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Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  1,503 ratings  ·  301 reviews
Public service is a way of life for Americans; giving is a part of our national character. But compassionate instincts and generous spirits aren’t enough, says veteran urban activist Robert D. Lupton. In this groundbreaking guide, he reveals the disturbing truth about charity: all too much of it has become toxic, devastating to the very people it’s meant to help.

In his fou
Unknown Binding, 208 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by HarperOne
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I have worked in an extremely poor neighbourhood for 15 years. While there were some useful concepts in this book, it was still essentially a middle-class viewpoint on what the poor should do to cure their ills. The lack of awareness in this book was summed up in a sentence where he talked about " 'lifestyle' poverty" versus "true emergency". "Lifestyle" poverty? REALLY? That, to me, was a dead giveaway that, underneath all his well-meaning thoughts and work, he is really only interested in the ...more
Kirk Battle
Author is a Dr. Lupton, who has 40 years of working around inner-city Atlanta including moving into impoverished neighborhoods and turning them around. His basic thesis is the same thing Sowell argued in Basic Economics, that welfare and other social aid programs create a stagnate social class. Giving out food and clothes makes them dependent, so that they will be poor forever.

Starting with the incredible amounts of waste top-down charities generate, mostly by giving white people "help the poor"
This book reads like sitting in your living room across from a veteran mercy minister and you simply ask him "I see there's a problem and I want to help, tell me how to help." Lupton spends the rest of the book doing just that. Identifying the problem and then proceeding to tackle it.

One of the things I found most fascinating was that there seems to be two categories of people that pose difficulties toward effective mercy ministry. Also, as a caveat, it should be noted that I'm just an observer
Robert Lupton doesn’t mess around. The first paragraph of this book has these words:
What Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.
I read Toxic Charity because of its challenging ideas about giving money, mostly because I want my own donations to make a difference. The problem in a micro sense plays out on the street. Who doesn’t have conflicts when people ask us for mon
I found this book incredibly infuriating, especially in the first sections-- there's a lot of talk about the inherent dignity of work that is just right wing red meat, some pathologizing of the poor and people in third world countries and an insistence on the right way to develop that I thought was really short sighted and maddening. And his insistence on the role of faith communities makes me uncomfortable for the way it excludes people.

But then, in later sections, there were some good ideas: o
Tim Ervolina
Lupton identifies the elephant lurking in the room where most charitable giving, especially faith-based charity, takes place: it rarely results in real, sustainable long term change.

His solution: asset-based community development, an approach that has been used for at least two decades by community organizations, who try to increase the capacity of neighborhoods and communities to transform themselves from the bottom up. The challenge that ABCD has is the reality that donors don't really like t
Derek Reinhard
5 Stars if he didn't sound so bitter

As the director of an all-volunteer international nonprofit, I appreciate all the good points and guidance offered by the author in the closing pages. Unfortunately, it was painful reading to get to that point; between broad-brush treatment of scenarios and terms, and then a "see how my organization's model works and others promote dependencies" tone of voice, I found it painful going. I found "When Helping Hurts" a more edifying/uplifting read which comes to

I think this is a must read for anyone who has ever participated in church outreach ministry. It gave me a new perspective on how helping out of love can hurt. However, since it was written primarily from a Christian perspective, I was disappointed that the author didn't back up most of his assertions with scripture. An example would be his dislike of food banks and pantries. When James 1:27 clearly calls us to care for the orphans and widows. I volunteer at a food bank that primarily serves th
Laura Cheifetz
This is a really helpful book. I think many have had our wonderings about the ethics of "mission" work, as envisioned and practiced by middle-class and wealthy U.S. congregations. Considering how to make our efforts and our good intentions have greater impact for good and for change is a really helpful exercise, and this book offers a helpful analysis and a place to start, along with models as to how we can do it better. While he does mention racism and classism (structural and otherwise), I wou ...more
Kenneth Clapp
Toxic Charity is one of the most challenging books I've read in a long time. Much of the book for me was one of those "yes!" moments. Lupton was describing things that I knew were a problem, but had never managed to nail down the details.

