A magazine slid through my letterbox earlier this week. Inside, annoyingly, was a wodge of adverts from various organisations. My reaction was to flick through and immediately recycle them. However, one caught my eye; it was a rough brown envelope with a two-line question written in a typewriter font.
My first thought was ‘it’s an appeal; let’s see how other people do them’ and so I picked it up. It showed the face of a young girl next to the question, “Is she an ‘asylum seeker’, ‘freeloader’, or ‘scrounger’?” The question seemed to give responders two negative options over a fairly cold positive – why not refugee or other more sympathetic term? In the corner of the envelope it said P.T.O., which was just enough of a hook to make me turn the envelope over.
On the reverse was the magic fourth option: “Or an orphaned little girl who needs your help?”
Underneath it said “A personal message from Colin Firth” and on one side was the actor’s picture.
When most appeals try to give you one reason to open the envelope, this gave me two. I was curious to find out ‘Why Colin Firth?’ and, more importantly, what the girl’s story was. As a father of a young child, my protective instinct is always set to ‘high alert’ so I’m an easy target for causes promoting the protection and well-being of children.
Inside was a black and white letter, probably designed to look as cheap as possible. At the top of the letter was Colin Firth’s picture, the same one as on the envelope, and the opener ‘Dear Friend’.
“Opening this envelope has already set you apart.”
A nice ego massage, thanks Colin. But why does it set me apart?
The words ‘asylum seeker’ will have deterred many people.
Wait – I thought ‘asylum seeker’ was meant to be the one positive of the three options. Colin Firth did not need to restate the assertion we’re dealing with an ‘orphaned little girl’; that powerful choice of words is present even if unsaid.
Perhaps it was the child you saw and not the label. Today, I would like to ask you to take another step and help protect a child like Melody.
I have taken one step in opening the letter. Another step is easy. And there is another Melody, who’s name I’ve learned but whose story I still don’t know, whom I can protect.
You’d be right in wondering why this request comes from me.
Yes, I was wondering, actually. Colin, can you read my mind?!
Colin Firth (or the copywriter) then sets out a moving and compelling story of Melody’s tragic young life in Nigeria; how she lost her parents, moved in with her terminally ill grandmother; how a ‘friend’ offered to give the grandmother respite care by taking Melody on holiday; and how Melody was immediately traffiked into the UK to be a domestic slave.
But for Melody, her servitude was about to take an even worse turn.
Men began to visit the flat to pay to be taken to Melody’s room. The abuse that went on behind that door has scarred her for life.
What is unsaid is more powerful, somehow, because it keeps the horror in the mind of the reader without letting it out on paper. It is unambiguous and inescapable.
The story continued: One day, Melody fought back, and was kicked out onto the street and – through her own hard work – got enrolled in a school and referred through Social Services to the Refugee Council. I don’t wish to weary you by making you read the entire four-page appeal so I will skip through the rest, picking out only a few details. The writer included details of how the UK Government cut funding by £6.5 million, leaving a giant 30% hole in their running costs.
They presented a financial case as well as a humanitarian one. Not only did this appeal hit the heart, it hit the head. The solution is obvious.
Then came the Ask. This critically important part of any appeal can be a tricky beast. For some people, a suggested donation of £18 is too much but £12 is perfect. For others it is £8. Some charities ask for £1. I was therefore amazed at and in awe of The Refugee Council’s courage to ask for £40. True, they also gave the option of £20 an [£Other] box for writing in your own donation, but they were aiming high, and I’m certain people will respond to the best of their financial abilities.
They even included a postscript from Colin Firth urging everyone to sign the petition to urge our Government to act on behalf of refugees like Melody. This was not presented as a get-out clause for people who don’t want to give financially; it was in addition to the donors’ gifts.
It is probably the best, bravest, most moving appeal I have read in… I don’t know… probably my entire career. Well done, Colin and Copywriter.
Here’s the super-short web version on the Refugee Council Website.