The Power of Asking



I recently stopped at a busy intersection and saw someone asking for help. It was a middle-aged man wearing shoddy clothes with a desperate look on his face. He was holding a sign “Please Help Me! I Lost My Home!” Yet he didn’t look at any of the drivers; he just stared off somewhere beyond the busy traffic. The sign said it all. Or so he hoped.

But nobody cared. A young woman in a little blue Toyota Prius on the right side was busy talking on her cellphone. A truck driver enjoyed loud country music.

I sensed that the homeless man really needed help. Even though I didn’t have much, I thought I could spare some change I had left for the toll road. I pulled down my window and waved to the guy. He didn’t show any signs of seeing me. I was in the farthest lane from him, and the light was about to change.

Last try – but the guy still didn’t look. Alas, he didn’t get anything from this bunch of cars. The light changed, and I had to go.

Just holding the sign is not enough, especially in our busy lives. It’s sad, but it happens everywhere. Worthy causes, great non-profits, urgent needs are not covered just because there is one missing component.

The Ask.

Learn to Ask: How a Street Artist Ended Up with Over $1.2M

Have you heard the story of Amanda Palmer? Amanda worked as a street artist, a statue with a painted face, standing in front of crowds to get donations in her hat. She says that she loved the moment of intensive eye contact with strangers, which she says people are lacking these days. She had the ask in her eyes. Since then, Amanda has perfected her ask for her band when she’s on the road. Very often Amanda uses the moments after the gig to ask for help, when she’s trying to spread the word about her free online music.

Unexpectedly, when she simply asks, people hand over dollar bills. So finally she decided to use crowdfunding to help her band. And the unexpected happened. While she was trying to raise just $100,000, over 24,000 people contributed to support her band which led to astonishing $1.2M raised online! “How did you make them do it?” exclaimed media critics. “I didn’t make them do it, I just asked them,” says Amanda. “Through this very act of asking people, I connected with them.”

The ask works for fundraising, networking and business development…even dating!

As Deb Mills-Scofield, a strategy and innovation consultant at Glengary LLC, suggests in HBR, “when we don’t use the ‘Power of the Ask,’ we are in essence saying ‘no’ before the question has even been asked — saying no to opportunities that change our businesses, our organizations, ourselves…and actual lives. So even if it feels uncomfortable, look for even just a small way you can use the ‘Power of the Ask’ in your network — for someone you work for, with or manage.”

Learn to ask for what you want,” says Dr. Thomas T. Hills, a professor of psychology at University of Warwick. Dr. Hills cited a study by researchers at UC Santa Cruz in which a female student was asked to pose as a panhandler asking people on the street for money. The interesting thing was that when the student employed “the ‘just ask’ condition,” 22 percent of people offered money, with an average gift of about 50 cents. However, if the student was more specific requesting an odd amount of money like 17 cents, the results were even more impressive, with 36 percent people throwing coins into the hat. So ask often and ask for your specific project in an engaging way. You’ll get more.

And what’s in it for the giver? No less than happiness, affirms Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute. As Brooks describes in his article, he encountered an interesting pattern in the data while working on his book on charitable giving. Brooks realized that donors benefited from their benevolence not only morally, but monetarily as well. Their income grew after they made their gifts! According to Harvard and the University of British Columbia research, “charitable giving improves what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” one’s belief that one is capable of handling a situation and bringing about a desired outcome. When people give their time or money to a cause they believe in, they become problem solvers. Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstance.

Preparing for Your Ask: Learning About Your Donor and Mastering Your Pitch

The next step will be defining how much you should ask for from each potential donor. Joan Garry, a fundraising consultant, always likes “to shoot for more.” As she notes in her blog, she usually uses what she calls her “white horse” strategy. “You, Mr. Donor, have the opportunity, thanks to your good fortune, to make a lead gift that could move our work from four cities to eight. That could allow us to move now so we don’t miss a full academic year.”

To accomplish a successful ask, however, Garry suggests that you need to be well prepared. Learn everything you can about the donor and his or her past interaction with your or similar non-profits. Most importantly, “regardless of whether you are asking someone for $1,000 or $250,000, you need a clear, compelling pitch. It needs to be inspirational, credible, and tangible, and you have to include a goosebump moment.

Your ask should always connect the dots and include a specific amount. One Street, an international non-profit organization, provides the following example of the direct ask:

“Well, I think we’ve found some exciting connections here today. It looks like our organization is addressing many of your needs through our current Safe Routes to Schools program. Could you contribute $5,000 to help us meet our goal this year of adding another school to the program?”

Marc Pitman, a successful fundraiser and fundraising coach, believes that the two most useful asks are:

1. “Would you consider a gift of $X?”

This is a down-to-earth, concrete approach that helps you and the donor resolve the matter swiftly.

2. “Honestly, I have NO idea how much to ask you for, but is a gift of $______ something you’d be able to consider?”

This is a request for help, explains Pitman, an honest way to show your willingness to hear the donor. It also helps volunteers who want to ask for a higher level than they are comfortable with.