The basic premise is this: With much of our charitable giving we are actually doing more harm than good, because, even through me may be helping to meet an immediate need, we are actually promoting the poverty cycle by creating an attitude of entitlement in thos
I thought this book was great. Lupton supported his main idea with testimonies from poor persons themselves and from all kinds of people who have worked in the betterment and in the development of poor neighborhoods. It was refreshing to have someone show how hand-outs may help in a time of crisis but how they can keep people dependent if there is no change from the hand-out to the development of the poor person's own potential talents and ability to work and maintain their dignity. They can go ...more
I am a member of a board of my church that determines how a significant Outreach budget is distributed to local organizations. As a committee we just finished reading this book, which has opened our eyes to well intended but ultimately unhelpful approaches to charitable giving. This book, a compelling read, will be the certerpiece of a new strategic plan for our group. If you are actively working with a group that provides services or support to worthy causes, I urge you to read this book. in ad ...more
An important book written from someone who has worked on the frontlines in the inner city. He offers a clear and compelling argument for why soup kitchens, clothes closets, and Christmas toy giveaways to needy families is harmful. He then makes an even more compelling case for alternatives that empower people, requiring something of those we wish to help.

Church leaders should take the time to read and reflect on this wise little book. Warning: your opinions are likely to change and then you mig
A few potentially good ideas to improve charitable giving (narrowly defined around aid to the impoverished) spread among a work of generalized slander and severe overstatement. It is also horribly written with poor examples and prose that reads like a particularly bad Power Point demonstration.
In the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, Robert D. Lupton details how he feels that many aspects of modern forms of charity do more harm than good. It is his opinion that mission trips, food pantries, weekend service projects, and many other forms of charitable giving and volunteerism are ineffective, do not take into consideration the emotional well being of those being served, and in general do not accomplish the goals that they set out to achieve.

I have to s
Ryan Wilson
An even-handed look at how many charities can be harmful toward the populations they aim to serve. He discusses topics such as dependence and dignity while opposing the generally accepted model of charitable services. I think the book does a really good job of challenging and exposing the traditional understanding of church-sponsored and other nonprofit ventures. Good intentions count for something, but it's the responsibility of donors to carry that through to its end: donating to responsible a ...more
This isn't a perfect book, but it is a good starting place for people who want to think and learn about how to effect positive, long-lasting change in areas typically served by "missions" or "charities": shelters, soup kitchens, church mission trips to poverty-stricken natural disasters, etc. Lupton definitely has some street cred in this area, since he's lived and worked in these kinds of neighborhoods in Atlanta for years. And I think his emphasis on preserving dignity and autonomy by involvin ...more
Erin basically 95% of the charity work I do (and probably most of us do) could be considered toxic: doing for others when they could do it for themselves, charity leading to attitudes of superiority and condescension on the part of the giver, charity work making the giver feel good, regardless of how the receiver might feel, charity work treating situations like emergencies, and workers being there only short-term, and not for the long haul. It's a lot easier to do one-time charity work than ...more
Ben Yosua-davis
I so badly wanted to give this book five stars. It's critique of churches and charities is disturbing, brilliant, and incisive. As someone who works in the non-profit field, it challenged a lot of my assumptions about how my work can help or hurt people.

