How can you use the power of metaphor to improve your fundraising?
I recently read a fascinating article about how we react to metaphors. I want to share some of what I read. Because understanding this powerful device can help you reach right into your readers’ minds – and touch their hearts.
You probably learned about metaphors in school. Comparisons. Differing from simile because metaphors don’t rely on “like” or “as”.
But what we’re now learning about metaphor takes our classroom lessons to another place entirely.
We swim in metaphor
Not just a poetic device, metaphors are essential to how we communicate. They explain the world around us. They interpret our surroundings in a way we can grasp. Often, we don’t even realize we’re putting them to work. Our brains treat the symbolic like the literal.
Think or read “rough” and one part of your brain lights up. The same with “sweet” or “soft”.
New research shows that metaphors can affect how we think. From an article in Quartz:
In a recent Stanford study, participants were presented with brief passages about crime in a hypothetical city named Addison. For half of the participants, a few words were subtly changed to describe the crime as a “virus infecting” the city. For the other half, crime was described as a “beast preying” on the city. Otherwise, the passages were the same.
Changing just those words dramatically changed how people thought crime should be dealt with. When asked for solutions, those who had the “beast” version offered more punitive suggestions. The others suggested tilted toward reform and addressing the root causes of crime.
The metaphor alone changed how people felt about crime and punishment.
Metaphors: how mere words affect our brains.
Another article in Science World tells us that during fMRI experiments, neuroscientists found expressions like “wet behind the ears” and “hairy situation” lit up regions of the brain involved with touch and feeling textures.
(Did you just feel aware of your ears? I did!)
When presented with action-related metaphors, the areas of the brain dealing with the motor cortex lit up as well.
Metaphors let us to feel each other’s pain
Especially when we have a connection to someone, we don’t just feel sorry for someone who is hurting. We can actually feel their pain. When we say, “I feel your pain”, sometimes we actually do. Your goal as a fundraiser is to help people feel enough of a connection to share that pain.
(Skeptical? Read about this fascinating study concerning sandpaper and generosity. It may have you thinking about what paper you use for your next mail package.)
Use this superpower with empathy
Choosing the right words matters. Choosing words that arouse emotions helps your reader feel those feelings.
Using active words or describing action lights up those areas of our brains. And whether we consciously realize it or not, our brains are reacting as if we are taking the action.
Describe someone’s pain not with clinical terms, but a metaphor. Write about someone taking the action you want your reader to take. Help the reader feel what they need to feel to care for someone else.
Looking for just the right word? Try Rhyme Zone. It’s not just for poets.
As a fundraiser, writing to donors, you’re not a mad scientist, controlling a robot’s every move. You can use metaphors to help soften hearts. You can present people with the gift of humanity – one person to another. Your words can connect us, help us understand each other, stir our empathy.
Your words do more than communicate facts. They paint emotions. Use the rainbow!