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Valuable fundraising lessons from busking on the street

Howard Lake | 3 March 2019 | Blogs

Imagine this. You’re in a new country, knowing only one person in a 500 miles radius. The little savings you had are quickly running out to the point you can hardly afford a bus ticket to city centre, not to mention next month’s rent, no job and you’re not sure what you’re doing tomorrow morning. 
That was me, six years ago.
You see, I had a dream to come to the United Kingdom and pursue my childhood dream of becoming a rockstar.
A few months before that, my band got signed by a UK label and I thought to myself “it’s now or never”. I closed my social media agency, kissed my mom goodbye and bought a one-way ticket to my future overseas.
I have a strong belief in my ability to figure things out, whatever it may be, but after a couple of months of doing whatever I could to get by – from painting houses for £20 per day to try to teach vocals over Skype (horrible idea), I was almost ready to give up.

Keeping my eyes (and ears) open for opportunities

A friend from back home came to visit me for the weekend and bought me a pint at the oldest pub in Leeds. As we sat there and I was trying to keep a brave face on I kept hearing coins jingling from the street every few minutes.
There, was a young guy busking with his acoustic guitar and as the 20th coin dropped in his guitar case, the coin had dropped for me as well.
I went over to speak to him, shamelessly asking with my Jewish confidence how much he’s making per day out on the street – he said between £30 – 50 per day.
Nowadays, this sounds ridiculous, but back then I felt like I found a gold mine!
My next stop was to a local charity shop to find a battery powered guitar amplifier so that I can be at that same spot with my guitar the next morning.
And so I did, on the first day I’ve made about £40 and that was enough for me to consider this as my main source of income until the first European tour starts a few months after.

Guitar, amp and other busking equipment on the pavement

Getting ready to start! My full “System” – Keep reading to see what I mean

I’m sure you can see already, that if I commit to something, I do it all the way and I took my new “busking career” with the same gravitas.
I haven’t told you that by that point in my life I was already a certified business consultant, have opened and sold two businesses and had a lot of experience in direct response and digital marketing.
So while I was improvising some wicked blues solos, my mind was buzzing with ideas… “how can I optimise this busking thing and maximise my daily revenue?” I asked myself while that sweet jingling sound was now coming from my guitar case.

How to grow – The power of goal setting

I set a “semi-realistic” goal of getting to £120 per day by day 10. This meant I had to triple my current revenue in a little more than a week.
This is my first lesson for you. Most people will tell you to set a realistic goal, I say no!
Think about what you think is realistic and add 50%. In most cases in life, provided we take genuine action, we reach about 80% of our goals, so by setting up a goal that is higher than you think is possible; will usually mean you’ll reach the goal you thought was realistic initially. But, if you set that initial goal as your main goal, you’re probably not going to reach it.
Whatever goal it may be, it should be numerical; this is the only way to track your progress.
So then I started thinking about what I can do to get there.
I started with the Low Hanging Fruit, the most obvious things I can do to assure growth.
That busker guy I spoke to initially told me I should do 4 hours per day, starting from lunchtime, but I figured that by doubling my hours I can, hopefully, double my results.
So by playing to my strengths and increasing what I already know that is working, I can increase my impact.
I did that and I actually more than doubled my result, I went from £40 per day to 90. Still £30 to go to reach my goal.  Notice that if I had decided to get to just £80, I would probably work less, or at least be overjoyed by 90. Since my goal setting was higher it forced me to think harder as I couldn’t do more than 10 hours of playing per day.
So, if I doubled the hours, how come I more than doubled the results?
This has to do with building momentum. Nothing in our world is linear, the line is really a curve – and is always exponential.

Vito Peleg's blistered fingertips

How 10 hours of guitar playing per day looks like. Growth can be painful.



An introduction to AI for charity professionals by Ross Angus

Building my growth machine

Now, this is where it gets really interesting.
I broke down my activity using the same mechanism I use with my charity clients today, building their digital strategies.

Audience + Message + Channel + System

If you’re going to remember just one thing from this blog post, let it be this. This is so powerful it’s incredible.
The thing about these 4 points, and that’s why I like to separate them with pluses, is that if one changes, other parts must change as well and the game is to get them to work harmoniously together.
I like looking at it like a four-digit combination lock, like the one we have on our bicycle, if one of the digits is wrong, the lock remains locked. Only by aligning the four digits together we can unlock the lock. Remembering there are more than 10,000 possible combinations, rarely we’d get it right on the first try.
Ok back to my story, Instead of randomly playing music to whoever passed me on the street, I broke down my day into different types of people (audiences) and where and when they can easily be found (channel).
Trying to see where I can get in front of the largest group of people at any given hour of the day.
And so I started my morning at 7 am, outside of the local train station next to the corporate side of the city, as soon as people arrive at work and I stayed there until 9 am.
Not only that, I noticed that they were all tired and suited up, so I started with some soulful morning jazz and rhythm & blues, something mellow to help my audience get the day going.
The music was my message and I crafted it specifically for my audience. In the same way, we craft our digital message according to each identified audience for our charity clients.
The train station had 2 exits so I was missing out on half the people leaving the station. And so I came back there, standing outside the second exit at 17:00 as that same audience was going back home, this time leveraging the group I didn’t target in the morning. Of course, their mindset was different than at 7 am (meaning the Channel changed) and so the message had to change as well, playing some upbeat tunes to match the “upbeat” walk back home.
Do you think I reached my £120 goal?
I tracked my progress daily and yes, on day 7 I have made £132.
So by now, most people would be satisfied… Not me.
I decided to double my goal and now I am after £240 per day.

