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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,260 ratings  ·  268 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
ebook, 208 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by HarperOne
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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

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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 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
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
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
Leah Douglas
"We respond with immediacy to desperate circumstances but often are unable to shift from crisis relief to the more complex work of long-term development...When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic."

"A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.'

The best section in this book for me was "Good Neighbors" to the end of the book, where Christians are encouraged to live *with* those they are trying to h
Toxic Charity raises some very legitimate concerns that I frequently have with my own volunteerism. Basically, handout-based charity, volunteer days, and short-term trips tend to get a lot of support from donors and volunteers, but can be fundamentally unhelpful or even actively detrimental in the long term for the target communities. See this begging children discussion for just a little taste of one example (begging is a hot issue for me). Effective charity and charitable works should focus on ...more
Emil Bredahl
A book that ask some good questions and it will challenge you to think and hopefully re-think how you work and why you do what you do helping people.
It is a famous book that is being referenced a lot in charity circles and the author has years of experience in the field of charity work.
Its practical and serve good practical ways to change the area that you work in.
Read it if you wish to get inspired and learn about a field that is practiced a lot, but when you look for books, you will realize
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.
Barnabas Piper
This is probably more of a 3 1/2 stars than a 3. I greatly appreciate Lupton's views on the necessity and methods of reconsidering charitable work and the heart behind it. I think this is a particularly helpful book for ministry leaders who are considering or involved in charitable efforts.
I was prepared to dislike this book strictly because of the title, but I really, really liked what the author had to say about the current state of charity in the U.S. I do worry, though, that people will cherry-pick certain ideas and leave the rest behind. Lupton calls people to participate in community development rather than just handing out what is needed at the time. It's the old "feed a man a fish and he has one meal; teach a man how to fish and he is fed for a lifetime" adage. This book a ...more
Kathy Tappen
An excellent read for anyone who works in/with or gives to a charitable organization. Lupton proposes a new "Oath for Compassionate Service" for charitable organizations (like the Hippocratic Oath in the medical community), and offers six guidelines for helping the poor:Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves; Limit one-way giving to emergencies;Empower the poor through employment/lending/investing; Subordinate self-interest to the needs of those being served; Listen closely to tho ...more
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Ladies & Lite...: Toxic Charity. 3 27 Jun 27, 2012 08:36AM  
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
  • Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development
  • The Externally Focused Church
  • Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity
  • The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor
  • Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
  • Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
  • Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
  • Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree
  • The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative
  • From Brokenness to Community (Harold M. Wit Lectures)
  • 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics
  • Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
  • Allah: A Christian Response
  • Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission
  • Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things
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.
More about Robert D. Lupton...
Theirs Is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor Renewing the City: Reflections on Community Development and Urban Renewal Return flight: Community development through reneighboring our cities Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results

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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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