In the past few years many businesses didn’t consider what they did as a total act of survival. The Celtic Tiger made most people fat and comfortable (phsyically and mentally) and fed into a fantasty that doing nothing would still guarantee comfort. Yet even during the boom times people were still falling into complete poverty, people were homeless, pretty much lived a daily life of being starved and too many people were in constant survival mode.
Today if you walk around Dublin you’ll encounter junkies, beggars and homeless people every few minutes. They all want your money and there’s strong competition for it. Most people walk past them willfully ignoring them, pretending not to see them, some mightgive something and some will say they have no change. The style of the ask has changed over time, evolving to what works best/what will work for a while. It’s gone from aggressive demanding of money to politely asking for money for a cup of tea and thanking people no matter if they help or not (which makes some people stop and then give money as it ups the guilt perhaps.) I’ve noticed over time too that the “money for a cup of tea” ask has now changed to “money for a hostel”.
Last week at iGap I told the story of a girl who came up to me at the Luas Green stop opposite Stephen’s Green shopping centre asking for money. She told me she wasn’t a junkie and rolled up her sleeves to show me, she told me how her boyfriend had just left her, how she was 2 months pregnant and how she has nowhere to live and asked me to help with money.
A cold cynical analysis of this: She hung around at the richer Luas stop, the first leg in the journey of people to get out of the grime of the city. People almost relieved to get out of dodge and so will be slightly more irrational when handing over money. She started to build trust by showing me she wasn’t a junkie. She triggered emotional reactions by telling me 3 facts that would put me at unease and then gave me the opportunity to try and right some of these. She got a tenner off me.
To be able to get money from people with strong competition, from an audience that’s already jaded, you are going to have to adapt to it and find out what will get and sustain attention. In the right location a sign alone might work and get you small amounts of money (hello Google Adwords) but as the streets fill with more people doing the same, you’re not going to make as much. (Still looking at you Google Adwords) Knowing your audience, knowing what will get them to think and react is becoming more and more important. Do you change your message and go after small amounts in large volumes or do you tell a deeper story to a different audience? Watching what others are doing and seeing does it work is also needed and knowing how to adapt again when your unique message gets copied is also important.
It might be worth it for some companies to volunteer time with the “professional” charities who are experts at extracting cash from people even when many of them don’t have a tangible product. What they’ll teach you more than anything is how to understand people. You can donate to the Simon Community here.