The Art of Begging for Money

I ride the NYC subway to work on rainy days (like today) and I’ve heard and watched dozens of people beg for money (which is against the law). They all have their sales pitch down pat. They all get donations. But as an advertising creative director, I feel the need to make some changes to their sales pitch. Some of their presentations could use a little help. So, as my donation, I will give away for free my advice on how to improve some of the pitches I hear often in the NYC subway system.

Harvel – the Viet Nam Vet
“Hello, my name is Harvel, I’m a disabled Viet Nam vet. I was formerly homeless. And now I’m asking for money to give a coat, a sandwich or a piece of fruit to other homeless men and women. I’m asking nothing for myself. I can’t work because since Viet Nam, I have to take all these pills. (Holds up a bag of over 50 empty pill bottles). Thank you and god bless.”

Not a bad pitch. Harvel has props; pill bottles, sandwiches, a cart with various items inside. And he gets more donations than anyone else I see on the Subway. But I think his pitch could use a little more sizzle. Here is my suggestion: Tell us WHY you’re doing this. WHY you spend 12 hours a day in the subway system asking for money. I don’t care what you’re doing, but WHY you’re doing it.

“Hello, my name is Harvel. I’m a disabled Viet Nam vet who has dedicated his life to helping people. This is something that was instilled in me during my tour in Viet Nam. While I was stationed near De Nag, I saw things that made me want to get out of the Army and spend my life helping those who couldn’t help themselves. That’s why I’m asking for money. I want to ensure that the homeless get the basic necessities they need to survive. A sandwich, a warm coat, or even simply a piece of fruit.”

I don’t know, but I think he’d get more donations. I also wouldn’t use the medication bottles. It seems like an excuse. And since they’re empty, make it seem like a scam.

‘I Will Survive’ singer
There’s a woman who sings “I will survive” in the subway system. And while she has a great voice, singing about how you’ll survive may not be the best choice to get donations. Just like American Idol, it’s all about song choice. Here are some suggested new songs:

“With a little help from my friends” – The Beatles. A small donation will help her ‘get by with a little help from my friends’

“Help” – The Beatles. ‘Help, I need someone, won’t you please, please help me.’

“End of the Line” – Metallica. Maybe you just need to shock some people into helping. ‘Need more and more, tainted misery, bleed battle scars, chemical affinity.’ Who could ignore that?

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts for today. If you’re going to ask for something, make sure your pitch stands out from the crowd. Or else, you may just be ignored.


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