Donations seem like such a wonderful idea. If you’re not using something anymore, why not give it to someone lacking in resources? One person’s trash is another’s treasure, right? Wrong.
Mindless giving is when something is given out of convenience. A closet is being cleaned out and you don’t know what to do with the things you don’t want, so you donate them. Mindful giving starts with the intention of wanting to help. When someone gives mindfully they research who they are giving to and what is actually needed.
In 2011, longtime urban activist Robert D. Lupton published Toxic Charity. In the book, Lupton explains why good intentions don’t always end in a positive impact.
“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people,” he writes.
We all can agree that helping people is good. Nobody is saying that the rich shouldn’t help the poor, but the current donation and giving system are dysfunctional at best.
Looking at international giving is a great larger scale example. Short-Term Missions, an information organization, reports that more than two million Americans go on mission trips around the world every year. Many of these Americans bring suitcases full of used clothes, toys and other items with them on these trips.
While the idea of helping the poor is a valid one, when this many Americans are bringing this many goods into unstable economies it keeps economies unstable. Donations like this take business away from local entrepreneurs. Why would the poor spend money on new clothes or shoes when they know Americans will bring them some for free?
This phenomenon can be seen even in America. One example Lupton gives is Christmas gift drives.
Lupton explains that while trying to help the poor during the holidays is a good intention, the reality is that it degrades low-income parents. The parents give up their right to pick out a Christmas gift for their own child. Imagine working your hardest to provide for your children every other day of the year but then having a stranger pick out your child’s Christmas gift.
Lupton created a modified version of a typical Christmas gift drive. Instead of having donors buy toys for an individual child they donate toys to a pop-up shop. Then low-income parents can buy new toys at a reduced price, or work in the store to build up credit.
The other problem with donations is so many of us give things we don’t want any more. Which makes it likely others won’t want it either.
As an intern with an orphanage and school in Haiti, I have first-hand experience with sorting through donations. When we sort through donations we throw away about half of the original pile due to items being moldy, dirty or ripped.
Even after we have sorted through and found items that are worth keeping, the kids in Haiti struggle to find hand-me-downs that fit them correctly or that they think are stylish. Even orphans have a sense of personal style and use the way they dress as a form of self-expression.
I have been told multiple times that because they are orphans they should be happy with what they have. But why should the poor settle for less when the rich don’t have to?
These problems are easily avoidable when some thought is put behind helping the poor. Maybe instead of bringing a suitcase with you on a mission trip, you could save the $40 it would cost to check the bag on a plane and use it to buy clothes in the community you are going to serve. It’s less hassle for you and local entrepreneurs benefit from the sale. Those you are serving are also able to buy clothes that fit them and they like to wear.
Giving is not bad, mindless giving is. Be intentional about your giving. The way you spend money and dispose of goods is your vote in how the global economy works.