FREAK Shots: How Effective Is Your Cardboard Sign?

When people use cardboard signs to ask for money, their success depends on a number of factors, including the sign’s explicit message, the target of its solicitation, and even whether a passing historian happens to find it worth buying. Consider the following approaches, turned up in a scan of Flickr photos.

A claim of sobriety and/or family responsibility:

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: yummyporky

Seeking help for meting out revenge:

Offering self as a sounding board:


The romantic touch:

And a plea to fulfill the most basic human right:

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  1. Andrew says:

    Many years ago in San Diego a guy begged me for money outside my motel, stating, “I’m not a bum, I’m a Christian.” This struck me as illogical, as one could easily be a bum _and_ a Christian. In fact, since the majority of people in the US self-identify as Christians, I’d go so far as to conjecture that being a bum and a Christian at the same time is quite common.

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  2. Mike B says:

    The signs people hold up have almost no connection with their actual situation. Those “bums” are more aptly described as performance artists who put on a very carefully rehearsed act complete with props and costume and can make very good money (well above minimum wage) putting on their show for the public.

    People need to be aware that when they give money to these people they are not helping the downtrodden, but instead helping to promote the arts. If you really want to help the vulnerable homeless make a donation to a charity that goes into the alleys and abandoned buildings that normal people do not frequent where the homeless who are unable even to beg live.

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  3. Joe says:

    There were a few homeless guys right near the campus of The Univ of Washington 8-10 years ago. They were trying to capitalize on the boom in a slightly crazy/drunk homeless person way, they always had a sign that simply read:

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  4. Ellen ( says:

    Having spent a lot of time this past year in Detroit, I have to say that the most successful approach is sometimes not just what the sign says, but where the holder stands. Those who stand near and exit or entrance ramp to a highway where there is a stop light seem to have the best luck, from what I’ve seen. There are also those people who ask you to take a ribbon/flag/whatever for some cause and then ask if you would be so kind to donate. This is a psychological sales technique and very smart of these people to use.

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  5. gary says:

    I’m not sure how effective this actually is, rather donate to a shelter or an organization…. most of these ppl. anyway spend their money buying drugs of some sort……

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  6. robot mistake says:

    What are the ethics of ad supported sites that make money from page views, making money from people viewing the signs? Fair use or Exploitation?

    I say exploitation. If these signs were owned by the RIAA lawyers would be involved.

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  7. Meagan B Call says:

    The last sign is clearly disingenuous. Haven’t they ever heard of blogger and wordpress? I favor the ninja sign. I would definately give that guy a buck.

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  8. Rob says:

    I always wonder about the guy I pass whose sign says “jesus is comming today” – I would think he should have to make a new sign every morning.

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