Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)  -     By: Robert D. Lupton
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Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)

HarperCollins / 2012 / Paperback

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Product Description

In Toxic Charity, Lupton urges individuals, churches, and organizations to step away from spontaneous, often destructive acts of compassion toward thoughtful paths to community development. He delivers proven strategies for moving from "toxic charity" to transformative charity.

Proposing a powerful "Oath for Compassionate Service" and spotlighting real-life examples of people serving not just with their hearts but with proven strategies and tested tactics, Lupton offers all the tools and inspiration we need to develop healthy, community-driven programs that produce deep, measurable, and lasting change. Everyone who volunteers or donates to charity needs to wrestle with this book.

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 four decades of urban ministry, Lupton has experienced firsthand how our good intentions can have unintended, dire consequences. Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency. We converge on inner-city neighborhoods to plant flowers and pick up trash, battering the pride of residents who have the capacity (and responsibility) to beautify their own environment. We fly off on mission trips to poverty-stricken villages, hearts full of pity and suitcases bulging with giveaways-trips that one Nicaraguan leader describes as effective only in "turning my people into beggars."

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 208
Vendor: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 8.25 X 5.50 X 0.52 (inches)
ISBN: 0062076213
ISBN-13: 9780062076212

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Publisher's Description

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 Urban Perspectives newsletter, and the author of Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, has been at the forefront of urban ministry activism for forty years. Now, in the vein of Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty, Richard Stearns’s The Hole in Our Gospel, and Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, his groundbreaking Toxic Charity shows us how to start serving needy and impoverished members of our communities in a way that will lead to lasting, real-world change.

Author Bio

ROBERT D. LUPTON is founder and president of FCS (Focused Community Strategies) Urban Ministries and author of Toxic Charity;  Theirs Is the Kingdom; Return Flight; Renewing the City; Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life; and the widely circulated “Urban Perspectives” newsletter. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Georgia.

To learn more, visit

Editorial Reviews

“Lupton says hard things that need to be said, and he’s earned the right to say them. Believers would do well to receive his words with the mindset that ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend.’”
“[Lupton’s] new book, Toxic Charity, draws on his 40 years’ experience as an urban activist in Atlanta, and he argues that most charitable work is ineffective or actually harmful to those it is supposed to help.”
“Lupton’s work, his books and, most importantly, his life continue to guide and encourage me to live and serve in a way that honors God and my neighbor. I highly recommend Toxic Charity.”
“Lupton’s book reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. He shows how the people called poor can be blessed by supporting opportunities for them to give their gifts, skills, knowledge and wisdom to creating the future.”
“A must-read book for those who give or help others.”
“In Toxic Charity, Lupton reminds us that being materialistically poor does not mean that there is no capacity, no voice, and no dignity within a person. If we truly love the poor, we will want to educate ourselves on how best to serve. Let our charity be transformative not toxic.”
“A superb book. Toxic Charity should serve as a guide and course correction for anyone involved in charitable endeavors at home or abroad.”
“Toxic Charity provides the needed counterbalance to a kind heart: a wise mind. Though I often thought, “Ouch!” while I was reading the book, Robert Lupton gave this pastor what I needed to become a more effective leader.”
“When Bob Lupton speaks of the inner city, the rest of us ought to sit up and take notice... [His work is] deeply distrurbing—in the best sense of the word.”
“Top 10 book of the year.”

Product Reviews

4.8 Stars Out Of 5
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4.8 out Of 5
(4.8 out of 5)
of customers would recommend this product to a friend.
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  1. 5 Stars Out Of 5
    Ignore the negatives: the positive message is first-rate
    October 16, 2016
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Lupton has a good presentation of the problems with "charity," going well beyond the conventional wisdom about "teaching someone to fish" instead of "giving them a fish." As motivated youngsters ramp up their efforts to prove themselves as a strategy to get admitted to top universities, these issues will become more and more relevant. But in the end, I think his presentation on the subject is less than balanced. I simply do not agree that most shallow, impersonal charity is toxic. It just isn't all that effective, and isn't what we are called to do as Christians.

    What is really persuasive is his discussion of the long term approaches to community transformation which have been proven in some communities, especially in the Southern U.S. where he works. The kind of approach he advocates, building on the strengths of the community to create successful structures within the community pursuing strategies against poverty, has a good track record and a strong theoretical justification. It has practicality and morality on its side. And it is beginning to be recognized as a real improvement over top-down private charity or government programs.

    Lupton writes in a lively, engaging style with head-on confrontation of the moral and institutional complexities. His examples are superbly chosen and explained in human, understandable detail. All of them are telling, and some are moving. I would have liked more evidence of understanding of economic constraints, but he stays within the world of the realistic so my complaint is more of a quibble.
  2. Arlington, WA
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Good ideas, very truthful
    October 17, 2013
    Ministers wife
    Arlington, WA
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Looking back over our years in the ministry of 45 years, I see where we made so many of the mistakes that Mr. Lupton spoke about. Christians always want to help and give and we need to learn more about the areas to serve and what is best in the giving. Is it going to help the recipients or are we just enabling them more because it makes us feel better as Christians that we helped? I passed the book on to the Deacon in charge of benevolence at our congregation. All in all, I found it very interesting and informative.
  3. 4 Stars Out Of 5
    July 31, 2013
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    Lupton brings to light the need for churches and individuals tp seek what is God's will for those in need. Christians want to help the poor and that is Biblical, but giving a man a fish is temporary relief while teaching a man to fish results in eliminating need.
  4. Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Are Our Efforts Effective?
    April 10, 2013
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Robert Lupton has been engaged in urban-renewal efforts for over 40 years and brings his expertise to light in this excellent book. It seems that Toxic Charity is often mentioned in the same breath as When Helping Hurts - after having read both, this makes a lot of sense. Both came out roughly around the same time and both deal with the question of "Are our efforts to alleviate poverty actually working?" The answer that both books give is "no".

    This is a difficult thing to hear, as many of us (myself included) regularly give to and work with various charities and have gone on different service and missions trips. While Toxic Charity doesn't write these endeavors off completely, Lupton does point that that Africa has received billions in aid over the past several decades and is seemingly in a worse position. Churches will spend 1000s of dollars to send a group of under-qualified volunteers to do work in a foreign land that the locals could easily do. We pass out free clothing and food locally, without knowing the folks we're trying to help and not realizing that our basic one-size-fits-all solution of hand-outs isn't the most effective thing we could be doing to help.

    Obviously we do these things because we care - so instead of beating ourselves up over possibly being too in-effective (I've gone on two short term missions trips myself), maybe we should start asking the question of "How can we work with the poor?" instead of wondering how much money is needed to fix a certain problem. Like with any issue, it's good to be able to take a step back and ask difficult questions and if you're looking to challenge yourself with your understanding of aid/charity/missions etc, then I would highly recommend you picking up this book. While it's written by a Christian and mostly to a Christian audience, it would also be useful to non-Christians who give/participate in charity endeavors.
  5. Clintonville, WI
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Food for Thought
    April 3, 2013
    Clintonville, WI
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    This was a very good book on the subject of charitable giving and work. The basic premise is that one should consider the person/ people who are receiving the charity. After emergency charity, one can strive to help the people help themselves and that will help motivate them to continue to work to solve their problems themselves. Basically this is "a hand up is better than a hand out" after the emergency is over.
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