Is that it? Not yet. In the final moment, you need to use one of the most important tools of fundraising: silence.

“He who speaks next, loses,” notes Gail Perry, one of the most effective fundraising consultants in the U.S. Like many other star fundraisers, Gail advises that you must leave the space to the donor after you’ve made your ask. This is a sacred moment of silence. Let the donor weigh options and give you an answer.

Also, beware of the 10 common errors when asking for a gift, warns Kristin Clarke, ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership. The donors can sense your lack of preparation and fear of the ask, and that might turn them away. However, if you don’t ask for a specific amount or “talk too much and don’t listen,” you will likely to hear a two-letter response. 

Glancing Into the Depth of the Human Soul

Fundraising is a humbling experience: every time you receive money, you glance into the depth of human capacity to give. A few years ago when I was making my first trip to South Korea to recruit students for DC-based internship programs, I had one of those breath-taking moments of witnessing humanity at its best. It started with a relaxing morning. While I was enjoying my breakfast at the hotel, I noticed an article about a prominent American lawyer highly regarded in the community for his knowledge and respect for Korean culture, as well as a number of philanthropic causes that he supported. I thought that this could be an opportunity for us to begin a new relationship.

After several calls and conversations with his secretary I made my way for a 30-minute audience with someone who I didn’t know existed the day before. This was also my last business day in Seoul. What do I have to lose if I meet someone passionate about education and share what our nonprofit does? After twenty minutes of pleasant conversation, there was only one thing left to do. Ask. I asked him to help two underprivileged Korean students experience a transformational internship program in DC.

My counterpart didn’t say much. I waited, holding my breath. Silence. Then he wrote out a check.

Make Your Ask Today

So when you’ve done your homework and learned all you can about a donor, make your ask. It matters less HOW you do it, than that you actually do it. Make your ask on LinkedIn. Make your ask in person. Make your ask in a handwritten card. Make your ask on the phone.

Every stranger may become your best funder. Every new contact you ask leads you to a next level. Every person you asked today may thank you for the life-changing experience of supporting your cause.

Make your ask today. You’ll be surprised.



“Millennissance”: How Millennial Leaders are Changing Our World


Are they all egocentric, delusional, seeking instant satisfaction and indifferent to reality? Samantha Mirr exclaims in desperation in her Stop Stereotyping Millennials, “How can you lump us all into one category like that?” Samantha emphasizes that like the other 85 percent of the Millennial generation, she’s a hard-working American, earning money to become independent. All this Millennial stereotyping is simply not true, she says. “They just want success and they want it now.”

David D. Burstein, a Millennial and the author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World, provides some deep insights into how this generation will profoundly impact the political, business, and media spheres. Bernstein argues that the millennial generation offers everything from civic idealism to savvy pragmatism, and from a deft mastery of technology to innovative approaches.

With 80 million Millennials (people who are now eighteen to thirty years old) coming of age and emerging as leaders, this is the largest generation in U.S. history. By 2020, its members will represent one out of every three adults in the country. Burstein believes that “Millennials are more global, more tolerant, more diverse, more educated, more connected, and bigger than any generation before them. They embrace change. They are the only generation to come of age with one foot in the old world of pre-internet, pre-Facebook, pre-computer, doing their first research projects in libraries, and another foot in the digital era.”

Jean Case, CEO of Case Foundation, has a similarly positive view about Millennials. During her recent interview at the Millennial Impact Conference ’14, she noted, “I am a really big believer in this generation. Not only they are tech savvy, and have the tools to change the world, they are very idealistic. Yes, a lot of young generations have been idealistic, but the difference here is that they are putting their time and their money into the things they care about. 90 percent of Millennials have given $100 or more to the cause they care about.

It’s so easy to put a label on a whole generation of people. We forget that every human being is born able to create and share no matter when he or she was born. Actually, we hear this criticism repeated throughout the centuries. Leonardo da Vinci, “the most relentlessly curious man in history,” and the ultimate representative of the Renaissance, was relentlessly criticized for not finishing what he had started. And yet da Vinci, an experiential learner whom we could view as a Millennial of his time, produced more inventions than any of us can hope to achieve in our lifetime!

What is the definition of a Renaissance man or woman today? How has it evolved from previous eras? Would Millennials be able to produce their very own “Millennissance” – the Renaissance of the Digital Age?

Britannica defines the Renaissance man, or universal man, as an ideal that developed inRenaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72), that “a man can do all things if he will.” The Renaissance man or woman at the time would be someone knowledgeable in a variety of topics with great understanding in arts and sciences.

Charles Araujo, an IT consultant and the author of the book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change, thinks that today the Digital Renaissance Leader is defined by the following qualities:

Eagerness to learn
Emotional awareness

How can you find these Digital Renaissance Leaders, amid the swirling mist of social media, news and world disasters? More importantly, what does a young person need to do tobecome one? How do you start this journey?

You Don’t Have To Go To Africa To Change The World

My recent trip to the Millennial Impact Conference (MCON) and my perusing of “Start Something That Matters,” by Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS, helped me to find some of these answers.

