Skip to main content

Announcing the Smart Chart 4.0, featuring expanded analysis of frames, narrative, audience research and messaging

The first thing I tell people about the Smart Chart is that it is at the core of everything we do at Spitfire. The concepts and questions included in it are the foundation to how we plan for, write and implement communication campaigns. The tool itself is also central to Spitfire’s internal communications and culture. “You’re repeating the barrier” and “who’s your audience” are both inside jokes and pointed remarks in our emails and Zoom calls.

As soon as a new Spitfire is hired, we give them a copy and ask them to read it. We give them a webinar recording of a Smart Chart training to watch. Then, I meet with them to go over the Smart Chart, explain how we use it, how we train on it and answer all the questions they have. I train staff on how to train on the Smart Chart. It isn’t easy. The Smart Chart is our most popular and in-demand training. We should have a counter on our web site like MacDonald’s does on the Golden Arches. I’m sending an email right now asking someone to do the numbers for me.

When Spitfire was recruiting and interviewing me 13 years ago, I was asked to meet head Spitfire Kristen Grimm at a DC hotel ballroom to see a Smart Chart training. Yes, I needed to know the Smart Chart BEFORE I was hired. It was sort of a “if you don’t like my dog, I won’t like you” kind of date. It was going great until a simple question about whether press hits are an output or an outcome turned into a heated and loud argument amongst the participants. (SC fans, you get this.) It was fun, but I guess Spitfire thought I shouldn’t be exposed to this side of nonprofit communication training before I accepted the job. (Like I hadn’t been in coalition meetings before? Please, this was nothing.) Kristen and I went  to the lobby to talk. Passionate point, counterpoint continued as the door closed behind us. Kristen shrugged, looked at me, looked at the floor and smiled. I’ve always wondered how the trainer got them back on track. Anyway, my interview turned out fine, I got the job, and I still use this example when I train on the Smart Chart. 

Fast forward. Although new cognitive research and communication trends compelled us to update the Smart Chart training over the years, Smart Chart 4.0 is the first comprehensive rewrite and redesign of the booklet, worksheet and web site since… well… since Smart Chart 2.0 became 3.0.

What makes this chart so smart?


It brings racial justice to the front.

Spitfire works on a wide range of progressive social issues but the Smart Chart 3.0 had a neutral tone about it. There were a variety of social change examples included in the text but we didn’t take a real stand. Since we started our own work a few years ago on becoming a more equitable, diverse and inclusive company, both staff and leadership knew that our signature communication tool had to reflect the importance of racial justice and dismantling of white supremacy. We had to be explicit not only in the language but in the examples and in the way the questions could help organizations analyze their own communication strategies. This version does that.


It includes the latest in cognitive and behavioral research from a diverse group of smart thinkers practitioners can learn from to make their work stronger.

We communicate in order to persuade people to take action. The science – from sociology, economics, neuroscience and more – helps us understand how people make decisions and what influences how they think about issues and the world. Our gut instincts about communication serve us well. But here we collected what we’ve been reading and asked our colleagues to help us identify where and what “studies show.” The science confirms everything we’ve been using and gave us ideas to share. 

Smart Chart 4.0 expands our analysis of frames and narrative and how that informs audience research and messaging. Narrative and framing are big buzz words in our circles these days. We want to not only explain, but to show what they mean and how a nonprofit can use them in practical concrete ways.

And the trainings! Spitfire is looking forward to sharing the materials with you and helping foundations and nonprofit organizations big and small, all over the world make their social change goals a reality, one objective at a time.

All this makes the Chart pretty damn Smart. Plus it looks really good. I think you’ll find the book and web site design colorful, entertaining, even more interactive and easy to use. But does it still have the penguins? What kind of question is that. You know it does.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 11:44 am and is filed under Communication planning and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.