Overall, Americans are giving people. According to one study, in 2009-2018, the United States was #1 among the world’s most charitable countries (#2 was Myanmar). But this is another area where one-size doesn’t fit all. Giving people vary on all sorts of dimension, especially reasons for giving and patterns of giving.

Giving Reasons

According to 16 Personalities,Some research suggests that people may be hardwired toward generosity, and life and other influences teach them selfishness. But generosity, like most human behaviors, is likely influenced by personality types and traits.”

Giving Just Because It Feels Good 
Society in general (as well as various religions) encourage giving. Most people have probably inculcated at least some of that into their personalities, and feel good about themselves accordingly. Some research (see above) suggests that just thinking about being generous can lift a person’s mood, regardless of whether one is thinking big or small. 

Giving Because It’s the Right Thing to Do 
Some people give because they feel it is the right thing to do, either practically or because of tradition. 

Paying Back
This is someone who has been the recipient of others’ giving and wants to reciprocate. For example, getting help when down and out might well lead someone to give labor and/or money to that organization in the future. 

Guilty Giving
This would be a person who feels so blessed/fortunate/lucky that NOT giving feels too selfish to tolerate.  Sentinels are practical people who are unlikely to overthink an issue like generosity. They give because they feel it is the right thing to do, either practically or because of tradition. Their reasons are usually uncomplicated.

Sir Terry Pratchett

Making the World a Better Place 
Here we tend to think of BIG money givers, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But this reason for giving comes in all sizes and shapes. To paraphrase: give a person a fish, you give food for a day; teach a person to fish, you give food for a lifetime.

Patterns Of Giving

Membership Giving (Whether One Takes Advantage of Member Benefits or Not)

  • Botanical garden
  • Fine arts museum
  • Historical society
  • Symphony orchestra or other musical groups 
  • Public broadcasting

Regimented Giving

“Tithe Pig Group”
Derby Porcelain c 1770
  • Tithing to a religious organization
    • Tithe” comes from the Old English word for “tenth” and originally meant to give one-tenth of one’s possessions to support the clergy
    • Almsgiving (zakat) is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam
  • Yearly gifts, particularly at holidays or birthdays
  • Monthly commitments
    • (For example, to Shriner’s, St. Jude’s, animal rescue, etc.)

Periodic but Repeated Giving

  • Favored causes (Save the Bay, Native American education, food drive/pantry)
  • Campaign donations at election time
  • Gifts to one’s college/university/library/etc.

Impulsive/Unplanned Giving

  • Street performers
  • Christmas bell-ringers
  • Panhandlers—or not
  • “Rounding up” on a purchase 

Geographic Giving

  • Local giving only
  • Giving within one’s own country
  • Giving for international causes/disasters

Giving by Cause

Waterway clean-up
  • Animal rescue
  • Environmental issues
  • Political parties/candidates
  • Hunger eradication
  • Medical research
  • Recycling

Strategic Giving

  • Tax-deductible giving
  • Estate planning
  • Donations as part of a company’s PR campaign
  • Participation in online fundraising trends

Socially Elicited Giving

  • Friends’ birthday fund raisers
  • Supporting one’s friends/family charities
  • Team participation in fundraising events
  • Giving to someone who’s given to you, a charity that has benefited you
    • (Such as a cancer survivor donating to a cancer support fund)

Non-Monetary Giving

Volunteering at a medical clinic
  • Volunteering labor
    • Cleaning up lakes/oceans/rivers/bays
    • Big Brother/Big Sister
    • Poll worker -soup kitchen
    • Building Habitat houses
    • Working in a COVID vaccine clinic 
    • Community theater usher
    • Cleaning up after environmental disasters
  • Gifts of needed items
    • School supplies
    • Clothing
    • Furniture
    • Food drives
    • Blood drives


Reasons and patterns of giving are not mutually exclusive, nor are they immutable over time. 
Also, we tend to think of giving as coming from the heart, but sometimes the act is highly cerebral. 

“Thus, to give money away is quite a simple task, but for the act to be virtuous, the donor must give to the right person, for the right purpose, in the right amount, in the right manner, and at the right time.”


Bottom line: Consider — what’s your (character’s) style of giving? Is this too little? Too much? Or just right? How does your (character’s) personality type influence all of this?


Why would you have a character panhandle?  I can think of several reasons just off the top of my head.

Buddhist monk in Thailand with a rice begging bowl
  1. S/he really is down and out and desperate
  2. It requires less training, credentials, etc., than a regular job
  3. To win a bet or meet a dare
  4. To put one over on the gullible
  5. To conduct undercover surveillance
  6. To collect research data
  7. Funding a backpacking tour (“beg-packing”)
  8. Several religious orders are mendicants and depend on donations from devout followers

Thanks to wikiHow, we have a clear recipe for successful panhandling—or failure, depending on the needs of your plot. Here’s the basic recipe, taken largely from the wikiHow panhandling page, but visit Marginal Revolution or Prepper Press for more detail and the rationale behind recommendations. See also, Bill Murphy, Jr. on sales techniques.


