Empowered to talk more clearly and confidently

Creating meaningful connections through updated messaging

The Situation

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance (MACA) leads a coalition of the commonwealth’s 12 child advocacy centers (CACs). These centers work directly with physically and sexually abused children.  Since 1997, MACA has been supporting, collaborating with, and advocating for these centers.

After many years of focusing on the work and making sure that the day-to-day was done, the MACA team lost their ability to talk about what they did in plain language. They could easily articulate their work in grant proposals, but explaining it to people outside the world of children’s services was a challenge. From the Board of Directors to staff and coalition members, the language they used consisted of outdated terminologies from their humble beginnings as a grassroots organization.

“Our work on messaging had been pretty superficial. It’s all our bandwidth would allow,” says MACA Executive Director Tom King. “However, even with a limited staff, we would take some time to check-in with a few funders here and there, and although those nuggets were helpful to support our day-to-day, they weren’t making the substantial change that we knew we needed.”

King knew it was time to get to the bottom of his messaging challenges, but wasn’t sure how. After seeing Spencer Brenneman President Douglas Spencer speak about Spencer Brenneman’s work with the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he approached Spencer for help.

 

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance (MACA) leads a coalition of the commonwealth’s 12 child advocacy centers (CACs). These centers work directly with physically and sexually abused children.  Since 1997, MACA has been supporting, collaborating with, and advocating for these centers.

After many years of focusing on the work and making sure that the day-to-day was done, the MACA team lost their ability to talk about what they did in plain language. They could easily articulate their work in grant proposals, but explaining it to people outside the world of children’s services was a challenge. From the Board of Directors to staff and coalition members, the language they used consisted of outdated terminologies from their humble beginnings as a grassroots organization.

“Our work on messaging had been pretty superficial. It’s all our bandwidth would allow,” says MACA Executive Director Tom King. “However, even with a limited staff, we would take some time to check-in with a few funders here and there, and although those nuggets were helpful to support our day-to-day, they weren’t making the substantial change that we knew we needed.”

King knew it was time to get to the bottom of his messaging challenges, but wasn’t sure how. After seeing Spencer Brenneman President Douglas Spencer speak about Spencer Brenneman’s work with the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he approached Spencer for help.

 

The Approach

“We were thrilled at the chance to help MACA,” Spencer says, “The work they do is so important. It may sound like a cliche, but the team and I were honored by the opportunity to help. Plus, the challenge they faced is a common one and we knew exactly how to help.”

As usual, the approach starts with Spencer Brenneman’s Ask, Build, and Connect methodology as the foundation. It’s adapted for each client because each client is, of course, different.

For MACA, Spencer Brenneman used a combination of online surveying to their disparate audiences and one-on-one interviews of people representing those same groups. According to Market Research Strategist Matthew O’Sullivan, MACA had a diverse contact list comprised of two influential big groups with not much in common in terms of their background and organizational knowledge. The rest of the list consisted of lots of smaller groups, including private donors.

“A methodological challenge was having to make do with whatever responses we could achieve from this group, and accept that there might not be enough to have a quantitative read, as was indeed the case with private donors,” he says. “Overall, because of these different groups, saying how MACA was doing overall among its entire base of contacts was an unusually complex matter.”

Through carefully crafted questions and diligently cross-referenced data, the online survey provided invaluable insights that were augmented by the one-on-one interviews. These interviews included in-depth discussions with King, members of the MACA Board of Directors, and others which enabled the Spencer Brenneman team to get essential insight into the organization’s goals for the future.

ASK

For MACA, Spencer Brenneman used a combination of online surveying to their disparate audiences and one-on-one interviews of people representing those same groups. According to Market Research Strategist Matthew O’Sullivan, MACA had a diverse contact list comprised of two influential big groups with not much in common in terms of their background and organizational knowledge. The rest of the list consisted of lots of smaller groups, including private donors.

“A methodological challenge was having to make do with whatever responses we could achieve from this group, and accept that there might not be enough to have a quantitative read, as was indeed the case with private donors,” he says. “Overall, because of these different groups, saying how MACA was doing overall among its entire base of contacts was an unusually complex matter.”

Through carefully crafted questions and diligently cross-referenced data, the online survey provided invaluable insights that were augmented by the one-on-one interviews. These interviews included in-depth discussions with King, members of the MACA Board of Directors, and others which enabled the Spencer Brenneman team to get essential insight into the organization’s goals for the future.

