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Make your fundraising offer the cliffhanger (Star Wars fundraising)

I love a good cliffhanger – don't you?

Question: are you using cliffhangers in your fundraising?

More on the why soon. But first...

(spoilers ahead... for those of you still avoiding Star Wars)

Consider the power of a good cliffhanger.

–Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back–

The film ends with Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader is his father. Our good guy hero is invited to join the Dark Side.

Will he? Won't he? How will this play out?!

Darth Vader asking Luke to join him on the Dark Side
Vader beckons Skywalker to join him in evil.

To get answers to these questions, you have to tune in for the next "chapter" of this saga, Return of the Jedi.

Now, this scene is a cliffhanger. We're brought to a "plot cliff" – breathtaking! – terrifying! – and we're left there, hanging, waiting.

Likewise, TV episodes often end with cliffhangers.


Some cliffhangers go so far as to spell out the suspense for us by voicing our cliffhanging questions:

Robin trapped in some kind of torture device by the Riddler, with the words superimposed: "Will Robin escape???"
Devoted Batman viewers want to know: "Will Robin escape???"

"Will Robin escape? Can Batman find him in time? Is this the ghastly end of our dynamic duo?"

Books, too, hang readers from cliffs – especially with chapter endings that beg you to turn just one more page.

–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone–

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Chapter 3 image: letters coming out of the fireplace, with the words "Chapter Three, The Letters from No One"

At the end of the third chapter of Harry's first book, we read:

One minute to go and he’d be eleven. Thirty seconds… twenty… ten… nine – maybe he’d wake Dudley up, just to annoy him – three… two… one…
The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.

Who's at the door? Why? What's gonna happen?!

In this moment, I don't know.

But I do know...

Make your fundraising OFFER the cliffhanger 🧗‍♀️


You may say, "I'm not writing space operas, comic books, or fantasies!"


Yet you really ought to keep your donors gently hanging...

Two goats precariously perched on a seaside cliff
Two goats demonstrating how your donors should feel circa your offer. (Photo cred: Angelo Monti)


Because that's how to keep them coming back for more.

(ahem, donor retention)


With fundraising storytelling, in which you do 3 things:

  1. Tell a story of need.
  2. Make your offer the cliffhanger.
  3. Save the happy ending for the final chapter.

Before we dive deeper, there's something else you should know. Fundraising stories don't really end with the appeal. Or at least, they shouldn't.

It's similar to a book series, a TV series, or a movie series.

The ending is not always the ending. It may only be the chapter ending, or the not-last in a series of books ending, or the episode ending, or the not-last season ending, or the not-last in a series of movies ending.

See what I mean?

Think of your appeal as the first of a 2-book, a 2-season, or a 2-movie series.

The first book, season, or movie sets things up and ideally has a cliffhanger ending. The second and final book, season, or movie resolves the cliffhanger tension and delivers a happy ending.

And your offer is the cliffhanger.

Got it?

Let's recap:

  • First, tell a story of need.
The Night King from Game of Thrones
Your story of need might involve an "enemy" to be overcome – a fundraising version of the Night King from Game of Thrones.
  • Second, make your offer the cliffhanger (that your supporters can resolve by making a donation).
Arya Stark from Game of Thrones
Your offer should make your supporters feel like Arya Stark pondering how to defeat her enemy and win victory.
  • Third, save the happy ending (impact) for the final chapter (thank-you letter and newsletter).
Arya Stark searching for what's West of Westeros
Your happy ending of impact and gratitude should make donors feel at least as pleased as Arya is here (S8E6) – and should keep them eagerly reading your next appeals.

And now... let's come full circle with a Star Wars fundraising example:

(kinda weird? yes! – play along? thank you!)

First, tell a story of need:

On the vulnerable desert planet of Tatooine, Luke is a hard-working moisture farmer. He loves his foster parents, but he is angry and frustrated. It's not easy for him. You see, Luke was orphaned when his father was murdered by a ruthless cyborg. Understandably, he is grieving and he lacks a sense of direction and purpose.

Second, make your offer the cliffhanger (that your supporters can resolve by making a donation):

But you can help Luke find his path to success. Your generous gift of $25 will buy an hour of life coaching with a local Jedi master. So will you please give today?

Third, save the happy ending (impact) for the final chapter (thank-you letter and newsletter):

Because of you, Luke is well on his way to a promising future! Your support got him the coaching he needed, and now the Force with him is strong. In fact, we're so pleased to report that Luke has joined the Rebel Alliance and is determined to fight for justice for his father. With your help and the support of some new friends, he grows more confident every day. We're sure you'll agree that very good things are in store for young Luke. Thank you!!

Isn't that a heartwarming tale?


While you're here...

Why not read a little more?

Here are a few more blog posts you might like:

1. Thank You for the "Mental Real Estate"

2. You Can't Feel "Empty Urgency"

3. The 1 Forrest Gump Fundraising Secret You Need

4. Do Your Fundraising Stories Give Away the Ending? 


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