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Giving is nice. Being seen giving is better. A true story.

I published this true story in “The Reader” back in 1994.  It shows how guilt, ego, publicity, and/or potential embarrassment can significantly increase charitable contributions.  

Here’s the true story:

I sat in the storefront window of the Oak Park Starbucks drinking my coffee, and watching the pedestrians walk by.
A 60-ish man wearing a yellow vest bearing the name of a charity stood on the sidewalk directly outside and began gesturing with a donation can to the many passersby.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but his message was clear, “Would you please donate?”

For ten minutes no one contributed.

A young woman shouldering a large padded camera bag approached him and struck up a brief conversation. The man nodded in apparent agreement and she began scribbling onto a small journalist’s pad.  She then knelt by the curb, ten feet farther down the sidewalk and off to the side, focusing her camera at the man. (Apparently, she was a photographer and reporter from a local paper who was writing some sort of article.) 

Then something fascinating happened:

A passing woman saw the donations can and averted her eyes from the man – and so looked straight into the camera.  This caused her to pause. She opened her purse, reached in, pulled out a dollar bill, and turned and stepped back towards the man. She glanced at the photographer, paused, opened her posture for maximum exposure to the lens, smiled, and donated. <click>
Seconds later, a man in a business suit briskly exited Starbucks. He brushed past the donations can, walking toward the street–and saw the photographer. He turned, returned to the man, balanced his briefcase and hot coffee in one hand, pulled some coins out of his pocket, dropped them into the can, looking toward, but not directly at — the photographer. I’m sure it was a nice photo.
Few now passed without donating. A small queue of people formed, all waiting to contribute.
It was 1994. I’ll never forget the lesson.
It would be interesting to see how much more money people would drop into a charity’s donation can by simply posing an “accomplice” photographer nearby.  My guess is that it would be significant.
* Camera image (c) Canon.  The Rebel EOS is our favorite SLR. 


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