjoying Bambi frolicking in the fields.