“I was really impressed with the work from Spencer Brenneman,” King says. “We could speculate on what to do, but they brought data to process. Data that were truly eye-opening and invigorating. And I was not prepared for the levels, the strata of the data that we got.”

BUILD

The input from the ASK phase served as the starting point for the BUILD phase. Here is where Spencer Brenneman helped the MACA team consider, debate, and agree on answers to the core questions that eventually formed their Focus & Messaging Framework:

  1. Why. Why do they do what they do, why do they care, and why should anyone else? At first glance, these questions may seem like a no-brainer. Helping abused children is clearly an absolute must after all. However, the question really drills into why the way MACA approaches helping abused children is important.
  2. What & How. What does MACA do exactly and how do they do it differently than anyone else. These questions proved to be the most challenging—and, quite frankly—the root of why talking about what MACA does was so difficult. MACA as an organization does not itself treat or interact with abused children. The CACs do that. So, the question became “How does MACA explain its integral role in the work, without taking credit for the CACs’ work or explaining the intricacies of CAC operations and why they need MACA?”
  3. Ways. What is the best way for the MACA message to come to life emotionally? What is it about their distinct organizational personality that will connect with their constituencies in a meaningful and memorable way?

Normally, the BUILD phase takes place in person, with key members of an organization’s management team working through the questions in a half-day session. As this work was done during a global pandemic, that approach was out of the question.

“Conducting a workshop remotely was perhaps one of the biggest challenges to this project,” Spencer says. “A half-day workshop on Zoom is not the same as one in person, but the MACA team was incredibly patient with us as we worked out the best way to find the Why, What & How, and Ways in a virtual environment.”

CONNECT

Once we answered the core questions and built the Focus & Messaging Framework, the final phase connected the messaging strategy to MACA’s real-world needs. For MACA that included all-new website copy and an update to their visual identity. These efforts were led by Lead Copywriter Anthony Greer and Senior Art Director Kim Vanni, respectively.

Consultants like Spencer Brenneman bring fresh perspectives to clients’ challenges.  However, in order to do that, it’s important to fully understand a client’s work—a dynamic that was especially true with their work with MACA, according to Greer.

“Given the nature of MACA’s work, there are certain words and phrases that can have negative triggers or connotations that we otherwise wouldn’t think twice about, like ‘going to bat,’ ‘arming,’ or ‘restraint’” he says. “The word ‘justice’ was also controversial within this context because some believe that justice for an act of child abuse is impossible.”

Visually, the project had challenges too. Given the sensitive nature of the subject matter, MACA’s legal team counseled them not to use children’s faces. This limitation actually inspired Vanni’s approach. She says that her goal was to increase the sense of humanity and emotion to the MACA brand while making sure that the subjects of any photos were not identifiable.

“I began exploring the activity of the subjects: popping bubbles, reading a book, coloring, jumping in puddles. I found that closely cropping the images to focus on these activities made them even more emotionally powerful,” she explains. “The naïveté and whimsy of child- and young-adulthood was really coming forward, and therefore so was the point that this is what we want for all children—to experience joy.”

Vanni says the images convey that sense of joy while also giving the reader a tender understanding that some kids are going through other, extremely difficult experiences.

“On one hand, I want the audience to feel a bit of longing for lost innocence. But on the other hand, I want them to feel hopeful and optimistic—no matter what, they can still live lives of joy,” she says.

According to King, it was worth it: “We work on initiatives that no other non-profit is doing in Massachusetts, and yet we were almost mute on that front. Spencer Brenneman has empowered us to talk more clearly and confidently about our work.”

“We were thrilled at the chance to help MACA,” Spencer says, “The work they do is so important. It may sound like a cliche, but the team and I were honored by the opportunity to help. Plus, the challenge they faced is a common one and we knew exactly how to help.”

As usual, the approach starts with Spencer Brenneman’s Ask, Build, and Connect methodology as the foundation. It’s adapted for each client because each client is, of course, different.

For MACA, Spencer Brenneman used a combination of online surveying to their disparate audiences and one-on-one interviews of people representing those same groups. According to Market Research Strategist Matthew O’Sullivan, MACA had a diverse contact list comprised of two influential big groups with not much in common in terms of their background and organizational knowledge. The rest of the list consisted of lots of smaller groups, including private donors.

“A methodological challenge was having to make do with whatever responses we could achieve from this group, and accept that there might not be enough to have a quantitative read, as was indeed the case with private donors,” he says. “Overall, because of these different groups, saying how MACA was doing overall among its entire base of contacts was an unusually complex matter.”

