Thursday, April 19, 2007

Panhandling: the art is a transaction

It's almost impossible to walk down Market street through the Tenderloin district without being approached not once but several times and asked to give away money. Usually they are are numbingly unimaginative. "Spare change?" is the most frequent, rhetorical request.

The Economist within our group at OFD wondered aloud why panhandlers don't adopt an economist's sensibility as they go about their endeavors. The 'market' for donations is a highly competitive one along the stretch of Market street between 9th street to New Montgemery. It is not unusual to be solicited a dozen times along this route. In the art of getting people to give away money what makes one practitioner better than another?

The economist in our midst suggests that those taking a transactional approach to their undertaken will be more successful. One could argue that in giving away money any donor implicitly gets a feeling of charity or compassion. But this does not involve any contribution or outlay on the part of the panhandler. There is something about the passivity of most of them - in making no more effort than extending a hand - that discourages many would-be philanthropists.

It was the effort and wit which one such charity-seeker displayed in his cardboard solicitation that this group of OFDers amply rewarded him for. 'Bet you read this sign. $1.00' It was more than the entertainment value that made us happy to part with the money, it was the principle. Putting effort into his pitch rather than expecting a hand-out made this an even, respectful exchange, a transaction rather than a give-away.

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