Metaphor (n.): A figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common.
Metaphors are mad scientists. At their best, they can bring dead concepts to life. But bad metaphors and cliches can make your readers want to hunt you down with torches and pitchforks.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that joins two ideas, establishing a relationship between them (ex. “My life is an open book” or “All the world’s a stage”).
Our language is bursting with metaphors. You can’t escape it. And really, you don’t want to. Metaphors can:
- quickly clarify a complex or subtle concept
- add creativity and interest to your subject
- get your readers to think, feel, and imagine
The metaphors used by non-profit organizations are tied to their primary mission and action. One organization might connect people or ideas. Images of connection will abound (ex, “We keep you plugged in to…”). Another organization might nurture and serve a certain population. Their metaphors will spring from those actions of serving and nurturing (ex, “We are the hands of love in action”).
How can your organization harness the power of metaphor?
Here are some tips:
- Beware of cliche. In general, literary authors avoid cliches like the plague. We don’t always have to be so careful. But many cliches have simply lost their meaning. So use them sparingly. For example, try to avoid sentences like this: “We really think outside the box.” When you spot cliches, think more deeply about what you are really trying to say.
- Use photos. Full disclosure: I’m a photographer. So I’m biased. But imagery is the lifeblood of metaphor. Good photos reinforce your message and help connect it to the emotion and experience of your audience. And when you’ve connected your message with the experiences and emotions of your audience, you’ve done your job as a communicator.
- Don’t use too many. I have used way too many metaphors in this blog post. How many can you find? Too many. When you use too many metaphors, you risk muddling your message. Metaphors work best when they are grounded in concrete writing. Use metaphors thoughtfully and sparingly.
- Keep it simple. Complicated metaphors can send your reader’s mind in a hundred confusing directions (ex. “Your e-book kindled my interest in fire”). The best metaphors link your idea with an image that people can relate to from experience (ex. “Our last e-newsletter was a home run!”).
Does your organization use any interesting metaphors to communicate its mission? What are some images that lend themselves to metaphor? Here are two that I thought of.