I know there's a word for a charity with the ultimate goal of not having to exist any more but can't remember it. Does anyone know what it is?

  • 1
    In the sense of "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" ?
    – Graffito
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 14:58
  • 1
    To be politically correct: it's a "miracle". Or not: it's the "final solution".
    – Graffito
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 15:06
  • I work in the charitable sector. It's well understood that for many charities, the ultimate goal is to remove the need for their existence. This is particularly true for campaigning organisations. However, I'm not aware of an actual word for this; I'd be very pleased to learn otherwise.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 15:10
  • 4
    It's called "working yourself out of a job." The focus of your charity is not job security but job insecurity, in hopes that your job will be taken over by those to whom you offer your charity, so that they will carry on the work. That sort of thing. Don Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 16:33
  • 1
    @rhetorician That's a good answer, you should post it as an answer.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 22:00

5 Answers 5


It's called "working yourself out of a job." According to this philosophy of "doing charity," its focus is not job security but job insecurity, in hopes that the work will be taken over by those who are being served, so that they will carry on the work themselves when the organizers/founders of the charity move on.

An old paradigm in missionary work had the missionary staying on the mission field forever in the role of resident expert. Under this paradigm, whenever the native converts ran into a problem, they would go a resident missionary and ask, "Bwana, what should we do?" Bwana would then in essence show or tell them what they should do from his Western cultural perspective. That paradigm worked well as long as the missionary stayed there to run things, but not so well if the missionary had to leave the work for whatever reasons. He had, deliberately or by default, made himself indispensable, which is a recipe for failure.

A newer paradigm, which is really an old paradigm resurrected, is for missionaries to work themselves out of a job. If their goal is to establish an independent and thriving church of faithful believers, for example, and the church reaches that milestone, then the missionaries entrust the church to the national believers and their own appointed leaders, and the missionaries move on to another mission field.

If the missionaries have done their job well, they will have equipped the national believers with culture-sensitive tools and techniques which will help to ensure the work survives and thrives and maybe even reproduces itself in a different locale with other people who "catch the vision" and get on board with it.

Some dear friends of mine were missionaries to Colombia, South America. I guess you could accurately call them holistic missionaries, in that they were not content simply to start a "religious" work among native Colombians by imposing their own Westernized views on the people they served. Rather, concurrent with the "sacred" aspects of their work (they were, after all, modern-day Christian apostles interested in "planting" a thriving church where no church had existed before), they also engaged in culture-specific "secular" projects designed to improve the lives of native Colombians in the Barranquilla area.

For example, with the cooperation and input of native Colombians, many of whom had "caught the vision" and identified with this collaborative work, my friends started a self-sustaining chicken farm which provided much needed income for the poorer folks in the region, many of whom did the bulk of the work in running and maintaining the chicken farm and its associated for-profit business of selling eggs.

Once a self-sustaining church and a self-sustaining business were established and run by native Colombians, my friends gradually decreased the amount of time they spent in Colombia and eventually withdrew from Colombia and engaged in a fulltime work elsewhere.

They of course kept in touch with the key people in the Colombian church, offering advice and practical help from a distance, but the local leaders were thereafter in charge of running things independently in their own way and with a distinctly Colombian flavor. My missionary friends had worked themselves out of a job!


You could use authors of their own demise, or a varient thereof.

The term is commonly used where the demise is a bad thing - eg. an inventor being killed by his own invention, or someone entering a self-destructive drug abuse cycle.

However, it could be in this context.


Our objective is to be the authors of our own demise, if we do our job correctly, we will no longer be needed.

Our objective is to be the creators of our own obsolescence, if we do our job correctly, we will no longer be needed.


'effective altruism'
'altruistic obsolescence'
'positive planned obsolescence'
'positive obsolescence'
'active obsolescence'

'an apoptotic charity'
'apoptotical philanthropy'

I once wrote a paper for an organisation pointing out that it needed to 'plan for its own demise' given that its entire raison d'etre was to pursue a single problem along a path and towards a goal that future changes in work practices and technology in this market would certainly render obsolete.

What was interesting in that case was that the aforementioned path and the obsolescence were necessary steps in the creation of an environment where a 'next generation' organisation (with a very different business model) could pick up the pieces and thrive. The first business model was unsustainable in the long term, but necessary in the short term, and an appropriate plan would have been one that organised the demise of the first business model on the most favourable terms for the next business model to build upon. This was similar to the situation of the charities in the original question - organisations working positively towards their own demise.

