Sunday, July 24, 2011

A lesson from street fundraising: How to approach strangers

Prelude note: In 5 days, I've tried to stop over 1,500 people. The lines below have all been battle-tested, and I promise that every one, said with confidence and aplomb, will get a smile or laugh.

I became a street fundraiser to push the limits of my confidence. (Read more here.) I spend my days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the meanest streets in America (New York) trying to:

(a) stop people 
(b) pitch a non-profit
(c) get them to give me their credit card number

Needless to say, it's a hard job.

The most fun part, obviously, is getting rejected, because doing crazy shit becomes the mother of necessity: it's the only way to get people to stop as they’re running to work / yoga / a meeting / lunch. Of course, the best way to stop someone is to flirt with them. That's why male fundraisers are most successful with females, and vice versa.

There's a Corona ad near Times Square that says, "No strangers -- just future friends." That's the attitude you absolutely need if you want to stop someone. It’s called being positively assumptive: believing that people want to have a conversation with you, because, simply put, you are an awesome human being.

We learned in training that 91% of the approach's success comes from body language, eye contact, and tone. 9% come from the words out of your mouth. The three keys to successful approaching are:

1. Strong eye contact starting from at least 10 feet away.
2. Upright, confident posture and welcoming body language.
3. Direct, loud, yet ambiguously needy introduction.

The compilation below contains pickup lines taken from Matt J., a veteran fundraiser who has signed up over 800 people. That number probably means nothing to you; just know it’s absolutely insane. He’s probably one of the top 10 fundraisers in the entire US.

Despite Matt’s (middling) looks, his energy, aura, and confidence are through the roof. The man is absolutely relentless, as well as hilarious and quick-minded. Here are the pick-up lines he uses to stop people on the street. (Note: 80% are from him, 20% come from the rest of my team.) Remember, say these confidently, flippantly, and with a wry smile.

Strategies on approaching women:

(Each section is organized from most effective to least effective.)

1. Be Affable

·         I know this is going to sound crazy, but let's talk.
·         *extend hand* Friendly conversation?
·         You're walking my way, we're both nice people, let's have a conversation.
·         Stop -- in the name of love.
·         If I dance for you / sing for you / will you sing / dance along with me?
·         Your shoulders look so tired. 
·         It's a beautiful summer day. Let's have a conversation.
·         How do you feel about high-fives?
·         Penny for your thoughts: child poverty.

2. Be Moderately Flirtatious

·         You look talented. (Most often, they'll say, "Why?" Then make something up.)
·         If you stop, I promise, promise I'll talk to you.
·         If you keep walking that fast, we're not going to be able to have a conversation!
·         You know how nice I am? I will literally stand here and keep you company while you eat.
·         *Look at her Starbucks cup* Hi <insert name>! (This always works.)
·         You know you just stepped into my personal office right? Don't worry, I cleared my schedule for you.
·         You know if you're wearing a pink shirt / have a red bag / wearing heels it means you have to talk to me.
·         I planted this tree right here so we could have a conversation in the shade.
·         You know smoking while walking is dangerous, right?
·         Miss, I just need an hour of your time. I swear, nothing more.
·         I missed you! You promised you would talk. 
·         Can I have your watermelon?
·         Miss, let's talk. Human to human. Two arms, two legs, 6 holes.

3. Be Extremely Flirtatious

·         Things are never going to work out if you don't stop. 
·         If you don't stop, how are me and you ever going to work out?
·         Why...are you so adorable?
·         Do you remember that time when we met just a second ago?
·         (If they're holding something): Oh, you didn't have to get those flowers / cupcakes for me. I just want to talk to you.
·         So…I was thinking a lot about what you said last night, and I wanted to let you know I resolved it. Thanks for your advice. Just kidding, I just want to talk.
·         I don't want your hat. Just kidding, I do. Let's talk.
·         Excuse me, I've been waiting for you my entire life.
·         Excuse me, I just thought you were adorable. Hi!

4. Be Direct

·         You need to stop.
·         I want you to stop.
·         You need to stop.

5. Use Movement

·         *spin* Hi.
·         I'm going to do a side-step for you. *side-step* 
·         I'm going to do a sidestep, *sidestep* and you're going to walk into a friendly conversation.
·         *turn body to her as if telling a secret* Psst -- I need to talk to you.

6. On the phone

·         No need to text me honey, I'm right here.
·         You never have time for us.
·         What about us?
·         Multi-tasker, huh? Let's add a conversation to the list.
·         You know texting while walking is dangerous, right?
·         We never get to talk. What about us?
·         How can we have a conversation if you're on the phone?
·         (Headphones) Am I boring you?

For men:

·         *Flex* These guns? Don't worry, I won't use them. I just want to talk to you.
·         Those dreads are incredible. You know what's also incredible? Saving a child's life.
·         You have a beard? I have a beard! Dude, mano-a-mano. Let's have a conversation, just you and me.
·         Handshake?
·         Superman! I need to talk to the man of steel right here, right now.
·         Hey dude, great convo headed straight your way. 
·         You have facial hair, I have facial hair -- let's talk.
·         Hey, you're a man, I'm a man. Let's stick together. Let's talk.
·         Are you nice?


I'm in a bit of a rush:
Me too, I'm trying to get kids out of poverty. 

I don't have time:
I’ll write you a late note.
Don't worry, you can have some of mine.
Really quickly, I promise, or you can slap me afterwards.

I'm late:
Then make it worthwhile.
After the rejection:

·         I miss you already!
·         I love you!
·         Think of me tonight!
·         Goodbye, beautiful!

"I'm Peter. Thanks so much for stopping. I genuinely appreciate it. I'm on the streets trying to get one child out of extreme poverty today."


Say your comebacks expecting them to stop.
body language / eye contact / short and sweet
mirror their energy