Leaders are born with a megaphone at their mouth and a laptop at their fingertips. Whether they’re giving stadium keynotes or elevator speeches, writing year-end appeals or weekly thank you notes, they paint the sky with their impassioned, flowery words. But… leaders who learn to write tight have happier readers.
Did you catch what I just did? In two sentences, I overloaded you with mixed metaphors and took you from cheerleading to technology to multi-sized venues and letters, and then switched to art and even nature!
I know this because I’m guilty of it. My book editor catches mixed metaphors all throughout my writing. Here are some tips I’ve learned. Let’s put them in the context of writing a fund raising letter.
How to Use Metaphor in an Appeal Letter
- Determine the core. Most appeal letters contain a real-life story of the organization’s impact on an individual’s life. Before you begin writing, review the story and search for a singular theme. Find the client’s most deeply felt need and how God used your ministry to meet it.
- Choose a metaphor. Look for a way to describe the central theme you’ve chosen. Maybe the person had no hope, and you’ll illustrate that with phrases like, “Kara had lost her footing,” or “Kara felt like she was in quicksand.” And you’ll go on to describe how your ministry spoke truth that was “solid ground” for Kara, or built a “firm foundation” in her life.
- Don’t overdo it. Instead of being effective, overused metaphors can be distracting or even unintentionally humorous. Reinforce the metaphor concept enough times without becoming repetitive. You want people to feel the story, not your writing.
- Select appropriate pictures. Many organizations purchase online photographs to represent their clients. Look for pictures of an individual in various moods and activities, and choose those that fit. For Kara, find one where she’s staring out a window looking hopeless, and maybe another one where she’s walking confidently on a pathway (conveying solid ground).
In a recent fund raising letter, I used the metaphor of “drowning” to describe a client who was overwhelmed, and coupled it with the word “lifeline” to convey our vital help. See if you can find a total of 12 references to that metaphor as you look at the mailing envelope and letter. Can you see how using only one metaphor brings cohesion to the entire letter?
Jesus was famous for using metaphor as He communicated. Notice how clear, tight, and powerful His words are:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35).
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Most leaders are passionate communicators and inadvertently mix metaphors to strengthen their messages. But just like Jesus, leaders who streamline their metaphors and pare down their words don’t diminish their messages; they enhance them.