How to Raise Money Without Killing a Kitten (Ep. 141 Rebroadcast)

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(Photo: pinguino k)

(Photo: pinguino k)

It’s fundraising season again here at Freakonomics Radio. This episode is a rebroadcast of the first time that we asked listeners to donate to help keep our public-radio podcast going strong. This episode is called “How to Raise Money Without Killing a Kitten.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

In this podcast you’ll hear the economist John List give us the gospel of fundraising — what works, what doesn’t, and why. List and economist Uri Gneezy write about the science of charitable giving in their book The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life.

List gives us a lot of ideas about how to successfully raise money — like using good old-fashioned guilt, for instance. Or that attaching a lottery or raffle to your fund-raising effort is a good idea. But our favorite way that List says you can raise more money: get an attractive person, preferably a woman, to do the asking for you. So we try out a few of List’s tips. We dare you not to donate once you hear from certified-attractive people like Savannah Saunders, a Swarthmore student, Wilhelmina model, and ardent Freakonomics fan. You’ll also hear Adrian Grenier, the actor and director best known for playing Vincent Chase on Entourage, turn on his good-looking mojo for the Freakonomics cause.

Freakonomics_Splash_Contest_300x225And if you are immune to the beauty effect, we have some swag to entice you: a Freakonomics Radio t-shirt, a mugsigned books, and — best of all — a chance to win a trip to New York City to hang out with Stephen Dubner and the whole Freakonomics Radio crew.  Just click the button on this page that says “donate now” and you’ll be entered to win. You don’t even have to make a donation to enter the contest, but of course we hope you will. If you do win, you’ll have lunch with Stephen Dubner, visit us at our home station, WNYC, and see how we put together our podcast. We’re excited to meet one lucky listener very soon! Oh, and one last thing: John List told us to tell you guys that if you don’t donate, the show might go away. But, as Dubner says:

DUBNER: I’m uncomfortable saying that. That feels like give us money or we’ll kill your kitten.

So we’ll say it here: Donate today and nobody hurts the kitten.*

*It’s been one year and still, no kittens were harmed or will be harmed in the making of this radio show.


Have Dubner and Levitt more or less given up blogging, apart from the podcasts? That's a massive shame for me, and many others, although it is obviously their choice.


You crafty bastards! This was the most entertaining and informative,pledge drive ever! The whole thing lulls you in with great content and about halfway through you realize it's a podcast about fundraising,thats actively fundraising for your money! You subversive, meta geniuses!

Almost Done Dora

As I my mother once suggested in a poem called The Cycle ... every cycle of life has a beginning, a middle and an end.... even a book, a show of hands like Freakonomics or movement. Even my Shitsu Tootsie intuitively knows that.


Exactly the question that's been running through my mind. I used to enjoy this site because every day or two they'd come up with an interesting, somewhat offbeat thing, and like as not there'd be some interesting discussion. Now it's down to maybe one new post per week, almost always a link to the transcript of a podcast - and all too often even that's a repeat of something old.

Jouni Salo

It would be interesting to find out what role does the tax deductibility of a donation play versus donations that are not tax deductible. As Americans donate 2% of their income how much of that is tax deductible? In general terms charitable donations are not tax deductible in other parts of the world. A driver for giving a donation might be being able to decide what the tax dollars are used for.

Glenn Hall

Has there been a study to see if attractive female fundraisers earn more than their less attractive colleagues?

I am sensing a Moneyball moment here - an opportunity to acquire an undervalued asset at an attractive price!

I work for a nonprofit and we are always looking for creative ways to raise money. I guess I should try to hire extremely attractive women and turn them loose!

I have another question about this line of research. Do they raise more money by dressing professionally or provocatively?


A hot. young blonde chick is all it takes to get men to stop using their real brains and get them to do whatever the chick tells them including giving money so go for it.


That is the trouble when you give an award to a babe. No individual person is without a voice! Yu just have to know it--LADIES and GENTS!


I am not going to donate because I dont listen that often. Its not that I dont like your podcast, I like it quite a lot, but the way you set up the feed causes me so many problems its just not worth it most of the time.

