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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  3,310 ratings  ·  545 reviews
Veteran urban activist Robert Lupton reveals the shockingly toxic effects that modern charity has upon the very people meant to benefit from it. Toxic Charity provides proven new models for charitable groups who want to help—not sabotage—those whom they desire to serve. Lupton, the founder of FCS Urban Ministries (Focused Community Strategies) in Atlanta, the voice of the ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by HarperOne
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Jan Rice

This is a controversial book. In some circles this review might be as controversial as, say, one on a book on evolution by an author tarred with creationist leanings, or as one seen as suggesting that morality requires a religious basis. But perhaps the circles in which this one might be controversial are not my usual Goodreads circles.

The 2011 review in The Christian Century says it will ruffle some feathers, and that's an understatement.

The author gave a presentation on his next book (same top
...more
Idiosyncratic
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Scott
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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
...more
Erin
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christianity
Huh...so 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
Matt
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Alaina
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Lupton fails to address the systemic issues that precede the toxicity of charity. Without addressing racism and its evil twin, paternalism, charity will continue to be toxic.
Kirk Battle
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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"
...more
Tim Ervolina
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Tori Miller
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
Missy
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it


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 t
...more
John
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Kristen Stieffel
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian-walk
This is an eye opener. The author's main premise is that handouts without reciprocity damage human dignity. This is an acceptable trade off in emergencies, but when handouts last for years, the resulting codependent relationship is unhealthy.

Lupton advocates for economic development rather than continuing charity. His theory is that the givers must ask the recipients what they need rather than delivering what the givers choose. It's a provoking and challenging book, I think some reviewers are ma
...more
Tim
Sep 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
Alex Mayfield
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book comes across as a middle-class, white, male's perspective of what he thinks is wrong. Though there are concepts that make sense, more data to back up claims would help in it's credibility.
Douglas Wilson
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Given the standard approaches to mercy ministry, this book is a must read for anyone involved in that kind of work, or anyone who wants to be.
Kenneth Clapp
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leadership
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
...more
Sue
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Stephanie
Dec 31, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Roseyreads
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Hugs
Sep 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
Other than agreeing with the author's views of mission trips, there was very little I liked about this book. After reading several excerpts to my husband he remarked, "That makes me feel that if I really got in a bind there would be no help for me, and I would be better off with a predatory loan." It has really put me in a funk and makes me want to withdraw from people.

If you feel led to help someone, please help them (without expecting anything in return). You don't need a program to give, and
...more
Emily White
Feb 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Laura Cheifetz
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jennifer
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Frank
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Ann Withers [jo]
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Toxic Charity provides a clear look at a problem plaguing developing nations around the world, as well as the United States.

When we give to others in need, why do we do so? Do we give out of a true heart to better others’ lives?
While our gut reaction would be a resounding yes, the facts point to a different answer. Charity often benefits only the giver, not the receiver.

In crises, quick, short term relief is essential. But, when this relief is prolonged it proves detrimental to the recipient by
...more
Linda
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-list
This book is likely to annoy/irritate/anger a lot of well-meaning people, but they should read it anyway. Lupton's premise, that we need to build relationships and help people help themselves, rather than do for and infantilize capable people, isn't anything bold or daring. It just doesn't support the idea of church teenagers taking mission trips to a poor country for a week's time to play with children in an orphanage, or well-meaning adults going to a 3rd world country to "help" with more than ...more
Amanda
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it
I did really enjoy the book, and thought it had some very valid points. Especially in "missions" overseas (which I would argue aren't necessarily a fulfillment of the Great Commission to go and preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations, but are rather humanitarian project) I wholeheartedly agree with the author. Much of what we do claiming it to be missions is humanitarian work. Humanitarian work is not wrong, but it is different than preaching the gospel and making disciples. While th ...more
Crysty
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: disaster-lit
If this were my first introduction to the contradictions of 'charity' this might be eye-opening, but found very little new insight. Lupton put a great deal of time distinguishing disaster and emergency aid from development work, with the latter being scrutinized, which seemed uninformed given that emergency relief has as many inherent flaws as an other helper-model. He also did not directly address the lurking motivation of many faith-based groups, which is to generate converts. To call-out the ...more
Max Cojevnicov
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Such an insightful book. So relevant and practical in this time of global crisis.
Tyler Collins
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Toxic Charity Reading Reflection (written for my Urban Ministry class taught by Pastor Tammy Carter)

As I have gotten older, I have often wondered how effective or meaningful many of the service opportunities that are presented to me are. I have wondered which ones are worth giving my time to. Which ones will produce lasting change? I have struggled with being far too busy with my own activities to really look into these questions or invest in those causes that do seem to be affecting real chang
...more
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Post 6 (Due 5/20) - Toxic Charity Chapters 6-7 1 2 May 08, 2019 11:40AM  
Post 5 (Due 5/13) - Toxic Charity Chapters 4-5 1 1 May 07, 2019 07:27AM  
Post 4 (Due 5/6) - Toxic Charity Chapters 1-3 1 1 Apr 29, 2019 05:28PM  
Ladies & Literature: Toxic Charity. 3 28 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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In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
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“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” 2 likes
“Mercy combined with justice creates:       •   immediate care with a future plan       •   emergency relief and responsible development       •   short-term intervention and long-term involvement       •   heart responses and engaged minds Mercy” 2 likes
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