The Lupton Center is passionate about helping neighborhood practitioners move far away from toxic charity. In fact, our existence stems from the experiences our founder Bob Lupton had as he recognized the ways well-meaning people who wanted to help ended up causing harm to the very people they wanted to serve. The first step to moving away from toxic charity might be to recognize that programming intended to help might be having unintended, harmful outcomes. Here are three indicators that the charity is toxic.
Complexity Is Ignored
Simple one-way giving models are often focused on making sure people have resources. But having “stuff” is not a solution that addresses the deeper, more complex, and often systematic issues that are at play. Are solutions equitable?
Toxic charity may address one-sided giving to an individual but often fails to approach the community level. Addressing inequality is inherently complex, and when nuance and context are ignored, the charity may actually be contributing to the challenge. It’s very unlikely that these strategies will have a long-term, effective impact on uplifting the community.
Power Isn’t Shared
When the giving part conserves all the power, they withhold agency from a neighborhood, ultimately disempowering them. Programs that offer temporary solutions but do not address the drivers of inequality prevent true mutuality and shared power. Ultimately, these solutions do not have long-term impacts on a community.
Relationally, this power dynamic can create dependency, diminish initiative, and create tension and power struggles. It can create an imbalanced and patronizing relationship that leaves communities without independence. Toxic charity reinforces this kind of giver-recipient relationship.
Relationships Are Distant
Many toxic charity relationships begin with significant geographic distance. If it’s difficult or almost impossible to identify a community’s strengths and beauty where service is happening, then the relationship lacks meaningful proximity and connection. Similarly, the relational distance that doesn’t take into account real people or learning about their lives can create unhealthy interactions. Toxic Charity thrives on transactional rather than relational connections.
If you’re wondering if your programming may be toxic, consider these three indicators. Explore ways that your organization or congregation might address complexity, share power, and build more meaningful relationships. Of course, we’re always here to help! Check out our insights, explore our courses, or reach out to us. Together, we are eradicating toxic charity and building thriving communities through collaborative, effective solutions.