The Not-Very-FAQs in Charity

by FCS on

by Shawn Duncan

Every website has one: The FAQ page.

You know, it’s that page everyone ignores as they send an email to some unlucky customer service representative who, of course, politely points them back to the FAQ page. (Can I get a witness?!)

In 2015, FCS launched a brand new division to focus on training and consulting: The Lupton Center, and we have worked with well over 300 different organizations. After leading trainings from Washington state to Pennsylvania, with small churches to county-wide collaboratives, from urban developers to rural service providers, we have come to expect certain topics and questions to emerge.

So I was asked to write a post about the Frequently-Asked-Questions we receive when on the road training and consulting. That, of course, would be of interest to those who are facing the same tensions others across the country are trying to resolve.

However, if we are going to detoxify our charity paradigms, I am finding it is the not-very-FAQs that are making the biggest difference.

The popular questions often revolve around detoxifying the specifics of a program model. The assumption is that charity’s toxicity resides primarily (if not solely) in the ways those with resources choose to distribute those resources to those in need of them.

Everyone (including me) would love a clear diagnostic tool that identifies the exact location of toxicity. Even better would be a proven prescription that would make the distribution of those material resources healthy.

We are willing to admit our programs may have toxic elements, but we are less apt to consider that toxicity may be residing in us. Toxicity reveals itself most profoundly in the lack of relationship - authentic, mutual relationship. This disconnection is what allows for us to think and act in terms of givers and receivers, clients and service provides, rather than as neighbors, sisters, kin.

If charity were to have its own DSM-IV, I would define this as a proximity disorder - the geographic and relational distance that prevents an accurate understanding of the challenges we face and inhibits the ability to design real and lasting solutions.

So, the Not-Very-FAQs-that-need-to-be-FAQs for charity practitioners are:

  • Am I in a personal relationship with anyone experiencing material poverty?
  • Am I being taught, led, or changed by those experiencing material poverty?
  • How do I get out of the “service provider” mentality and enter into the posture of neighboring?
  • What poverty am I experiencing that needs to be addressed?
  • How is my way of interacting with those experiencing material poverty causing harm?
  • What power dynamics exist in my relationships with others that are preventing us from truly knowing one another?
  • How can I work with a diverse coalition of neighbors to create space for mutual transformation, kinship, and belonging?

Don’t misunderstand - the FAQs matter. It is important that we address the toxic elements of our programs and the ways we engage our neighbors. But there is so much more to unpack. I hope we get the chance to lead a training in your community and work through these creative tensions together.

But the first step - if you are ready to being deconstructing and detoxifying charity - is in these not-very-FAQs that address our proximity disorder.

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