The Cause Agency
The Cause Agency

Using Pathos and Logos to reach an audience

Marble head of Aristotle.

One of the main goals of any nonprofit is to reach new audiences that are willing to donate time and money to their respective causes.

Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, suggests that there are three main models of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos.

For many nonprofits, it is recommended to use pathos, as this form of persuasion appeals to a person’s emotions and beliefs. (Think sad puppies on the ASPCA commercials.) Pathos is the use of empathy and emotion for persuasive purposes. Many nonprofits use pathos because it can be easy to connect an emotion to the cause of a nonprofit.

But, pathos doesn’t appeal to all audiences. For instance, some people are better persuaded through logic, numbers and reason. And that’s where logos comes in. It can be difficult to connect with these individuals, but the logos group is an important resource. For them, statistics and numbers can be a better incentive to help than, say, a sad puppy.

Logos also often works best to connect people to a cause that would otherwise have no ties to the group. For instance, referring back to the ASPCA example, if a person has never owned a pet they may not be persuaded by a video of a sad puppy. But, if a statistic is shown, they may be more likely to respond to the ASPCA’s call to action relating to a donation.

This is not to say that only one method of persuasion is the best for every audience. Using a combination of these two methods of persuasion is often the most effective. People generally do not fit into one neat little box; they overlap into different areas. When nonprofits branch out from using just a pathos approach, they expand their audience to people who may fit more fully into another of the categories.

It is important to note that Aristotle’s third model of persuasion, ethos, is difficult to apply in this instance as it appeals to ethics and character. Ethos is not used as often as logos and pathos because it can be difficult to appeal to a person’s ethical stance on a nonprofit.  People who do not feel it is important to donate to nonprofits will not be as persuaded by an ethos approach compared to the logos and pathos appeal. Whereas people who feel it is important to donate to a nonprofit already have it built into their character that giving is important.

Nonprofits want to reach every possible prospect with their message. By using a combination of pathos and logos, they increase their chances of that happening.