  • Choose a place with lots of foot traffic:
    • Subway stations
    • Metro stops
    • Truck stops
    • Urban campuses
    • These places may require talking
  • Alternatively, a place with lots of auto traffic:
    • These places need a clearly visible sign
    • Doesn’t work as well in cold, rainy weather
Panhandlers in Shanghai have gone high-tech!
  • If feasible, move location to take advantage of changing seasons and weather
  • Stick to downtown commercial district and middle-class neighborhoods
  • Don’t use the same location more than once a month
  • Choose medium to large cities
  • Do not beg near ATMs
  • Don’t walk in the street
  • Don’t block traffic

The Big Ask

  • Ask politely
  • Say thank you
  • Be believable, whether truth or fiction
  • Make the story fit the location, with props if appropriate (see notes on animals and children)
  • Ask for a specific amount of money, e.g., the precise subway fare
  • Keep it simple: I need XXX  for YYY
This may be a little too specific
  • Alternatively, spew something long and convoluted, hoping for money to make you go away
  • Make signs easy to read at a glance
  • Evoke sympathy (a homeless veteran, a disabled person, etc.)
  • Be funny, make a joke, especially with college students
  • Remember the regulars; greet people by name if feasible
  • End politely, even if you don’t get any money


  • Know the local laws about panhandling (locations, times, during events)
  • Stay on good terms with businesses and other panhandlers
  • Obey No Soliciting or No Loitering signs
  • If told to move, just move
  • Don’t panhandle after dark
  • Stash money frequently, and/or spread it around your pockets, etc.
  • Be aware that panhandling is actually hard work and dangerous
  • Women need to be especially cautious

Miscellaneous Bits

  • Having a baby or child with you increases vulnerability exponentially
  • Never bring a sick or malnourished animal with you
  • Do not wear fashionable or expensive clothes
  • Disheveled is okay, dirty isn’t
  • Don’t smoke or drink anything while panhandling
  • Don’t take money from people after the light turns green
  • Use language and body language that is non-threatening

If you want your panhandler character to fail, break all the rules!

Writers note: If your character is panhandling because s/he really is down and out, consider community services, churches, soup kitchens, shelters, etc.

A row of beg-packers in Hong Kong next to an elderly man digging through trash to find food

“Beg-packing” is a fairly recent phenomenon. Tourists, often college students, hitchhike and panhandle as they travel, allowing them to spend very little money on the way. Some see this as a way to open up sight-seeing opportunities to people outside the ultra-wealthy.

Others see it as a drag on local economies, with tourists begging for money from already impoverished communities without actually contributing anything. Some countries have outlawed panhandling tourists; police arrest beg-packers and drop them off at their respective embassies.

The St. Paul’s station on the London Tube is in particularly high demand for buskers

Street performers, technically, aren’t panhandlers.  The definition of panhandling is seeking money without providing anything in return. Street performers are (presumably) providing entertainment and therefore are busking. From a writer’s point of view, it may make little difference. 

Depending on local ordinances, street performers may need to be licensed or scheduled by a central authority. For example, busking at platforms on the London Tube is so profitable that performers must audition and apply for time slots.

N.B. writers: Money made by street performers is taxable as tips; begging/panhandling income is not taxable.

Ghostly white women selling flowers in Stockholm are one of the creepier variations of this activity

Another variation is “selling” worthless trinkets or single flowers for an exorbitant price.  For example, braided bracelets offered in exchange for $10. Selling flowers is common, particularly to tourists seated at outdoor cafes. Because so many panhandlers have begun taking flowers from funerary wreaths in local cemeteries, many florists in cities where this is common now deliberately snip the stems of funeral flowers just below the bud.

Consider Other Characters

Dominican and Franciscan orders were both founded as mendicants in the Twelfth Century
During Ramadan, panhandling becomes so common that several majority-Muslim countries remove all beggars from public spaces to channel charity through official groups – a somewhat controversial move
  • What motivates people who do or do not give money. Is giving money satisfying a “customer” need?
    • Many religions encourage or require charitable giving of some sort.
  • What are the attitudes of others toward panhandling?
    • Sympathetic, disdainful, hostile, etc.
  • Does the panhandler have family or friends?
  • What about a boss who “runs” panhandlers the way a pimp runs prostitutes?

Bottom line for writers: Regardless of monetary success, panhandling is a rich opportunity for writers!