This is when I started applying a lot of discipline into my day and this was my daily schedule:

7:00-9:00 Train station – Mellow jazz & blues for commuters.
9:00-9:30 Walk to the city centre.
9:30-10:00 Short break for a sandwich until shops open.
10:00-11:55 City centre – Top 40 songs for young moms.
12:00-13:30 Foodcourt – Chill out & blues as people eat lunch.
13:30-14:00 Short lunch break for another sandwich.
14:00-16:30 City centre – Classic upbeat rock, random audience.
16:30-17:00 walk back to train station
17:00-18:00 Train station – Upbeat blues & Jazz for commuters.
This has got me to £246 by day 16.
Now, most people would again say, that’s it, you’re at max capacity. But I was just getting started! I upped my goal once again, this time to £350 per day.
It’s good to remember that we can accommodate only what we think to be possible.

A famous example of that is the 4-minute mile

For more than a thousand years, athletes believed that humans can’t run a mile in less than 4 minutes. More so, experts and physicians were claiming that it’s not only dangerous to the human body but simply impossible. People believed that the body has reached its full potential.
On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, running the distance in 3:59.4. He later spoke about this and claimed that for a very long time, he kept telling himself, on a daily basis, that it is possible. He refused to accept the status quo.
The interesting thing was that once he proved it to be possible, more and more runners started breaking the 4 min mark. To the point that nowadays, it’s pretty common for high school runners to break it.

Optimisations through A/B testing

Well, I now had my audience, message and channel in place. But what about optimising the system?
My system was pretty simple, it was me, improvising solos to backing tracks, with my guitar case in front of me for people to drop the coins.

I made a list of things I can do while playing, which I planned on testing over the next 10 days:

• Should I sit down or stand up?
• Should I have my hair up or down?
• Should I look people in the eyes or look at my guitar?
• Should I say “thanks” as they drop the coins or just nod?
• Should I play loud to reach distance, or soft to draw them in?
• Should I use my guitar case for coins or a box or my jacket on the ground?
• Should I have a note asking to give or not?
• Should I sprinkle some £5/£10 notes with the coins?
• Should I have a lot of coins or just a few?
• Should I smile or play it cool?
• Should I stand close to the amp or close to the coins?
• Should I push the coins to the middle of the street or not?
You probably think I’m crazy, well maybe, probably… but it worked!
I A/B tested my way from £246 up to £368 per day.
It took me more than an hour every evening just to sort out the coins and count my earnings.

And if you’re wondering:

Stand up, hair down, look in the eyes, just nod, loud (though not too loud or the police will show up), jacket, no note, sprinkle £5/£10 and people will match it, have a lot of coins (social proof), smile (build rapport), close to the amp and away from the coins (in the UK, don’t be pushy), push the coins to the street (not too much or else people will walk on your jacket).

King Edward Street Leeds

King Edward Street Leeds – photo: Wikipedia

In 27 days I have taken the average of £40 per day and multiplied it by 9. All by applying methodical thinking and tracking along with, century old, direct response techniques.
The only reason why £40 is the average, which over the time doing that I spoke to every busker that was with me on the streets of Leeds and they all confirmed this, is because we humans tend to accept the status quo as the fact. It takes vision and courage to push the limit of what you and the people around you think is possible.

In fundraising, this cannot be truer.

The lessons I learned that summer serves me, my staff and my clients to this day and I’m sure they will keep resonating with me for the rest of my life.

Vito Peleg and clients in his office

The beast was tamed – My current London offices at Charity Accelerator

If these concepts resonated with you too, I created a FREE fundraising training that I’m sure you will love. While here I told you my story, there, we will dive into what we are doing with our charities to help them recruit new donors online with consistency and predictability.
This online training is perfect for small to medium non-profits that feel they are investing a lot of energy on social media and generally online, but with little return. After speaking to more than 150 charities in the past 3 months, let me tell you, you are not alone and you’re probably a lot closer than you think, you just need a push in the right direction, which I’m positive that this free training will give you.
Vito Peleg - smiling, holding his glasses with one hand
My name is Roi Vitorio Peleg, but you can call me Vito. I am the founder of Charity Accelerator.
My team and I help small to medium charities build, prove and scale their digital strategies for individual and corporate fundraising. Recruiting new donors regularly and leveraging the power of automation to replace bodies with robots while maintaining a personal feel.
Main photo at top: Tom Sales