The problem was for me then, and for the original poster of this question now, to find a word - and preferably one with some pizzazz - that describes this sort of business (or charity) trajectory.

One suggestion might be 'planned obsolescence' . One might note, however, that 'planned obsolescence' has picked up a negative connotation as it describes a process whereby goods are designed to fail so as to create a market for servicing, upgrading or replacing them. Consequently some variation on this term, such as 'positive planned obsolescence', 'positive obsolescence', or 'active obsolescence' - or any combination of the above - might be better received and understood.

A further suggestion - specifically in respect to charities - may be some variation on 'altruistic' (such as 'effective altruism') which clearly connotes selfless behaviour, but which may require some further words to suggest working towards the negation for its reason for existence, as distinct from an ongoing need with an ongoing altruistic response. Here again 'obsolescence' might assist in clarifying the point, as in 'altruistic obsolescence'.

Perhaps for the lack of the appropriate or accepted buzzword for such things when I made the original case to the organisation I used to consult for, they subsequently (and invariably) found themselves technologically and functionally stranded with no way forward nor any alternate business plan. Backing out from that position has been costed at $5b.

Some thoughts on the use of Apoptosis

A late thought involves coining what is essentially a new meaning for a relatively new word. 'Apoptosis' is a term used to describe 'programmed cell death' in organisms. Essentially this is a pre-programmed 'beneficial' or positive cell death as explained in this extract from Wikipedia's entry on apoptosis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apoptosis):

In contrast to necrosis, which is a form of traumatic cell death that results from acute cellular injury, apoptosis is a highly regulated and controlled process that confers advantages during an organism's lifecycle. For example, the separation of fingers and toes in a developing human embryo occurs because cells between the digits undergo apoptosis.

'Apoptosis' occurs when a cell has completed its function and is no longer required, or in order to allow for transformation of the organism, or to make way for younger cells. The word 'apoptosis', and 'apoptotic' comes from the Greek as the Oxford English Dictionary explains:

apoptosis, n.
Brit. /ˌapɒpˈtəʊsɪs/, U.S. /ˌæpəpˈtoʊsəs/
[‹ ancient Greek ἀπόπτωσις action of falling off or away > prefix + πτῶσις (see ptosis n.), after ἀποπίπτειν to fall off from, to fall off. On the origin of sense 2 compare:
1972 J. F. R. Kerr et al. in Brit. Jrnl. Cancer 26 241 (note) We are most grateful to Professor James Cormack of the Department of Greek, University of Aberdeen, for suggesting this term. The word ‘apoptosis’ (ἁπόπτωσισ) [sic] is used in Greek to describe the ‘dropping off’ or ‘falling off’ of petals from flowers, or leaves from trees. To show the derivation clearly, we proposed that the stress should be on the penultimate syllable, the second half of the word being pronounced like ‘ptosis’ (with the ‘p’ silent), which comes from the same root ‘to fall’, and is already used to describe drooping of the upper eyelid.On the pronunciation compare also:
1994 Nature 28 Sept. 98/2 The ‘p’ in ptosis is silent, and on that basis students are commonly exhorted to pronounce apoptosis as apo'tosis... The silent ‘p’, however, appears neither correct nor attractive in words in which the Greek-derived ‘pt’ occurs in the middle of a composite word.]

One might apply the terminology to a charity or philanthropic endeavour that incorporated its own demise at the conclusion (and as a result) of it's own successful activities. A positive demise. From this sense we might get 'an apoptotic charity', or 'apoptotical philanthropy'. To the best of my knowledge this word has never before been used in this sense.


I'll suggest 'perficient',

That accomplishes or achieves something; effectual.

A perficient charity is one that seeks to eliminate or has eliminated itself by achieving its preventive goal.


The charity, with an ultimate goal to eliminate charity itself, is difficut to define in single word. No doubt,the idea is to uphold 'Responsible Charity' which does not degrade the giver and the given rather finds its fulfilment in creation of an ideal situation where it (charity) loses its relevance.Several words come to mind. They are :




However, to my nind the first one suits our purpose well and is used in the sense we use "sacrificial lamb"!

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