How We Can Break Free of the Handout Mentality | by Andrew Vanderput


Handouts can be a pretty contentious term. Hopefully my next statements will help ensure that I do not increase that contention. When you saw  “handout mentality” you might have thought I was referring to the material poor. Actually, I was referring to you. More on that later.

For the sake of this article, let’s define handouts as the provision of resources to people in material poverty without any expectation that the recipients will need to invest their own time or other assets in order to receive those same resources in the first place. Note: Relief or aid given to people immediately after a manmade or natural disaster would not fall under our definition of handouts.

We know that handouts as defined above can be ineffective and damaging. They can create dependency and destroy initiative in the recipients. Why develop your own talents and work to become independent when you know you will be provided for free of cost? Because of this, recipients will become chronically reliant upon their patrons and will never be able flourish themselves, let alone help their communities do the same.

There are a myriad of other reasons handouts are damaging that we could discuss, but I want to get back to you. While handouts can be destructive, it is the views that undergird handouts that are even more pernicious. To be more specific, it is how you see the people you want to help that causes the damage. This may sound tangential but it is not. It is crucial. How you view people will invariably dictate and shape your efforts to help them.

If you only and ever see people as incapable, helpless, unable to contribute, and even burdensome then your actions will naturally flow from that perspective and inform your poverty fighting efforts. You will not partner with the poor, you will patronize them. You will only see their lack, so you will give shortsightedly. This errant view of the material poor is the handout mentality.

Please do not automatically dismiss this point or see it as irrelevant to you. While you may think you do not see the material poor in such light or would never dream of doing so, subconsciously you may. When examined carefully, the causes you give to, and the way you have gone about addressing poverty will tell you a lot about how you see the poor. Given enough critical thought, you might realize you have a handout mentality.

How do we break free of this mentality? We must change our thinking so that the material poor are seen as they truly are: Created by God and fellow bearers of His image. As people full of potential and endowed with incredible, creative abilities. As savvy and entrepreneurial. As partners. As equals.

When you begin to view the poor like this, everything changes. You are no longer focused on lack, want, or deficit. You only see assets, potential, and opportunity. You see all of the enterprise and business opportunities you can support. You no longer see yourself or your institution as the answer. You realize they are the answer. You break free of your handout mentality.


Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute. Andrew comes from a diverse background in public policy, non-profits focused on international poverty, marketing, and consulting. He has long held a passion for promoting entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. He lives with his wife and two children in Grand Rapids, MI.

2 replies
  1. Kris Van
    Kris Van says:

    I really appreciate your words. The church I belong to want to begin a “blanket to the homeless” “ministry”in our town. I am seeing this as a “Hand out mentality” work. Am I wrong or is that a good way to approach the needs of those on the streets of our town? I am really looking for guidance on this topic. So much is discussed regarding how to “help” those who are homeless or even how to get them out of our town. I struggle with understanding the “proper” approach…..There are those on the street who are the “scammers” taking advantage of those who care just to stay in their cycle of addiction. Those who are so dependent on government programs they have no ( or have lost ) desire to work and try and get out of a cycle of dependents on others. The government has taken the roll in many ways of helping the needy instead of the Church working within the community to help solve these issues, and the most crucial the heart/soul.

    Any information or thoughts you can point me to would be appreciated.

    Blessings, Kris Van

    • @povertycure
      @povertycure says:


      Thanks so much for your reply and for taking your time to approach such important topics.

      It is so difficult to come up with answers when dealing with the homeless here in the United States. Addiction, mental illness, PTSD (in the case of homeless veterans). These are issues that we do not have easy answers to.

      What I would do is challenge your church to partner with another ministry that is actually equipped to deal with a lot of the issues I mentioned earlier. They can likely inform and direct your efforts in a much more productive way than your church can going at it alone, because they have experience in dealing with addiction, etc.

      Additionally, I would make sure that the ministry you do team up with has a holistic approach and is capable from moving people from a stage of permanent and persistent need to a place of independence. Do they address the symptoms of homelessness by just continually giving to the homeless? Or do they seek to address the causes of homelessness in people?

      There is a homeless ministry called Mel Trotter Ministries that has shown its staff the PovertyCure DVD series. They do a lot of activities you could possibly define as “handouts” but the situations they do so in are more akin to disaster relief (addiction recovery, for example). Most importantly, they don’t stop there. They have a seven part program (click HERE to see them) that addresses the causes of homelessness in people so they are no longer in need of permanent help.

      I hope these thoughts are helpful to you as think through what you should do. Thank you so much!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *