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A Guide to Rhetoric for
Making the Case for Giving
Carolyn V. Eforo
Defining Rhetoric
What is Rhetoric? Defined, it is the art of using language to communicate effectively and
persuasively, moving audiences to action. It’s not only used to inform and persuade, it stirs emotion,
it’s a catalyst for change, a rallying cry. Simply put, it’s the stuff that makes you care.
This dynamic practice, shaped by history is rooted in ancient Greece and Rome, and draws on
many disciplines including politics, philosophy, the sciences and ethics. Rhetoric was first taught to
citizens of Greece as a means of representing themselves in the courts. Today, rhetoric is mostly
associated with the empty lip service of politicians, but effective rhetors have relied on it for centuries
to influence, illuminate and persuade. It’s the driving force that’s transformed cultures, moved armies
and handed down verdicts. Figure 1, which outlines the history of rhetoric, highlights how it’s evolved
through the ages.
As a fundraiser, your job is not only to communicate your organization’s mission – you must
also identify the need, and let donors know how they can help. How do you effectively tell the story?
How do you win hearts and garner support? It is through the appeal or “ask”, the point where
rhetoric and fundraising meet.
Figure 1
The Evolution of Rhetoric
Rhetoric was introduced in 465 BC with Corax of Syracuse who wrote the Art of Rhetoric as a means to instruct citizens on how to represent themselves
in court. Probability was a central aspect of his theory. Corax’s model for speaking consisted of three major parts – introduction, argument and
The Sophists - Corax’s pupil, Tisias later introduced this system to mainland Greece, giving rise to a class of teachers knows as the Sophists or “Teachers
of Wisdom”. Their belief that wisdom and excellence could be taught stood in direct conflict with the Greeks’ view that wisdom and excellence were
virtues, and therefore, could not be taught.
Three notable figures in the Sophist movement are Protagora of Abdera (c. 480-411 B.C.), Gorgias and Isocrates (436-338 B.C.). Protogora said “man is
the measure of all things”, and believed that the world could only be viewed from the human perspective. Gorgias, who is called the father of
impromptu speaking, emphasized the poetic dimensions of language. Isocrates who saw the orator as active in public life and believed that politics
and rhetoric could not be separated. Unlike his contemporaries, Isocrates encouraged students to learn from other teachers.
Plato, who was strongly opposed to the Sophists believed in philosophical thought and knowledge (dialectic) vs. relative thought or opinions. He
believed critical thinking to be more important than style or delivery.
Plato’s pupil, Aristotle broke new ground by expanding the definition of rhetoric to the ability to identify the appropriate means of persuasion in any
given situation, making it applicable to all fields. He introduced the rhetorical cannons of invention, organization, elocution, delivery, and memory. In
his work, Rhetoric, Aristotle defines the three audience appeals of logos, pathos and ethos.
The Romans - Cicero, the great orator, wrote De Orator, where he attempted to restore the union of rhetoric and philosophy. He viewed rhetoric as a
single useful art from which one could approach all practical matters.
Second Sophistic (150 – 400 A. D.) - With the decline in democracy in Rome, the focus of rhetoric shifts from content to delivery.
The Middle Ages (400 – 1400 A.D.) – Rhetoric is aligned with letter writing, preaching and education. Now viewed as a pagan art, St. Augustine argues
that preachers need to teach, delight, move.
The Renaissance (1400 – 1600 A.D.) - Little changes occurred in rhetorical thought during this period. Peter Ramus (1515 – 1572) created a teaching
model with rhetoric subordinate to knowledge, and concerned with only style and delivery.
The Age of Modern Rhetoric (1600 – 1900) - Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) sought to revive the secular view on rhetoric which focused on psychological
and cognitive processes. Three trends emerged from this period: Epistemology – the study of the origin, nature, methods and limits of human
knowledge; The Belletristic view which looked at the artistic qualities of literature more than for its informative value; and the Elocutionist view which
was concerned with the science of delivery.
The Contemporary Period - Once again, rhetoric is viewed as a broad liberal art. Contemporary scholars draw from a variety of teachings.
Making the Case
To create a sound case for giving, one can draw on Aristotle’s principles of ethos (your
reputation), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). Your organization’s reputation or credibility (ethos) is
a critical to your being able to raise money. Aristotle felt that ethos was a direct result of speaker and
audience interaction and believed that audiences could be moved if they perceived the speaker to be
credible. A recent example that highlights the need for credibility in fundraising happened in 2009
when The United Way’s former chief executive was accused of stealing as much as $1.5 million from
the organization during the 27 years he worked there. As a result, the charity suffered a tremendous
drop in donor trust. In the midst of the scandal, many corporations pulled out of fundraising drives,
and giving declined drastically.
The logos or logical argument supporting the appeal has two parts: First, you must illustrate
why your organization’s mission is important, and second, clearly state the need for donor support
using statistics, math, logic and objectivity. For example, if you were writing an appeal on behalf of a
hospital, you should include statistics on how donor dollars have directly impacted patients, families,
and the community. You should also be sure to include information on key programs, those served,
positive outcomes, as well as supporting research and education. Figure 2, from St. Jude’s Children’s
Hospital illustrates in graphical form the advances in treating children’s cancer.
This graph provides strong evidence to support the work of St. Jude's Children's Hospital
St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, About St. Jude’s, Facts and Figures, Cancer Survival Rates,
Pathos is also an essential part of making the “ask”. This is the appeal to the donor’s “human”
or emotional side. We’ve all seen appeal ads on television that elicit a strong response in us. Unlike
logos, it is the visceral reaction, or what you feel in your gut that moves you. Consider this quote,
taken from a recent appeal from 2Feed the Children …“How could you turn away a child like Neima
when she was so hungry, yet that’s exactly what her little life was like, being turned away, pushed
away, wherever she looked for help. Until she arrived at school one day and there was food from Feed
the Children, from faithful friends like you.” This statement immediately elicits an emotional response
– you feel deeply for Neima, and you want to help.
Helpful Questions
As you approach fundraising, you must ask the following questions: Are your appeals honest,
accurate and informative? Are you fully conveying the mission of your organization? Are there
external factors that might impact someone’s willingness or ability to give? Considering these issues
will help to establish and strengthen the relationship between you and your readers, moving them to
Feed the Children, 2010 Direct Mail Appeal.