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a skeleton dropping its jaw in the Pixar film Coco

You should be an "ask dropper"

Dropping things is bad, right?

Depends on what you're dropping.

Bad things to drop include: crystal vases, names, the ball.

Good things to drop include: records, things while they're hot, ASKS . . .

You should be an "ask dropper"

What, you might ask, is an "ask dropper"?

An ask dropper is someone who skillfully drops asks in an appeal. (Yes, totally made that up. Thankyouverymuch.) For most appeals, you'll ideally do this once or twice per page.

Note: the following includes mentions of child abuse and suicide. Please take care while reading.

Below is (most of) the first page of an appeal Brett and I helped Idaho Youth Ranch with.

Notice where the two asks have been "dropped."

To up your asking game, what you'll want to do is:

  1. Set up the first ask drop.
  2. Drop the first ask.
  3. After a smooth transition, continue the story until it builds to the next ask.

Like this:

  • Johnson Box — The Johnson Box is jargon for a teaser at the top of the appeal. It often includes a mini version of the problem and a mini version of the ask.

  • hook — Make sure your hook is brief — is about one sentence — is not boring — and leads into the first part of the story. Here, the hook frames a "you-sized" or "donor-sized" problem involving one beneficiary whose story is about to be told...

  • The context — Give us the basics: who (Olivia, her uncle, her mom), what (abuse), when (at age six), where (the uncle's house), why (cancer treatment). Try to keep this as brief as possible. Readers will grasp the context better if it's kept to an easily-digestible size. They can quickly take it in mind, hold it close, and feel it seeping into their heart.

  • An aside — Where possible, look for places to insert the voice of the letter writer so that it feels more like a conversation. "Can you imagine?" is the type of prompt that you might hear from a friend recounting a powerful story at the kitchen table. Similarly, "I just want to cry..." written separately to resemble handwriting adds to the personal feel. This visual outlier draws the eye and increases the chances of a reader pausing, thinking, and feeling. (Feeling invokes caring and action.)

  • Rising action — Now that the reader knows the context, it's time to show how the problem got even worse. In this case, Olivia tragically blames herself, wants to avoid being a burden, and tries to make it all go away by taking her life.

  • Drop the first ask — Even though the story is not over, it has progressed to such an intense point that now is a good time to relieve the pressure by giving the donor a chance to do something about this awful situation. Notice the urgent language: "urge," "need," "urgent," and "right away." And notice that "your heartfelt compassion" personifies an identity the donor likely embraces and wishes to keep embracing in order to approximate an ideal version of themselves.

  • Transition... and resume — Notice that "thankfully" transitions from the ask back into the story with a quick shift that telegraphs the story is going back up. (Drama is a roller coaster.) Olivia appears poised to start getting help. Now is a good time to pause again and connect the possibility of help with the donor's agency in this regard.

  • Drop the next ask — Notice how the above starts with a separate one-sentence paragraph: "You can help Olivia and her family heal..." This serves as a transition sentence that connects the new information about how Olivia's mom learned of Idaho Youth Ranch to our next ask, which will give the reader the opportunity to provide the help Olivia needs. Notice too, that this second ask is different from the first. It starts with the name of the donor and mentions Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. You should have different versions of your ask throughout your appeal. Each should highlight a different facet of your offer.

So, how does Olivia's story end?

Olivia is doing well now ... but you can find out how her story progresses in next week's newsletter, which will show you how to keep dropping asks through the end of your appeal.


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. X-ray of a Donor Newsletter -- "Know Your Bones"

4. You Can't Get Donors to FEEL It If You Don't Feel It First

 5. What to Put in Your Donor Newsletter


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