What Makes a Donor Donate? (Ep. 51)

In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, we look at the economics of charity -- specifically, what works (and what doesn't) when trying to incentivize people to give. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)

In Australia, Dick Smith’s electronics empire has afforded him enough success to be able to donate about 20 percent of his annual income to charity. But, he says, this kind of generosity is no longer the norm:

"The Donors Are Taking the Place of the State"

A group of 40 American billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, has publicly vowed to donate at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. Gates and Buffett, through their project The Giving Pledge, hope to persuade the 400 richest Americans to join them. If successful, the duo could generate an unprecedented $600 billion for charity (Americans as a whole donate about $300 billion a year). A laudable example of pure altruism, right? German shipping tycoon Peter Krämer thinks not

Is This the Secret for Fund-Raising in a Recession?

There’s been much talk about how philanthropies may be one of the greatest casualties of the recession. (Considering their various inefficiencies, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.) It’s hardly just the foundations who were invested with Bernie Madoff; donors simply have fewer discretionary dollars. (And, long-term, the picture may get bleaker if […]

What Should South Asians Do With Their Wealth?

I have been posting on this site about the trials and tribulations of young donors. I’m in the middle of chronicling the life of Michael, an heir to a trust, who must soon begin giving away $78 million (U.S.). More on his philanthropic journey in the next post. Another group is stumbling into the American […]

Our Daily Bleg: What’s a Concerned Citizen to Do?

We received this good and heartfelt bleg from Jim Farmer of Chattanooga, Tenn. Don’t let him down. And send your own blegs here. Although my wife and I are very involved in our community, I am invigorated by the election results and want to step up some more. Photo: MoBikeFed My question is what can […]

Michael, Meet Curtis: Philanthropy Gets Personal

This past weekend I had the opportunity to bring two ends of the American income spectrum together. I introduced Michael, the blue-blood New Yorker who plans to start a family foundation (see earlier posts), to Curtis, a squatter in Chicago who moves from one abandoned apartment to another. Michael, a multi-millionaire with a team of […]

The Price of Advice: Chronicles of a Young Philanthropist, Part III

Readers of this blog might recall my earlier posts about Michael, a young man who is expecting to donate about $70 million over the coming decade. In the last six months, Michael has committed himself to understanding both the responsibilities and challenges of philanthropy. There was some interest in his progress among Freakonomics readers, so […]

Michael and the $70 Million Problem (Redux)

Michael and I looked over the 500 plus comments and suggestions that were generously offered regarding his upcoming dilemma: How should I give away $70 million? We were joined by his sister, Cathy, who also has a “small sum of money” (her words) that she needs to donate in the coming decade. Apparently, she will […]


People who punish others the least earn the biggest rewards in repeated interactions, according to a new study published in the journal Nature and authored by Martin Nowak, director of the evolutionary dynamics lab at Harvard University. At the same time, we are happiest when we’re spending money on others instead of on ourselves, says […]

The Victory Project

Not long ago Dubner and I wrote in our Times column about some innovative approaches to solving big problems. Here is another example: The Victory Project, which pledges to give $1 billion to the first person to solve any of the following problems: 1. Develop a cure for breast cancer. 2. Develop a cure for […]