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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,231 Ratings  ·  417 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
ebook, 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
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
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kirk Battle
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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"
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity 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
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
Tim Ervolina
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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
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
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
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
Laura Cheifetz
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ian Wood
Aug 08, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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-
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
Ben Yosua-davis
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"the poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it , be inspired by it, and build upon it" (pg. 191). I liked a lot of what Lupton had to say in this book. I appreciate the idea of helping communities to be more resilient and care for themselves. I also agree with the do no harm community development--not just giving free clothes, gifts, and food because we pity those who live in those community, but because we truly want to see people be prideful of their communities, ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Alex Mayfield
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.
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Ladies & Literature: Toxic Charity. 3 27 Jun 27, 2012 08:36AM  
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
  • The Externally Focused Church
  • Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development
  • Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development
  • Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
  • Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road
  • The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity
  • Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
  • From Brokenness to Community
  • Building a Discipling Culture
  • 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics
  • Modern Art & Death of a Culture
  • Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things
  • Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
  • A Theology as Big as the City: The Case for Natural Law
  • Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
  • Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
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...

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“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
“When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.” 1 likes
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