In his book Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton suggests that 85% of charitable donations to Africa to not get to their intended audiences. Worse, he suggests the money is not just wasted. Sometimes our charity can actually harm those it is meant to help.
Not all charity is toxic, Lupton points out. Some is vitally important. What’s the difference? He offers an oath for charitable organizations, with six parts. Here’s how to be charitable without doing more harm:
1. Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
2. Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
3. Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
4. Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
5. Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
6. Above all, do no harm.
I would add to these several more.
• Thoroughly investigate any charity to which you intend to give. Web pages like Charity Navigator and Intelligent Philanthropy will help you do this. Make sure they have a good rating and are financially transparent.
• With the exception of a response to sudden disaster, don’t give unless you are prepared to be in a relationship for the long haul. Relationship is everything. Listen. Learn. Don’t just throw money at faceless situations.
• Focus on giving to local efforts toward long-term sustainability. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Develop capacity, not dependency.
• Recognize that our lifestyle, buying choices and giventment policies are part of the problem. Don’t assume we aren’t part of the problem. Engage with humility.
We live in an imperfect world. Know that there is probably no “pure” way to give. Governments and thieves will probably skim and scam. Don’t let this dampen your generosity. Give generously, but give wisely.