If you don't ask, you don't get
I wondered if there was
something we can learn about sharing the gospel from this email I
Peter H. Diamandis which
he shared publicly -
Dec 11, 2012
blog, I'm going to share how I first learned to turn a "no" into a
"yes," and some of my earliest, most powerful business lessons that
have served me for 30 years.
If you don't ask, you don't get. And if you get a "no," find another
way to get to "yes." I first learned both of these things when I was
an undergraduate at MIT.
I created my first "start-up" organization during my sophomore year
at MIT back in 1980. The group was called Students for the
Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) -- an organization that
I'm proud to say is still going strong today. I started it when I
found out there was no pre-existing space organization at MIT. At
that very first "founding meeting," 30 people showed up, and at the
end of the meeting we had a charter, a constitution and a mission.
Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine started a chapter at
(Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame later became president of that chapter),
another friend started a chapter at Yale. After an article appeared
about SEDS in Astronomy and in Omni magazine (which used to be one
of the top science magazines), I received hundreds of letters from
undergraduates at other campuses wanting to start chapters.
SEDS ultimately became a national and international student space
organization, with 100-plus chapters around the world. Running an
international organization out of my fraternity living room was no
easy feat... especially in those pre-Internet days when
communication by phone was cost-prohibitive and the only other
option was snail mail. I'm fond of saying that SEDS was the ultimate
MBA, teaching me everything I needed about leadership, finance,
management and fundraising.
My first lesson in fundraising came when I set out to raise the
massive sum of $5,000 (remember, this was 30 years ago!) to cover
the cost of printing and mailing the International Chapter
Newsletters. Through friends and faculty I had a few fundraising
meetings set up, but in each case, as I got close to asking for the
money, I ultimately didn't. For some reason, I just couldn't bring
myself to make the "ask."
I had heard the phrase, "if you don't ask, you won't get," and I now
understood exactly what that meant. Ultimately the first step in
raising funds was to overcome my own personal fear of rejection. My
next meeting turned out to be with the President of Draper Labs.
Draper Labs had been the famed partner to MIT in creating the
Navigation & Guidance Systems for the Apollo program, and if there
was ever an organization that should support SEDS, surely it would
Committed to making the actual ask, I gave the president my pitch
with all of the passion I could summon. I knew at the end of my
presentation that I really had done my best, and I was quite
But at the end, when that awkward silence that followed my pitch
finally broke, his response was disappointing: "Peter, I love what
you're doing and would love to support you, but Draper Labs is a
nonprofit; I'm unable to give you the money you want."
At that, I nodded in acceptance and was literally walking out the
door when I remembered another piece of advice: Don't take no for an
I turned back to him and said, "I have one more question: 'Those
newsletters I'm trying to get printed -- any chance you have the
ability to print them here at Draper?'" He said he did. I continued,
"And, any chance you could mail them out to our chapters for us as
well?" He said he could.
Ultimately the cost and scope of Draper Lab's contributions of
printing and mailing over the subsequent years well exceeded
$50,000. A $5,000 turn-down was converted into a massive success by
remembering two things:
1. There is ALWAYS something you should take away from every
fundraising meeting you hold;
2. Sometimes, the donation of goods or services is much easier and
more valuable than cash.
Today, whenever I take a fundraising meeting that doesn't result in
an investment, at a minimum I'm committed to extracting value from
it. That value can come in multiple forms:
1. Ask them why they didn't invest or contribute. Learn from them!
2. Ask them under what conditions they would invest or contribute.
3. Ask them whom else you should go to and ask for an investment.
4. Ask them for an introduction!
When you invest your time in having the meeting and you're coming
from a place of passion and commitment, almost everyone will find
some way to help you.