‘Bad Charity’

Rescuing Charity Panel Discussion

Yesterday I attended the third session of Rescuing Charity sponsored by local churches and non-profit organizations in Knoxville, TN. I am thankful for the time and energy put into this subject because I believe we can cause more damage than good by the unintentional actions and messages we relay in the name of ‘charity’ and in the name of God.

Yesterday’s presentation was a panel discussion featuring mostly Haitian professionals from Beyond Borders who seek to help the people of Haiti build movements to liberate themselves from oppression and isolation. They seek to end child slavery, guarantee universal access to education, end violence against women and girls, and replace oppressive systems with those that support dignified work and sustainable livelihoods.

After the January 12, 2010 devastating earthquake hit, Haiti was flooded with over 10,000 NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) and billions of dollars. This does not include churches, of which there are thousands. Many of the projects failed because the organizations did not work with Haitians to accomplish what they needed. They came with their own ideas of what the people of Haiti needed and often Haitians were not even at the table when they were planning the projects to rebuild.


These problems are still there and translate to all areas of ‘charity.’ I think we can learn much from the discussion so I want to share a few excerpts below.

At first the panel was reluctant to answer the questions asked, but soon loosened up and were thankful for the opportunity to speak honestly.

Moderator: “How do you think foreigners perceive you when they come to your country?”

Panel: “Foreigners think we are not intelligent and have no knowledge. It deeply bothers us. It is like they are people standing up high and looking at us down low and think ‘what can those people do?’”

Panel: “One example of many, is a time when foreigners were distributing items. It drew a large crowd and they were just throwing things out to the crowd and people were grabbing for the items. This is not good for the people of Haiti  because it has become normal for Haitians to think that good things only come from outside of Haiti.

Moderator: “How do Haitians perceive foreigners?”

Panel: “After the earthquake people sent cases of MRE’s, barbecue sauce and expired Pop Tarts. When they send things that we don’t know how to eat or use normally, it is not even respectful. Charity should have respect in it. It should have love. Then it is solidarity.”

Panel: “The US government built their embassy where the water used to flow and made a barrier. Instead of changing the water to flow into a ravine, it backs up and floods areas where people live. Also, when Haitians go to the embassy to get a visa, they must stand in the water. It is like they are saying, ‘you Haitians stay in the mud.’”

Moderator: “How can we best help the people of Haiti?”

Panel: “Define the work together and come to solutions together. Then there are no foreigners, nor Haitians. Leave charity behind and enter into solidarity.”

Panel: “We are not saying that aid is a bad thing. It is the way it is delivered that can be bad.”

Panel:  “It is hard to find life-giving relationship when there is ‘charity’ involved.”  Colleen Hedglin

As someone who works with churches and non-profit organizations, I want to share this as a challenge and learning tool. I strongly recommend that you read, “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

I will leave you with these things to reflect upon as you serve both locally and globally:

  • “Why am I doing this? Am I working along side people in the local community? Do I think I can mutually benefit from this relationship or am I coming in to ‘fix’ this situation or people?”
  • “Will what I am doing stifle the local leader’s creativity and innovation? Are they able to use the assets in their community to meet their current needs? Can I help them see this?
  • “Will what I am doing create jealousies among the leaders or in the community itself?”
  • “Will what I am doing dampen the faith of the locals and destroy their ownership?”

“The poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.” ~ Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity

Give once and you elicit appreciation.
Give twice and you create anticipation.
Give three times and you create expectation.
Give four times and it becomes entitlement.
Give five times and you establish dependency. ~ Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity

  1. Paul Standifer 4 Jun 2014 | reply

    Outstanding article! I believe the observations of the panel are too often true. Charity is often given without respect for the people or their culture. There is much to reflect on and consider here.

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