Strategic giving emphasizes impact over dollar


JASPER — Giving back to those in need makes us feel good and helps people. But are our charitable actions leading to the results we want? If not, how do we change the model to ensure our community thrives?


Those questions and more were discussed Tuesday afternoon at a Dubois County Community Foundation-organized seminar hosted at the Parklands Pavilion in Jasper. Its mission wasn’t to promote a particular strategy or approach to helping those in need, but instead serve as a catalyst to start a conversation.

Sometimes, helping can hurt. Even when intentions are pure.

“I think my goal is for us to reimagine how we respond to our communities,” speaker Shawn Duncan said in an interview after the event. “Oftentimes, we think about what resource is missing and how do we provide it, rather than what kind of goals could we set together that we work on together. So, if the goal is flourishing, how do we do that together?”

Duncan led the seminar. He is the director of the Lupton Center at Focused Community Strategies, an Atlanta-based organization that partners with underserved neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development. The group’s objective is to produce flourishing communities where God’s peace is present. About a hundred people attended the three-hour event Tuesday in Jasper.

Duncan explained that repeated, one-way giving can lead to expectation and dependency, while forming limited-time partnerships with those in need can lead to long-term, sustainable changes. While crises like natural disasters demand emergency intervention, a chronic need — like poverty, for example — requires a development response.

“Charity becomes toxic when we’re responding to chronic realities with crisis approaches,” Duncan said during the seminar. “Where we’re taking what needs to be a development situation and we’re responding with resources instead.”

Focused Community Strategies has operated for four decades and values proximity when forming relationships, upholding the dignity of those they work with and developing neighborhoods in ways that will have a lasting economic impact.

“We want to see the economy of a neighborhood thrive again,” Duncan said. “We don’t just want to make sure that there’s resources available, but there’s an economy that begins to develop and flourish.”

Regardless of the work seminar attendees are doing, Duncan said those core principles can lead to positive results and make an impact. He said a basic two-dimensional approach to an issue focuses on meeting needs with resources, which is ineffective at best. At its worst, it increases the problems.

“When the model we use is about the one-way transfer of resources from one party to another, that may begin in a place where there’s great appreciation for access to those resources,” he said. “But over time, that becomes the expected model that people live by, and then it becomes the system that families become dependent upon.”

He stressed that using the word “dependent” to shame someone who lives in poverty is toxic and needs to stop. But instead of doing habitual community work based on one-way giving, he said organizations should shift to partnering with and investing in communities to solve problems.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for every problem or every area, Duncan said. Those answers come from communication with those in need. Two of the developments Focused Community Strategies has partnered with South Atlanta neighborhood residents on include a community grocery store and coffee shop.

Clayton Boyles, executive director of the Dubois County Community Foundation, said his hope in organizing the gathering Tuesday was to bring together locals who participate in giving back to have a conversation about strategic giving. He hopes the conversation continues.

He said the goal of the seminar was also to challenge the attendees — and the status quo.

“I think a smart giver is thinking about the impact that a dollar is gonna make,” Boyles said after the seminar. “And it’s not just giving of dollars. It’s giving of time and talent, and as you heard Shawn talk about today, skillset or expertise in a certain area.”

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