Charity is often the result of, well, charitable feelings prompting someone to act on behalf of someone else. It seems obvious: Someone needs something. I have that something. I give them that something, and they now have what they need. Problem solved.
What we are learning, however, is that this one-way giving model can – over time – be better summarized: Problem created.
There is a lot of data coming to the surface revealing that long-term, one-way giving models end up elevating the giver and disempowering the receiver. Unfortunately, our compassion leads us to perpetuate the cycle, rather than disrupt it. It is time that we put our minds, alongside our hearts, to the important work of loving and serving those experiencing poverty.
We can help to solve the problem. Here are three characteristics of Smart Charity:
Smart Charity pays attention to impact.
It’s easy to measure activity: how many pounds of food distributed, number of volunteers used, amount of donations received, etc. Smart charity, though, means we need to get serious about measuring outcomes.
Is the work we’re doing leading to real and lasting change? Are the people we seek to serve stuck in the same financial and emotional place regardless of the number of times we help them? Are we addressing symptoms or root causes? Are we perpetuating the cycle of poverty or are we breaking that rhythm?
We need to measure impact, not just activity.
Smarty Charity is always participatory.
Charitable feelings too often push us to rush to fix a problem we don’t fully understand. Usually, we start doing things for others. Many times we break the golden rule of compassionate service: “Never do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves.”
Smart charity works to get away from doing FOR and insists on always doing things WITH. The gifts, capacities, energies, ideas, and resources of those experiencing poverty are the most important keys to lasting change.
And when we say “participatory,” we mean throughout the whole system. We don’t mean that you decide what the problem is and what the best solution is and then get those in poverty to participate in what you created. Instead, smart charity needs to be participatory from start to finish.
Smart Charity aims to be holistic.
Ever heard someone say, “If the poor would just ____________, then they could get out of that situation”? A word of advice: whatever they put in the blank (education, work, budgeting, etc.), it is wrong.
Poverty – both its causes and solutions – is complex, multifaceted, and difficult to understand. There are no magic bullets. Smart charity will resist piecemeal/simplistic approaches in favor or more comprehensive/holistic ones.
This does not mean that you need to do everything yourself. You need to do your research and learn about all the interlocking dimensions of the issues at hand and partner with those who can address the things that you can’t.
This is another place when a quick, compassionate rush to action can cause harm. Take time to know what is going on and partner with those who can help create a more holistic response.
If you would like for your organization or ministry to receive further training or consulting on these (and other) foundations for smart charity, please check out our trainings.