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Tools of Persuasion - Lessons from a Fifth Grader

It’s September. Back to school time. Pumpkin spice season is just around the corner. And, for our sector, it’s time to draft our year-end appeals.

To inspire you, I’m sharing profound “Lessons from a Fifth Grader.”

A few months ago, my (then) fifth-grade son excitedly shared about Aristotle and the tools of persuasion during a family dinner. (I’m pretty sure I never learned this stuff in elementary school…and perhaps not even in high school!)

Aristotle posited that there are three key elements of successful persuasion:

Pathos = Emotional Appeal

  • Topics that draw at our heart strings and evoke emotions: tragedy, love, social injustices and inequalities

  • Often communicated through visuals (photos, graphics, videos) or stories

  • Think of baby animals, children, destruction after a natural disaster

Ethos = Character and Credibility

  • Using trust and credibility to make a point

  • Drawing upon the expertise of the persuader and/or quotes from other experts

  • Think of the authority associated with esteemed thought leaders, such as when a physician recommends a health product

Logos = Logic and Reason

  • Engaging the audience’s common sense

  • Using data, clear facts, and reasoned arguments

  • Think of cost-effectiveness, evidence of impact, return on investment

Whether you’re a fifth grader trying to persuade your parents to get you a cell phone, or a nonprofit professional sharing why your organization is worthy of support, Aristotle’s three elements come in handy.

Effective mission messaging incorporates Pathos, Ethos, and Logos. While each element may have some success on its own, a truly compelling message uses all three. Too much Pathos feels manipulative. All Logos and you’ll likely lose your audience due to boredom. Ethos doesn’t matter much if you don’t include both compelling facts and emotional appeals.

Together, this triad fosters trust, educates prospects, and inspires action. Remember, you’re inviting others to make a difference in the world.

Go forth and use this trifecta wisely to motivate your donors, prospects, and community in your year-end appeal!


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