Archives For charity

It may be the end of summer, but already, ’tis the season for planning Christmas compassion projects. From filling shoeboxes to setting up angel trees, churches and organizations around the world are thinking about how to launch these elegantly simple ways of caring for others during the most wonderful time of the year.

There is so much that is right and beautiful about these annual giving traditions.

I love that they offer a way for whole families to practice generosity together. I love that they’re an invitation to think beyond our me-centered, consumeristic desires and recognize that there are significant material needs in the world. I love that they invite us to share some of what we’ve received. And most of all, I love how they provide a glimpse into sacrificial love and service, reminding us of the story of Jesus.

At the same time, there are shadow sides to many of these projects, particularly if they don’t extend beyond one-time charity distributions. 

For those of you who might be exploring what you should participate in this year, here are three questions to ask as your church and family seek to love and care for others well by getting involved this Christmas:

1. Is it a Band-Aid?

Charity-based giving typically addresses a perceived need of the moment—a can of cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving meal, an action figure for a Christmas stocking, a check to cover the electric bill. But ultimately, these one-time handouts fail to address the underlying issues of poverty. Food gets eaten, toys break, and there’s always a new electric bill coming. The goods that we give over the holidays will be used without a way to replenish them. We should be concerned with immediate needs, but we should be even more concerned with what happens when the tinsel is taken down and the ornaments have been carefully stowed back in the attic. Are families and communities any better off after our projects?

For a one-time initiative to have a more substantial impact, it’s critical that it be coupled with long-term efforts. Is it truly supporting a local church or organization, which will do the harder and less glamorous work, of engaging in long-term relationships throughout the year?

2. Does it truly help?

Providing gifts for people in need is an important activity – and it feels good for those who are doing the giving. But on the ground, free milk donations can put the local dairy farmer out of work, undermine families by keeping parents from providing for their children, foster attitudes of entitlement, or deepen dependency on aid.

Further, if poverty, at its core, is rooted in broken relationships, then how can we ensure we’re also thinking about relational restoration, and deepening long-term relationships?

3. Does it perpetuate false perceptions of poverty?

It’s easy to picture poverty as being an utter and total lack—that, without us, “poor people” would have nothing or would be unable to fix their problems. While God does call His followers to minister to and bless others, God has already given everyone something to give. It’s through recognizing the gifts God has already put in our hands and in the hands of others that we begin to understand how to eliminate poverty.

As you seek out organizations to partner with this year, my hope is that you will explore ways to ensure that your short-term gift is matched with long-term relationships and that the ultimate outcome of your charity will be to empower a family to become independent of their need for it.

Once again this Christmas, let’s find ways of celebrating the hope of Christ by showing compassion in ways that will let His kingdom come.

Almost from infancy, our parents teach us to share. If we have two cookies and our friend has none, we’re instructed to give one away. This idea is reinforced in classrooms, on sports teams, and especially in church, where we learn that a faith that fails to actively care for those in need is no faith at all.

Since this lesson has been drilled into us since childhood, it’s understandable (and admirable) that when a video of a hungry-looking, barefoot child appears in our news feed, our immediate impulse is to send them the food and shoes that we perceive them to be lacking. After all, sharing’s a good thing, right?

TOMS shoesIn 2006, TOMS almost single-handedly created the easiest way for us to “share” with those in need around the world. Taking the concept of “buy one, get one,” and turning it on its head, they invented a totally new paradigm: “buy one, give one.”

Suddenly, we had a way to use our purchasing power not only to buy a pair of shoes for ourselves, but to create a ripple effect of good around the world by also providing a pair for someone else. We experienced firsthand how interconnected the global economy is and how our actions as consumers in the U.S. can impact people around the world.

TOMS taught us something important: Our purchases matter.

But as the new critically-acclaimed film Poverty, Inc., reveals, for all the good that buy one, give one  accomplished on the consumer end, it had consequences on the receivers.

The film highlights how some sometimes good intentions unintentionally deepen dependency, impact local markets, and paint an inaccurate picture of poverty. Intuitively, we know that aid has never offered the lasting or dignified pathway out of poverty.

In the film, Michael Fairbanks describes this disparity between doing good and unintended negative impact, stating, “Having a heart for the poor isn’t hard, we all have that, but having a mind for the poor—that’s the challenge.”

Poverty, Inc., highlights the significant transformation that’s underway in the “industry of charity”, as it seeks to exchange aid for enterprise, paternalism for partnership.

Looking through the enterprise lens of TOMS, I wonder if the emphasis on the free shoes they give away has caused us to miss the seemingly hidden benefit of creating a thriving company. Perhaps it’s time to stop just focusing on the free boxes of shoes and broaden our understanding of impact, and celebrate other aspects of TOMS. Primarily, they are a thriving company providing jobs, delivering an excellent product, modeling corporate generosity, and constantly seeking to expand in their global impact.

1. Job Creation

TOMS seeks to create jobs, establishing over 700 manufacturing and sourcing jobs in 6 different countries and effectively empowering parents to purchase shoes for their own children. No parent wants to stand in line for charity for the rest of their lives—just like us, parents want the dignity of providing for themselves and their families. The jobs that TOMS creates are most likely far more effective at alleviating poverty than a box of free shoes could ever be.

2. Excellent Products

I love my TOMS. Even without the BOGO model, they’re a great shoe. TOMS doesn’t use their social mission as an excuse to peddle inferior products, but remains committed to offering excellent, high quality, and desirable merchandise.

3. Skills Training

TOMS has invested in the futures of thousands of men and women by offering job skills training. They’ve also initiated health training, including skilled birth attendant training. A company that cares about training and long-term empowerment of those it employs is to be celebrated.

