A Fundraising Metaphor? Choose Wisely.
July 28, 2023
Kevin Schulman, Founder, DonorVoice and DVCanvass
Humans are messy and complex, so are the societal issues your raising money for – a double whammy of messy complexity.
Metaphors can serve as bridges, connecting abstract ideas to concrete, familiar images, making complex concepts more digestible.
Contemplating abstract things is easier with the use of concrete and familiar mental images. But metaphors are more than decorative language; they’re cognitive shortcuts. For instance, we often perceive time as a horizontal line and life as a winding road. These visual representations are deeply ingrained in our cognition.
The choice of metaphor can make or break its effectiveness. It should be straightforward to create a visual that matches your aim. For example, a conservation or environmental can describe the earth as a “fragile glass sphere” to convey vulnerability and the need for careful handling.
But how many conservation groups (and lots of others) employ the war metaphor – the “battle against climate change”? This can evoke a sense of urgency and collective action but also implies a clear enemy and a definitive end. How many battles can people be expected to rally for?
In that same vein, if you’re fundraising for a mental health initiative you might describe mental health struggles as “climbing a mountain” rather than “fighting a battle” to convey a gradual process requiring endurance and support rather than a war to be won.
A study at Stanford University found switching from describing crime as a “beast” to describing it as a “virus” led participants to propose different solutions. They thought the “beast” should be fought with law and order. As a “virus”, they were more likely to recommend public-health-style policies.
If you’re raising funds for education, you could describe education as a “key” rather than a “ladder.” The “key” metaphor emphasizes education can unlock potential and open doors, rather than a linear climb leaving others behind.
Choose simple metaphors that accurately represent the challenge and your solution.