Through carefully crafted questions and diligently cross-referenced data, the online survey provided invaluable insights that were augmented by the one-on-one interviews. These interviews included in-depth discussions with King, members of the MACA Board of Directors, and others which enabled the Spencer Brenneman team to get essential insight into the organization’s goals for the future.

ASK

For MACA, Spencer Brenneman used a combination of online surveying to their disparate audiences and one-on-one interviews of people representing those same groups. According to Market Research Strategist Matthew O’Sullivan, MACA had a diverse contact list comprised of two influential big groups with not much in common in terms of their background and organizational knowledge. The rest of the list consisted of lots of smaller groups, including private donors.

“A methodological challenge was having to make do with whatever responses we could achieve from this group, and accept that there might not be enough to have a quantitative read, as was indeed the case with private donors,” he says. “Overall, because of these different groups, saying how MACA was doing overall among its entire base of contacts was an unusually complex matter.”

Through carefully crafted questions and diligently cross-referenced data, the online survey provided invaluable insights that were augmented by the one-on-one interviews. These interviews included in-depth discussions with King, members of the MACA Board of Directors, and others which enabled the Spencer Brenneman team to get essential insight into the organization’s goals for the future.

“I was really impressed with the work from Spencer Brenneman,” King says. “We could speculate on what to do, but they brought data to process. Data that were truly eye-opening and invigorating. And I was not prepared for the levels, the strata of the data that we got.”

BUILD

The input from the ASK phase served as the starting point for the BUILD phase. Here is where Spencer Brenneman helped the MACA team consider, debate, and agree on answers to the core questions that eventually formed their Focus & Messaging Framework:

  1. Why. Why do they do what they do, why do they care, and why should anyone else? At first glance, these questions may seem like a no-brainer. Helping abused children is clearly an absolute must after all. However, the question really drills into why the way MACA approaches helping abused children is important.
  2. What & How. What does MACA do exactly and how do they do it differently than anyone else. These questions proved to be the most challenging—and, quite frankly—the root of why talking about what MACA does was so difficult. MACA as an organization does not itself treat or interact with abused children. The CACs do that. So, the question became “How does MACA explain its integral role in the work, without taking credit for the CACs’ work or explaining the intricacies of CAC operations and why they need MACA?”
  3. Ways. What is the best way for the MACA message to come to life emotionally? What is it about their distinct organizational personality that will connect with their constituencies in a meaningful and memorable way?

Normally, the BUILD phase takes place in person, with key members of an organization’s management team working through the questions in a half-day session. As this work was done during a global pandemic, that approach was out of the question.

“Conducting a workshop remotely was perhaps one of the biggest challenges to this project,” Spencer says. “A half-day workshop on Zoom is not the same as one in person, but the MACA team was incredibly patient with us as we worked out the best way to find the Why, What & How, and Ways in a virtual environment.”

CONNECT

Once we answered the core questions and built the Focus & Messaging Framework, the final phase connected the messaging strategy to MACA’s real-world needs. For MACA that included all-new website copy and an update to their visual identity. These efforts were led by Lead Copywriter Anthony Greer and Senior Art Director Kim Vanni, respectively.

Consultants like Spencer Brenneman bring fresh perspectives to clients’ challenges.  However, in order to do that, it’s important to fully understand a client’s work—a dynamic that was especially true with their work with MACA, according to Greer.

“Given the nature of MACA’s work, there are certain words and phrases that can have negative triggers or connotations that we otherwise wouldn’t think twice about, like ‘going to bat,’ ‘arming,’ or ‘restraint’” he says. “The word ‘justice’ was also controversial within this context because some believe that justice for an act of child abuse is impossible.”

Visually, the project had challenges too. Given the sensitive nature of the subject matter, MACA’s legal team counseled them not to use children’s faces. This limitation actually inspired Vanni’s approach. She says that her goal was to increase the sense of humanity and emotion to the MACA brand while making sure that the subjects of any photos were not identifiable.

“I began exploring the activity of the subjects: popping bubbles, reading a book, coloring, jumping in puddles. I found that closely cropping the images to focus on these activities made them even more emotionally powerful,” she explains. “The naïveté and whimsy of child- and young-adulthood was really coming forward, and therefore so was the point that this is what we want for all children—to experience joy.”

Vanni says the images convey that sense of joy while also giving the reader a tender understanding that some kids are going through other, extremely difficult experiences.

