Charity can hurt (and man, I’m a mooch!)

 “Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”

– Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity

I’ve experienced some of this in my own life…

1)   Don’t get me wrong – I have an amazing life: wonderful friends and family, a beautiful house, access to food, plenty of clothes..  BUT I also have no incentive to work: I have ALL of this without needing to lift a finger.

2)   I’m also embarrassed that I don’t work.  When asked what I do, I often avoid eye contact and mumble, “uh.. nothing”.  I’m grateful that people care and want to help, but it’s embarrassing that I can’t land any of the jobs I’m applying for.

3)   I (sometimes) feel guiltily indebted to Andy: basically the entire time we’ve been married, he’s worked a full-time job while I’ve done just random things here and there.  I know I need to step up and contribute… don’t want him to regret his decisions to support (or marry) me! 😉

So how does this relate to charity, you ask?


1)   Destroys initiative.

Chapter 2: Juan Ulloa, Opportunity International’s Nicaragua Director, laments that American church partners “’destroy the initiative of [his] people’” and turn them into beggars: why work when donors continually provide free clothing, books, and manual labor?

2)   Emasculates. 

Chapter 3: After moving into an urban neighborhood, Lupton saw firsthand what happens when well-meaning donors bring over Christmas presents: “a father is emasculated in his own house in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family… [and] children get the message that the ‘good stuff’ comes from rich people out there and it is free.”

3)   Hurts the giver.

Chapter 4: Lupton says it well: “No one wants to support irresponsibility.  Or create dependency.  Or feel used.  Unless the victim of misfortune exerts honest effort to regain self-reliance, the relationship between helper and helpee will tend to deteriorate.  At some point accountability is required.”


I know my situation is a little different (and poverty is so much more complicated than these 3 simple points), but charity – even when done with the best of intentions and out of love – can destroy incentive, emasculate, and hurt the helper/helpee relationship.  Hopefully these examples will help spark ideas for more effective development strategies (e.g. rethinking aid incentive structures, training and empowering, ensuring recipient accountability).

Please leave any other ideas in the Comments section below!



A lot of these ideas are from Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton and are very similar to those in When Helping Hurts (a book I’ve posted on before: here and here).  More to come in future posts!


6 thoughts on “Charity can hurt (and man, I’m a mooch!)

  1. How do you keep a positive attitude through it all? I’m genuinely curious. How do you keep self-doubt and self-loathing at bay?

    • Hey Alex, great question. It’s not always easy, but thankfully I’m a pretty positive and optimist person just naturally. Plus, my parents instilled a lot of confidence in me growing up, so I’m pretty resilient 🙂 And finally, I think faith has a lot to do with it – believing that I’m a beloved daughter of God keeps me pretty positive and self-doubt and self-loathing at bay (although admittedly, self-doubt does still creep in periodically).

      • Indeed, you’ve definitely got a lot of inner strength. I admire that. At some point, I’d love to get some advice from you.

        But, I did want to share something;
        OpenIdeo – a creative ideation community run by IDEO is looking for volunteers for the following online positions.

        Community Champion: identifying emerging themes and facilitating collaboration
        Community Cross-Pollinator: connecting ideas and collaborators together
        Community Prototyper: iterating and evolving ideas for further growth

        They do amazing work and come up with, among other things/projects, ways of improving charities, schools, and alleviating poverty.

  2. alex, sure let’s talk whenever! and thanks for the info about openideo – sounds pretty cool. i appreciate the way you’re always connecting people/projects/etc 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s