There were two shortcomings, one minor, one major, that prevented me from giving the book five stars. First, Lupton writes from a very clearly "churched" perspective, using church language without explanation that people not connected with Christ
I read an article that mentioned this book, and I started it right away on the Kindle. I was really looking forward to reading it. I found the tone of the book offputting. It would mention some people being "worthy" of help implying or outright saying that others were not. I disagreed with some of the author's presumptions about behavior and what motivates people so I had a hard time buying into some of the suggestions. I also didn't feel like there was any call to push for changes in policies. ...more
I read this book after it was recommended by the missions team at our church. They are restructuring how they approach missions work...instead of a hand out, the focus is on giving people a hand up. This book provides evidence that by simply handing out resources to people, you are actually doing them a disservice and harm. The goal is to partner with people in need to enable them to provide for themselves.
Emily White
I take issue with this book. Or maybe the author. While I understand the problem of giving tons of stuff away to people in need without expecting anything in return, Lupton made charity seem like one big scam. It isn't that simple. Some charities are more effective than others. One thing that I do agree with Lupton about is the idea of sending youth on "mission trips", where young men and women stay a week or so in a location "helping", then go home leaving the "helped" with whatever they left b ...more
Ian Wood
This is the complete review as it appears at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's reviews on the blog typically feature two or three images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.

Note that I don't really do stars. To me a book is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate it three-
Emily Whelchel
I was a little hesitant about reading this book, because I was afraid it would be yet another excuse for Christian Americans to sit back and explain why they are not obligated to help the needy in third world countries. However, as a student who fully intends to pursue humanitarian work as a career, I am eager to learn anything I can about what should be improved about relief efforts, so I thought I would give this a go.

I agreed with much of what Lupton said about how simply giving out handouts
The sub title to this book is How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It. The author shares his observations and researched about the effects of charity on its recipients, but also lived some alternative approaches. His basic premise is that recipients of the way charity is currently done, not only by charities, but the government moves its recipients from need to entitled service, and in the process their sense of helplessness and self-esteem accelerates. While chari ...more
Deborah LaRoche
As a social worker of many years, I applaud Lupton's efforts to challenge the way many good-hearted people actually thwart the upward mobility of low-income families versus actually helping people break the suffocating cycles of poverty on their own.

My only personal exception to his general thesis is that I do believe "mission trips" (which can mean a variety of things to a variety of people) can be useful when carried out appropriately. It was on just such a mission trip that I first felt call
Pastors and parishioners alike would benefit their respective ministries by listening to Lupton's indictments and considering his strategies as they minister to the poor. His ideas are much more long-term and developmental than those I think most churches and non-profits currently utilize. While I do not think Lupton subscribes to a purely social gospel narrative (that ministry to the poor supersedes the Christ-saves-sinners version), I do think his reproach and encouragement is narrowly-focused ...more
"Toxic Charity" will turn your thinking about charitable giving, volunteerism and other service experiences on its head. Which is good! Robert Lupton makes some sound arguments for why the traditional way of making a difference - food pantries, mission trips, etc. - may actually be doing more harm than good in communities that really need greater change and investment.

Two of his arguments really stuck out for me... probably because they directly impact some types of giving I've been involved wit
Oliver Vogel
Anyone with a charitable bone in their body should read this book. Focusing on sustained improvement and breaking the cycle of giving and receiving Lupton's ideas, methods, and case studies expose a broken system of charity in the world as a whole but especially within the well off United States. The first half is much more compelling and an easier read focusing on the case studies and how the system is broken. The last half trends towards those who are or may be in leadership roles on how to ac ...more
Whitney Marie
While this book was not one of my textbooks, I wanted to read this one and see how the charity that we give to help people could either harm them, but I would say that it is good to really get to know what the person needs true help with (certain issues) that they could truly get themselves back on their feet and overcome their challenges. But when we really fail to examine if our helping is really truly helpful or if it is really harmful and people don't say anything about feeling as if they ar ...more
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Ladies & Literature: Toxic Charity. 3 27 Jun 27, 2012 08:36AM  
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Bob Lupton is the founder and president of FCS Urban Ministries, a non-profit organization serving inner-city Atlanta, and is on the board of the Christian Community Development Association. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Georgia, and consults and lectures internationally on urban issues.
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“When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.” 0 likes
“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” 0 likes
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