I love a good title. One that is either catchy or provocative and double points to those that are both. Toxic Charity fits that bill. Though Robert Lupton commends people for being charitable, not all charity is created equal. More often than we’d care to admit, charity is toxic instead of the intended—transformative. Lupton looks at emotional price tags attached for those receiving and how “doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm.” Toxic charity produces dependency, deception, and disempowerment; opposed to transformative charity that has mutuality, reciprocity, and accountability.

We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity. Why do we miss this crucial aspect in evaluating our charitable work? Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.

Ouch. And the sting is so … stingy because it hits closer to home than I’d like to admit on both a personal and organized level.  When I am honest with myself about my charitable giving and volunteering, many have violated the basic principles he laid out – and have been more toxic than I’d care to admit. This is a challenging book to read, but it is not one without hope and does not merely poke holes. Read it to learn ways that you can be involved in the “corrective shift” Lupton hopes to start and has started at least with one reader.

Do you agree that charity can be toxic? What are your thoughts? Share them in the comment section.



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  1. Kat January 18, 2012 at 3:43 am - Reply

    Charity being toxic – certainly not something that I would have thought about before. Very thought provoking. I’ll definitely have to give that some thought. I am assuming this would lean more towards the “charity” work for those we know rather than charitable giving to an organization, right?

  2. Amy January 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    It would depend on how individual or chariable organization uses the money/donation. For example, he would say that a clothing closet where people can come and get things “for free,” though well intentioned is toxic. Instead would there be some way for them to either volunteer at the store or pay a small fee? Either of those ways would move it from being toxic to transformative. The book isn’t very long — I got it from the local library — see if it’s in your library. If nothing else, should provide some good conversation with John :)! Amy

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