Be small in number: If you’re looking to make any money, keep the number of performers in your act down to a minimum. People don’t necessarily give more money to a large group than they do to a solo artist.
Have things to sell: Musicians, have a stack of CDs. Other performers, get creative – one mime I saw had a basket of fortunes that she sold for a dollar each. This will increase your revenue as well as your name recognition. I recommend having a sign saying something like “After a minimum donation of $5, Please take a CD!” This way people can give lots more if they wish. Obviously, the more professional you can make your product, the better it will sell.
Case Location: Keep your case close enough so that no one will be tempted to steal it or trip over it, but far enough so that people do not have to come RIGHT next to you to drop in money. Make giving money a comfortable experience for them – many are shy (especially kids). Also, I recommend looping your case’s strap around something heavy like your chair or an amplifier to further deter people from trying to steal it.
Case Position: Keep your case as open as possible so that people can see into it, but make sure it is not so open that the wind will blow your money out of it.
Seed Money: When starting out, place $2-3 of your own money in your case. This is very important, though it may seem strange. People are herd-like in nature, and are typically afraid to be the first to do anything. By showing that “others” have already enjoyed your performance, they feel more comfortable publicly and privately admitting that they enjoyed it as well. By having a little money in your case you also get them thinking about possibly donating money as they walk by. Rather than “Oh, there’s a nice artist,” they think “Oh, there’s a nice artist trying to earn some money.”
Routinely empty the case: Whenever your case gets around $7-13, clear all but $2 into a pocket in your case. There are two reasons for this. First, if you let a huge pile of money build in your case, you will become a target of theft. Second, this diminishes the free-rider psychological tendency. If someone walks by and you have $77 dollars in your case, he will be less inclined to drop a $1, because his contribution will seem like nothing. However, if you have $4, the same person can say “I’m going to make this guy’s night. He sounds good, and my contribution will mean something.” Note: If you have qualms about this, consider that if you had $30 visible in your case after playing for a few hours, you’d not make nearly as much per hour, which may make it so that street performing was no longer worth the time that you put in, and thus you would stop performing in general.
Eye Contact and Smile: Do it. Making a connection like this goes a long way.
Win the Kids: If you can get the kids interested (or, better yet, involved) with the performance, the parents will likely give you money.