Make a rss feed that points to mp3 files, like every other podcast in existence, and I might listen more and dontate.

Ken Lyon

A very frustrating episode for me. You had me at the first minute with the premise: that you have to have priorities when choosing goals, and that some kind of cost-benefit analysis, however crude, is a good way to guide the choices. So, after a minutes, I'm ready to hear about the choices. I listened the whole 45 minute, hoping for some content, but was dispappointed. After 45 minutes, I had heard about several examples of making choices, but still, no information about what choices were being recommended. All fluff, no meat.

AJ Lau

"Warm glow altruism", you say? It's the same effect that helped Obama win the presidency. He dudn't look so hot now, eh? Use your brain, not your heart = the point of this podcast.

Graham Hofford

Had an idea for fund raising - give the web based podcast away for free - sell a special phone application which makes some of your content exclusive to the people who have paid app.

Slowly increase the percentage of exclusive content over time.

I see people buy 1 or 2$ app with little thought or effort from their phone.

I listen all of the time; never pay; mostly because
1) I don't have to - who would know or care if i did
2) I'm lazy
3) I listen at my desk at work with headphones at my desk opently- this permitted by my boss; online shopping or personal transactions would be against our we workplace policy ... ie it seems like i am goofing off at work if I am spending you a donation during work hours.


Seems that would chop off large chunks of the potential listener base: those who don't use phones to listen to podcasts, those who listen to the actual radio broadcast, people (like me) who'd never waste time* actually listening, but read the transcript...

* A poster above says the podcast is 45 minutes, while it takes me less than 5 minutes to read through the transcript.



An interesting show but I think it kinda misses the bigger point. Charities are usually dealing with a symptom, eg, treating cancer, food for poor people and mosquito nets in Africa. But they generally want to address (to varying degrees) the underlying problems eg, finding a cure for cancer, stopping people needing food handouts and ensuring Africans can afford their own mosquito nets. I really question whether fundraising is 'successful' if those who give have minimal engagement with the underlying, often political, issues that need addressing . What is the point of a 'successful' fundraising if you are still raising money for the problem in 10 years or even a 100?

Sounds like the real beneficiaries of the whole process are cute blonde women because they can charge the most for their fundraising services.

Also worth reflecting on the implications for Freakanomics podcasts fundraising. You will get much more support (money and otherwise) if you draw in your community and reinforce it, ie, the dinner with Levitt and Dubner is great and the t-shirt too (reinforces the wearer is an intellectual!).

Thanks for putting out the podcasts, while I'm listening I get to feel cool because I'm a dude who is interested in statistics, probability and economics. And then the show ends and I crash back into reality... :-}




It would be cool to hear an episode about where the freakeconomics money goes. Public radio is supported by the government, sponsors any by donations.


Hi freakonomics, I LOVED this podcast and would like to give (out of pure altruism) to Freakonomics Radio so that you can continue to produce the excellent quality show that you do. I'm going to be in New York (I'm from Sydney Australia) from November 7th-14th and I'm wondering if there's any chance my husband and I could come and watch a recording of the Freakonomics radio podcast?

melissa Bayer

Why don't you give listeners the option of contributing via their phones? I thought you were going to suggest that when you where saying that people listen when exercising and aren't likely to stop what they are doing and go to the computer and log on to contribute.
I have contributed to PBS while listening to This American Life by texting in an number. It shows up on my phone bill. I would contribute to your show if that were an option.


Sure i agree, saying "Donate or else Freakenomics Radio will go off the air" might sound harsh and would be uncomfortable saying that but... it is true and comfortable to say

"Please donate because Freakenomics has gotten so popular, that if we don't increase our internet bandwidth, podcasts could take longer or get interupted when downloading."


"Donate, to keep your bandwidth speed fast!"


I think you guys should add paypal as a payment option. It feels much safer to make donations if you don't have to enter your payment details into another site.

Also when we're at it, you might also want to check out flattr and give listeners the option to support you that way.