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“Have You Talked to a Billionaire Lately?”

Forbes magazine keeps track of billionaires – here and around the world. This is one of the purposes of the periodical - to follow the triumphs and travails of the ultra-wealthy. Fact: the April 5, 2022, issue found 2,668 billionaires around the world on the 2022 Billionaires list, down from a record 2,755 in 2021. It goes on to state that “Collectively, they're worth $12.7 trillion, down from a record $13.1 trillion on the 2021 list.”

Are you feeling sorry for the billionaire class yet? Awww.

There are other fascinating facts about this elite group of individuals, too long to enumerate here. However, it is notable to point out one: The United States leads the world in billionaires with 735 in 2022, up from 724 in 2021. Forbes goes on to describe how many billionaires other countries have and, clearly, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and plummeting stocks have reduced the number in some nations such as Russia.

The reason I raise this issue is that as hard to believe as it may be if you fundraise, the odds are in your favor that one day you possibly will come across a billionaire somewhere in your travels. It’s not likely, but it’s also not farfetched. Hey, let’s be optimistic. Realistic, too. But you also can be hopeful.

My question is what would you say to a billionaire if you come across one? Will you be prepared to make your pitch because you may never again get the chance? What would you convey to capture that person’s attention, however fleetingly? Consider this: talking to a billionaire is like fishing. If you want to catch a fish you need to think like a fish. Depending on who it is, your bait is whatever interests them and their ecosystem.

This is where the legendary “Two-Minute Elevator Speech” comes into play. In my book Learn From My Experiences I devote a chapter to “The Art of Storytelling,” where I unabashedly declare if you are a fundraiser and you can tell a good story, you will likely thrive. And after all, what have you got to lose?

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, and CEO of Facebook asserted: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” When in an elevator, or anywhere one-on-one with a billionaire, it’s worth taking a calculated risk and making your pitch because it may be the only time you ever get so close to a billionaire.

If you think billionaires haven’t been exposed to the “Two-Minute Elevator Speech” before you are mistaken. Zillionaires are often buttonholed for this charity or that one. So, they aren’t unaccustomed to “the pitch.” But there is a science to successful storytelling. Time and again it is made up of the following key components:


1.   Ice breaker – you may have only 30 seconds to break the ice and introduce yourself at the same time.

2.   Problem identification – the next 30 seconds should be devoted to a relatable quandary the community faces.

3.   Solutions – you (or the nonprofit) are a PROBLEM SOLVER and you have another 30 seconds, give or take, to explain options and your solution in easy-to-understand language. No jargon, please.

4.   Billionaire’s role – your closer is how the billionaire will make a massive and widespread impact with a generous gift to the organization.

There are other approaches you can take, but this one may get you to where you want to go the fastest. And, yes, this approach isn’t exclusive to billionaires only. There also is much more that can be added to this method. Just not too much.

You have every right to ask: “Norm, this sounds good, but have you ever had a conversation with a billionaire? If yes, what was the result?” Answer: “No, not that I am aware of.” But, let me be clear. My approach wouldn’t differ with a millionaire, or with a thousandaire, or with a hundredaire. And I had many successful encounters. I regret, though, that no oligarchs lived in my neighborhood.

Keep in mind also that success is likely subject to your positive personality, your courage, and your ability to communicate without falling into the “phumphuh” trap (loosely means “mumbling, hemming and hawing.”). Create a rapport, be clear, concise, don’t ramble, get to the point and be knowledgeable about your topic.

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, once said: “Failure is not the outcome – failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” When faced with an opportunity, carpe diem – “seize the moment.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

One last word or two. Elon Musk. After all, how can we talk about billionaires and not mention the richest man in the world? There, I said it. Enjoy that!

© 2022 Norman B. Gildin. All rights reserved.