4. Greater Generosity

While the buy one, give one model has been replicated across products and innovations, the greater impact might be on organizations that have looked to TOMS and discovered that they, too, can actively unlock both talent and funds to have a global impact. It’s both intrinsically good and good business to be known as a company that cares about responding to need, and there has been a recent resurgence of creative corporate generosity. They key is to continue to ask tough questions about what models accomplish the most positive outcomes—for all involved.

TOMS has captured the hearts of a generation well aware of the needs of the world and itching to share. Disproportionately, we’ve celebrated the free shoes and missed the positive impact of the core business.

As Poverty, Inc., shows through over 200 interviews in 20 countries, there is movement underway to shift from aid to enterprise.

At their core, both Poverty, Inc., and TOMS Shoes prove one thing: Our parents were right that sharing is good—but nobody wants to be a charity case for life.

Poverty, Inc.

 

Poverty, Inc., released this month.

Watch the trailer, preorder the film, or learn about hosting a screening event at povertyinc.org.

For years, I’ve resisted the TOMS Shoes craze. It wasn’t just because the early shoes look like slippers, but because it seemed to perpetuate an out-of-style paradigm of charity.

But today, the shoes I’m wearing proudly display the blue and white TOMS flag. I’ve finally joined the tribe and I have to admit, these shoes are really comfortable and way more stylish shoes than anything I’ve ever owned. More importantly, I finally feel good about supporting them. Here’s why.

TOMS Shoes

The philosophy of TOMS Shoes—buy a pair of shoes and give one to a child overseas—sounds good.

But I’ve seen enough bad results in the wake of good intentions to know that giving stuff is never the solution to global poverty. We’ve seen how indiscriminate charity ends up hurting the local economy. It puts local producers and sellers out of business. And it creates unhealthy dependency.

And what happens when shoes wear out? You now have a community that no longer has local producers or sellers.

Simply stated, handouts tend to create dependency in the long term and can actually undermine a local economy (read Uncharity).

But now, TOMS Shoes is changing their approach. And I’m dancing in my new shoes.

TOMS Shoes will open a shoe-manufacturing business in Haiti this January. 100 Haitians will be on the payroll. It’s a small step. Yet it’s a huge change in the company’s approach.

They recognize that the greatest good might not be the shoes they give away, but the jobs they create.

TOMS Shoes has pledged that one-third of their shoes will be produced locally by December 2015. For more of the story, read “TOMS Shoes rethinks its ‘buy one, give one’ model of helping the needy.”

So today I’m proudly wearing my TOMS and celebrating the jobs they’re creating.

HOPE photo - entrepreneur

Every summer, we host 20 interns at HOPE International and throughout our Network. These remarkable men and women are a summer-long shot of adrenaline to our organization. They do real work and make a very real impact on our ministry.  This summer, Bailie was one of our interns, and she helped create the launch plan for The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, including a launch party that I’ll never forget: See book launch photos here. She also expanded our reach in PR and marketing and researched how HOPE can better target social media audiences.  I appreciated Bailie’s commitment to prayer, to loving others, and to Christ, and she was a joy to work with this summer!

As Bailie returned to Liberty University for her final year, I asked if she would be willing to guest blog. Here’s what she wrote:


Bailie photo

By Bailie Porter, intern of HOPE International

I vividly remember those first few days as an intern at HOPE. Intimidated by the term microfinance, I set out to fully understand what it was and how HOPE had a hand in it.

Reflecting on this journey, I had no idea the ride I was in for.

To explain fully though, I must go backward.  I have participated in 12 different mission trips over the past 8 years, varying from all over the U.S. to five separate countries.

I dreamed of someday feeding all the hungry children in the world and digging wells in every country that didn’t have clean drinking water. These trips equipped me with numerous experiences, from re-roofing houses to sharing the Gospel in small communities of Lima, Peru—to handing out aid to the financially poor in Bosnia.

But at HOPE, I learned about unCharity, the power of a hand up rather than a handout. As I learned more about microfinance and how HOPE empowers people to use their God-given abilities to work with dignity, I eagerly called home.

I told my parents one thing: that I could never return to what I had thought about poverty. I now believe microfinance is one of the most effective tools to create sustainable change and help people work their way out of poverty. Not to mention that through relationships with loan officers and biblically based business training, people are coming to know Christ! But looking back, I struggled with how much good my previous mission trips had really been.

Please don’t get upset at me, but my perspective on mission trips and charity are changed, and I realize the following things:

  • I am incredibly thankful for each and every one of the mission trips that I was blessed to participate in. Through these trips, God broke my heart for those in desperate situations of poverty. He showed me how to actively share my faith with others. And He gave me a love and appreciation for all the cultures and people God has created in His image.
  • Mission trips in North America often promote a superhero mentality. We think that we will rush in, rescue individuals from poverty, and be Jesus-like superheroes (I have been in that place more than I care to admit). We think that “our way” is of course going to help them, whether that is a model for church structure or old clothes we left them. Sharing the Gospel with people is what we are called to do, but is there follow-up when we return home? How many Peruvians my team shared Christ with were then discipled and encouraged in their faith?
  • Short-term mission trips are important, but the way we go about them needs to change. There is a place for relief work—which is an immediate response to natural disasters, etc. And there is a place for long-term missions work, where as Christ followers we develop relationships with people and share Christ’s sacrifice of salvation with them.

Beyond that though, I refuse to go back to the primary mode of helping: handouts.

I desire that people see they can provide for themselves, no matter their status and no matter how many times someone has looked at them and said, “You are incapable.” I want them to know that they are amazing, unique human beings created in the image of God, made to worship God and use their gifts to glorify Him through their work.

But above all, I believe inward change must precede outward transformation. God so desperately wants a relationship with each of us. Renewed passion and purpose given from the Creator changes everything.