Over the past four years, MCON has become a celebration of this creative generation of young men and women who are determined to change the world. Organized by Achieve, this year MCON focused on culture, relationships and movements, and featured a number of impressive representatives of the Millennissance – a Millennial Generation of achievers and change makers.

While there was a great number of remarkable young men and women among the speakers, one of them stood in a separate category – Kohl Cerelious, CEO & Co-founder of the non-profit lifestyle brand Krochet Kids International.

“You don’t have to go to Africa to change the world,” proclaimed Kohl, even though he himself did so. His passion to help people and communities in need and his superb skill in –yes- crocheting allowed him to make his dream come true.

Kohl and his friends’ newly found crocheting business became popular, but they didn’t stop there. While volunteering in various developing countries, they realized that people living in poverty or suffering through terrible circumstances needed hope. And work. Kohl decided that something needed to be done. Someone had to make a difference. But how?

Crocheting came to the rescue. Kohl realized that his skill could help many people make a dramatic breakthrough and help earn needed resources. And the first country that helped them realized that this is possible was Uganda.

“After countless Skype meetings and late nights, we found ourselves sitting in a simple brick hut with a group of Ugandan women and bags full of yarn. What followed thereafter remains to be one of the most surreal experiences of my life, as we watched these ladies nearly master crocheting before our eyes.”

“The point is this – you need to combine the passion for what you do with passion about your community,” suggests Crecelius.

Too often people are mesmerized by teaching people in other countries the best way out – oh, I know the way – and don’t realize that they don’t even know the community they are trying to teach their wisdom to, says Kohl.

You also don’t need to wait for permission or validation by subjecting yourself to family or society pressures to do good or change the world. You have to act now.

The whole cycle of going to college, graduating, getting a job and earning some money before beginning to act on your promise are false notions, explains Kohl. You have to be willing to fail.

Kohl added that, “if we’d waited to act, we’d probably have learned in school that it was impossible to do what we actually did.” Embrace naivety, recommends Kohl. “In our company we celebrate naivety.”

Kohl also warns not to expect that you’re going to be changing thousands of lives at once. Maybe one, maybe two, maybe ten. It doesn’t matter.

And yes, you will fail and have to get up again along the way. It doesn’t matter how many times you’re going to fail. That’s how you learn about success.

Just start. Take this step today,” says Kohl.

Your Pathway to Changing the World: 6 Steps to Success From the TOMS Founder

Just how exactly can you change the world? To help out with your first steps, I highly recommend the bestselling book, “Start Something That Matters,” by Blake Mycoskie, Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS and founder of the One for One movement.

He suggests the following six simple steps that will help you formulate your story, find resources and create your life-changing venture:

1. Find Your Story

Mycoskie suggests that you need to find the time to share your story to the world. Not only that, but you need to make sure that you use every chance to share your story with everyone you can. Of course, you will also need to find story partners. These partners will become multipliers and facilitators to break new ground. Find the influence makers who will love your story, suggests Mycoskie. The influence makers will be able to give your story wings.

2. Face Your Fears

All of us make mistakes. Aren’t we humans after all? Mycoskie uses a great quote by Courtney Reum, Founder of VeeV which says it all: “No matter what happens, win, lose, or draw, never forget that life goes on.” Two other ideas come handy – The timing is never right and don’t worry about what others thinkJust like Kohl, Mycoskie is adamant about following your passion without obsessing over your plans. And of course, should you think of others’ opinions when you’re drawing your first Mona Lisa?

3. Be Resourceful Without Resources

In this digital age, following the example of Tim Ferris, the ultimate outsourcer, we can find plenty of free resources. We just need to start thinking. Make what you have count, says Mycoskie. And look around – that little non-profit that works next door might have some amazing people who can help your venture with a little investment.

4. Keep It Simple

Following the elegantly written Laws of Simplicity, by John Maedasimplicity is simple – you just need to strip it down. Track your ideas with a notebook, and pin them down whenever they strike you. Combine them with current or past ideas and see what happens. And most importantly, don’t let technology enslave you. Just it keep it simple.

5. Build Trust

If you are changing the world, you need to ensure that your friends and colleagues trust you. Empower your employees with autonomy. Very often it happens that managers neglect that simple rule – trust that your employees will grow into their roles.

Naturally, to build trust, you will need to be as open as possible. Check out how these TED talks helped Tim O’Reilly stretch his mind.

Use your own products, suggests Mycoskie, while proudly wearing TOMS shoes. You’ll be amazed how many companies don’t follow what they preach.Is a BigMac a good lunch option for a McDonald’s employee?

  1. Giving Is A Good Business

Everyone can give: some Millennials, like Facebook’s CEO Zuckerberg, give billions; others, like Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens, co-founders of UnBoundRVA, give time, energy and skills to transform lives in Richmond’s low income communities. What can you give away today?

Remember, giving is rewarding and easy.

Giving yourself to others and a willingness to change the world one person at a time is what defines a true Millennissance man or woman.

As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Image Source: The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Fragment