Have you ever heard the phrase “she’s a visual learner”?
Or have you seen elementary school students learning arithmetic with blocks? There’s a reason teachers use a variety of methods to explain information to students. After decades of research, one of the most prominent educational concepts is that people don’t all learn in the same way. Proponents claim that there are three main modalities, or sensory styles, of learning: visual, auditory (hearing), and kinesthetic (touching, tactile).
They claim people usually favor one of their senses over the others when they learn. A kinesthetic learner, for example, would find it easier to learn about the structure of a molecule by building models with pieces representing each atom. The visual learner might grasp the same concept by looking at a labeled diagram in the textbook. Although the idea of different learning styles has become popular, critics say there is little evidence that it is beneficial in the classroom.
People may prefer to learn through different senses and styles, but they don’t necessarily learn better that way. Nevertheless, knowing someone’s preferred method of communication can still be a powerful tool.
Bernard Ross and Clare Segal explain in The Influential Fundraiser how development professionals can use these different communication styles to inform and persuade donors. They cite a theory of communication called Neuro-Linguistic Programming that claims to enhance teaching and psychotherapy by identifying someone’s preference for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic expressions.
Ross and Segal offer strategies on how to notice these subtleties and adapt to different styles. The efficacy of learning modalities remains a point of contention, but being able to express an idea in variety of ways is still a great skill for any fundraiser.
Because it often requires a one-on-one conversation to discover someone’s communication style, you probably won’t be able to segment your donors based on communication style. But by understanding the different types of communicators, you can learn to incorporate all three into your appeals. Below we have explained what the three types are and how you can tailor your message to resonate with them. If you understand the different ways your donors take in information, you can craft appeals that hit home for more of them.
Visual communicators and learners tend to both absorb and express ideas through imagery. They learn, partially, by remembering what they saw. Ask them where the supermarket is and their brain may pull up an image of the street it is on.
There are two ways to appeal to a visual donor. You can either present them with actual images (photos, videos) or you can use language to conjure images in their mind. A disaster relief nonprofit could ask a donor to picture their own home ravaged by a hurricane. This powerful image will drive home the sense of devastation and helplessness the victims feel. The Influential Fundraiser suggests using visual verbal expressions as well, like “the future looks bright” and “an overview of the situation.”
With so many people discovering and learning about causes online, however, it is still important to offer plenty of visual evidence to donors. Websites, blogs and social media make it easy to show the school you built in a rural community or the breakfast donors provided for a hungry child. As for explaining any hard data or organization details, infographics are a visual learner’s best friend.
This type of communicator learns by listening. If they are taking a test, they might remember an answer by replaying in their head something their instructor said last week. Pneumonic devices are a great study tool for auditory learners.
Auditory learners will need you to talk them through the cause or program extensively. This can be done in person or over the phone. As with visual communicators, you can also use language to evoke an emotion or experience. You can ask them to think of the sound of a hungry child crying or imagine the gunshots and sounds of destruction in a war-torn country. This will make your cause more real and relatable to the donor. Ask if they will answer this call for help.
You can also use recorded messages with auditory learners, most often through video. Just as you should make sure to include compelling images in your videos, you should also be aware of what the viewer is hearing.
These are the hands-on learners. Kinesthetic learners notice and remember physical sensations. If they walk out of a stressful job interview, they may not remember what questions they were asked or what the interviewer was wearing, but they will remember how they felt. They will remember the uncomfortable chair they sat in and the feeling of sweat running down their neck.
It may be difficult to give these donors the tactile experiences that go along with your cause. You will need to rely primarily on language that conjures these feelings. One way is to ask them how the victims of a disaster must feel, knowing that they have lost everything or ask them to imagine the sadness of a parent who can’t afford life-saving medicine for their child. You can also use tactile expressions like “get a handle on the problem” and “lend a hand.”
With kinesthetic communicators, you can evoke feelings using speech, written language, photos, and video. To appeal to this group, ask if your appeal brings up any emotions or physical sensations. In many cases, the first step to inciting action is to simply make an emotional impact.
Appealing to Everyone
It’s always good to be informed about how best to communicate your cause and the needs of your organization, but it can be difficult to create a message that is effective for all kinds of communicators. As mentioned above, videos are a good way to unite visual, auditory, and kinesthetic communication.
When crafting your appeals, writing emails, or simply preparing a presentation, take a moment to ask how well you are communicating with people who may learn differently from yourself. Communicating with these different senses in mind will help you reach and engage a wider audience.
If you are interested in learning more, The Influential Fundraiser goes into detail about how to identify different types of communicators and respond in ways that help them understand and appreciate the value of your nonprofit.