How Hard Is It to Give Away Free Umbrellas in a Rainstorm?

The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy is a non-profit organization in San Francisco that encourages people to do nice things for strangers in unusual and innovative ways. The society distributes $100 grants for this purpose. In The San Francisco Chronicle, Steve Rubenstein writes about some of these projects, and how people respond to these random acts of kindness:

"People thought there was something fishy about it," Ibnale said. "There wasn't. It was just free umbrellas."

Ibnale was one of a dozen people in San Francisco who had been given $100 by a startup charity that is trying to get strangers to start doing nice things for other strangers. It's a novel concept. Most folks, it turns out, aren't prepared for it. "What's the catch?" a man asked.

No catch, replied Ibnale. Take an umbrella. You're getting wet.

"No, thanks," the man answered, and kept walking through the rain. Ibnale began keeping count. He asked 27 wet people if they would like to have an umbrella. Seventeen of them said no.

Link via Marginal Revolution | Official Website | Photo: US Department of Commerce

If it's too cheap, people don't want it.. I am a real estate investor. I had one house I bought right, and by the time I fixed it up and put it on the market, I figured i would put it on the market at 10% below market value, to sell it quick... yeah, people thought it was too cheap. When i finally got an offer, it was a low ball.. now I don't price them that cheap.. hehe
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I think it just shows how American's don't get the idea that things can be free - if they'd done in Liverpool (UK) it'd gone in secondes, because Scousers like two things - cheap or stolen!
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I think it was more likely part of the whole terrorism paranoia...after all, it might have been explosive or filled with anthrax (can't be too careful.)
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Not every person who turns down an umbrella is being suspicious. I personally have no use for umbrellas, which is a fairly common opinion in this rainy city of Portland.
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The problem is, that 9 out of 10 times, there is a catch.

You cant fault people for being cautious about something that seems too good to be true.

We have seen it third hand, and most likely had it beat into us first hand, that if something is too good to be true it probably isnt true.
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I had a similar idea during an extremely cold day in Chicago. I was waiting for the bus and saw a number of people who were not wearing hats and seemed to be very cold. I wondered if I went and bought new hats and tried to give them away if people would take them.... but I suspected that a lot of people would say no because despite the sub-zero temperatures they didn't want hat hair.
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When I was in college years ago, after a heavy snow fall my instructor on the way there took a taxi and asked the driver to stop at all the bus stops on the way down Younge Street because the bus system was delayed, and she asked any people waiting if they wanted a life down. None took the offer. Maybe it's healthy paranoia... but then again, maybe it isn't.
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being from san fran, i have to say usually there is a catch with things being "handed out" on the street. people ask for a donation after giving directions or giving you a "free" newsletter...and so people don't want to have to give it back after taking it or be guilted into giving a's sad, but true
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A club I was part of used to have a stall at a local fair to raise money. We had huge piles of (largely useless) old clothes. They'd get picked over during the day but were more trouble than they were worth - until the last half hour. Then we used to give them away free. Except most people insisted on paying for them - usually giving us a fiver for a binbag full. We made more money giving them away than we ever did selling them.
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I have an umbrella curse. I break them. Not on purpose. But no matter what, they break. Kind of like Charlie Brown and his kite eating tree...
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It's a bit sad that in this day and age when you try to do something nice for a stranger they think there's a catch... of course there are a lot of reasons for this, but those reasons are equally disheartening.
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I wouldn't take a free umbrella because I don't umbrella. I just have no use for them. I don't like endangering others with the spiky ends, I don't like taking up extra sidewalk space, I don't like how my pant cuffs get extra soaked, I just don't like them. Haven't used one in my ten years in New York, I've found a waterproof jacket and a baseball hat to be my preferred method of travel in inclement weather.

Now if they were handing out baseball caps on a rainy day, I'd be there in a heartbeat.
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Of course people are suspicious. Free gifts usually presage a hard sell for something you neither want not need. Probably hearkens back to the days of door-to-door salesmen.
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No, no... This is a really bad example and no inferences should be drawn from it. I am from San Francisco. There is this "thing" or attitude there of being "too cool to need an umbrella". It's like, "It rains a lot. You get wet. Get over it".

For maybe 2 decades I did not own an umbrella or a rain coat. If a stranger offered me one, *I* would refuse it - but not because I thought there was a catch or would not take something for free, but becuase a true San Franciscan disdains the notion of an umbrella...
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Funny - I hate carrying an umbrella - and usually dont; yesterday I opted to carry one to SF, and forgot it on BART. Luckily I was at the last stop in Dublin, and when the train turned around a few min later, I got it back, and...I was kind of disappointed :) I thought "There, that'll teach me to carry an umbrella!" but I (ruefully) got it back. Funny thing, the train operator told me, "If you ever need an umbrella ask us (BART); we have, like, 300 of them downstairs!" Heh heh - just an anecdote - maybe it's also people feeling guilty for taking something they know they should/could carry/afford to buy?
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That's just the evolution. The survival of the fittest. The most people probably think: if you want to survive, you don't give away things for free, that's weird.
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