Why We Must Avoid Policy Fixation

by FCS on

by Shawn Duncan

I have the privilege of talking with many wonderful, servant-hearted leaders who hope to reimagine charity. When these practitioners are made aware of the unintended negative effects of charity, there are a number of natural reactions to this realization that can actually be counterproductive. I have written on several in the past, including compassion paralysis, practitioner’s guilt, and the charity police.



Another such reaction is what I call “policy fixation.”


Policy fixation bogs down practitioners in the details of intake forms, client interview questions, standards that qualify families for service, regulations on distribution of resources, policies for preventing abuses, and more. These things matter, and they matter a lot. As your organization moves toward more responsible models of charity, the procedures for doing what you do will certainly be impacted in a radical way.


The problem, though, is that too many folks start with policies and procedures before dealing with the bigger picture. If we aren’t addressing the bigger picture - if we are just rearranging and tweaking the existing components - we are still falling into the toxic charity mindset. That approach says it is up to us to create the right program that meets their needs.


In every charity there are four basic building blocks: the problem (what is wrong), the solution (what will fix it), the procedure (how we implement the fix), and the metrics (how we measure the success of the fix). When practitioners learn about toxicity in charity, policy fixation causes them to jump in and deal first with the procedure part.


Those that will make lasting and transformative changes, however, will change the paradigm first and let the policies follow suit.


The paradigm can only change when we ask hard questions about the first two building blocks: the problem and the solution. We need to deal with whether or not we have an accurate and holistic understanding of what is really going on. We also need to deal with whether or not we have an approach to addressing the issue that actual solves something, that actually impacts real and lasting transformation. Finally, and most importantly, we have to deal with the fact that those who are meant to benefit from these service must be invited into these foundational conversations.


This starting place will prove to be much more fruitful and will help us to establish nontoxic charities. Then - and only then - we can approach our policies with fresh eyes and a reestablished paradigm.

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