Want to know how to ask for money? Pull off any expressway and down onto any exit ramp in any big city in America and you’ll probably have the same experience: There will be a man or woman dressed in soiled clothes and filthy sneakers standing at the red light hoping for a handout. They might be holding a dirty rag and a spray bottle. They might be holding a crumpled coffee cup. They might be holding a tattered piece of cardboard with some version of “Will Work For Food” scribbled on it in Magic Marker. Or they might just jab their crusty palm in your direction. Either way, their message is clear: “I need money.”
Let’s face it, sometimes you hand them some change but most times you don’t. And when you don’t you strategize the best way to turn down their request –Do you pull up to the light ahead of them to make it clear you’re not interested? Do you stop so far back from the light that you’re out of reach? Do you stare straight ahead – or down at your phone – and refuse to make eye contact? Do you look them right in the eye and shake your head “no”? Regardless of your technique the result is the same… the light turns green, you step on the gas, and the panhandler recedes in the distance, an oily smudge in your rearview mirror you forget about a moment later.
Now consider this scenario:
The maître d’ catches your eye and motions to you to enter the dining room. On your way to a booth in the main room you see Don Shula or Kevin Spacey or Jimmy Buffett or Michael Jordan sitting at a quiet table against the wall. You walk over and quickly tell them how much you love their work and that you’re their biggest fan. You don’t overstay your welcome but before the maître d’ leaves your table you ask him to bring you the celebrity’s check so you can treat your idol to dinner, anonymously, of course.
Did you see what just happened? Don Shula’s net worth is estimated at $30 million; Kevin Spacey’s at $215 million; Jimmy Buffett’s at $400 million; and Michael Jordan’s fortune is estimated at more than $1 billion – yet they can’t pick up a check anywhere in the world. But the poor guy who’s down to his last dime and doesn’t know how to ask for money can’t even get half a buck when he needs it the most.
Kinda suggests that the old poverty routine is not how to ask for money, don’t it?
So why is it that so many companies – both for-profit and non-profit – use the poverty angle when they’re looking for business? Colleges will point out that tuition only pays a small percentage of their costs, so they need you to make up the difference. Accounts receivable clerks will tell the account payable clerks they’re trying to collect from that they need the money to make payroll. And consultants will point out that you should hire them because they need the business. In other words, established, successful companies resort to begging even though it’s clear that everyone loves a winner and the poverty approach does not work.
Think fast. Which is the most impressive university in the country? I’ll bet you named Harvard. Did you know that Harvard’s endowment now stands at $36.4 billion dollars? According to The International Monetary Fund, that’s more money than the GDPs of over 90 nations, or virtually half the countries in the entire world. Clearly Harvard doesn’t need the funds, yet the money keeps pouring in. Clearly Harvard knows how to ask for money. Ironic, isn’t it, when you realize that the most successful organizations are also the ones that attract the most revenue?
Does this mean that a well-dressed panhandler who knew how to ask for money would actually collect more money than a desperate wretch? I don’t know and I’m not planning on donning a suit and standing on a street corner to find out anytime soon. But it does suggest success begets success and a powerful brand is a great way for you to build a powerful business.
What does it suggest you need to do for your business?