“On one hand, I want the audience to feel a bit of longing for lost innocence. But on the other hand, I want them to feel hopeful and optimistic—no matter what, they can still live lives of joy,” she says.

According to King, it was worth it: “We work on initiatives that no other non-profit is doing in Massachusetts, and yet we were almost mute on that front. Spencer Brenneman has empowered us to talk more clearly and confidently about our work.”

The Result

“The project impacted our work in a lot of wonderful, unexpected ways. Spencer Brenneman looked at our agency with a different lens. Through not only their perspective but also through the data they uncovered, we gained a rich pool of information that will impact our work for years to come,” King says.

All of the work came together in a clear and compelling way:

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance Focus & Messaging Framework

THE WHY. We exist to…

Drive the innovative work that helps victims of child abuse.

THE WHAT & HOW. 

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance helps abused children get the best care possible from teams of dedicated professionals throughout the Commonwealth.

We do that by:

Promoting interventions that work.

Delivering innovative educational programming to promote effective care of abused children.

Mobilizing communities to have tough but necessary conversations about child abuse.

Galvanizing legislative support that drives systemic and societal change to address child abuse.

The WAY. As an organization we are…

Innovative. We pioneer the most promising, leading-edge ways for victims of child abuse to receive the best possible care [by highly trained professionals].

Ardent. We work tirelessly to ensure that the children who need us most receive the best possible care.

Collaborative. We are here to work supportively and collaboratively with the multiple, professional teams who share our focus on helping children.

Undaunted. We will not be distracted or deterred from our work.

The Elevator Pitch

People don’t have any idea that children are being abused at the heart-wrenching rate they are. At a minimum, one in ten children is sexually abused before turning 18. That means for every ten kids you know, one of them is statistically likely to suffer abuse.

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance pioneers the most promising, leading-edge ways that help victims of that abuse receive the best possible care. We are a local, state, and national go-to resource for proven interventions, effective educational programs, and informed and committed legislative support.

The ugly truth is that children continue to suffer in silence. Even survivors of abuse often suffer life-long consequences. We ease their trauma and provide them the opportunity for a better, healthier life. There are lots of ways that you can be a part of our work. I’d love to tell you more.

“The project impacted our work in a lot of wonderful, unexpected ways. Spencer Brenneman looked at our agency with a different lens. Through not only their perspective but also through the data they uncovered, we gained a rich pool of information that will impact our work for years to come,” King says.

All of the work came together in a clear and compelling way:

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance Focus & Messaging Framework

THE WHY. We exist to…

Drive the innovative work that helps victims of child abuse.

THE WHAT & HOW. 

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance helps abused children get the best care possible from teams of dedicated professionals throughout the Commonwealth.

We do that by:

Promoting interventions that work.

Delivering innovative educational programming to promote effective care of abused children.

Mobilizing communities to have tough but necessary conversations about child abuse.

Galvanizing legislative support that drives systemic and societal change to address child abuse.

The WAY. As an organization we are…

Innovative. We pioneer the most promising, leading-edge ways for victims of child abuse to receive the best possible care [by highly trained professionals].

Ardent. We work tirelessly to ensure that the children who need us most receive the best possible care.

Collaborative. We are here to work supportively and collaboratively with the multiple, professional teams who share our focus on helping children.

Undaunted. We will not be distracted or deterred from our work.

The Elevator Pitch

People don’t have any idea that children are being abused at the heart-wrenching rate they are. At a minimum, one in ten children is sexually abused before turning 18. That means for every ten kids you know, one of them is statistically likely to suffer abuse.

The Massachusetts Children’s Alliance pioneers the most promising, leading-edge ways that help victims of that abuse receive the best possible care. We are a local, state, and national go-to resource for proven interventions, effective educational programs, and informed and committed legislative support.

The ugly truth is that children continue to suffer in silence. Even survivors of abuse often suffer life-long consequences. We ease their trauma and provide them the opportunity for a better, healthier life. There are lots of ways that you can be a part of our work. I’d love to tell you more.

The Takeaway

“Working with Spencer Brenneman has invigorated us. I approach the work, my team approaches the work with a new level of excitement. We know we’re going in the right direction and we know how to articulate our work differently. We are reminded that there are people who are invested in our success because that means a better society with healthier children.”

“Working with Spencer Brenneman has invigorated us. I approach the work, my team approaches the work with a new level of excitement. We know we’re going in the right direction and we know how to articulate our work differently. We are reminded that there are people who are invested in our success because that means a better society with healthier children.”

The Visual Identity Update

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