Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton

This book is part of a long list of books I read over the last year or so and I’ve been meaning to review. Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton is one of the best books I have read that deals with the challenge of churches and charities who can actually be doing more harm than good through some of their initiatives. The subtitle of the book is “How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How To Reverse It).” I love the fact that he doesn't just point out an issue, but he also suggests methods for addressing it.

The book doesn’t point fingers to specific initiatives, but rather deals with broad-stroke systemic problems that often plague groups who have the best of intentions but may actually be doing damage to others. In one section of the book, Lupton states, “Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”

What I appreciate most about this book is that Lupton is not a theorist. He has been in the trenches working to fight urban poverty in the United States for many years. I also appreciate that the content and subject matter apply to a wide array of contexts, including international arenas. He doesn’t just limit his content to that of a practioner in a local context but takes time to draw on universals as well as the findings and views of others including the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo denotes in her book Dead Aid.

I believe that churches and charities (and individuals who participate in charitable enterprises through the contribution of their time, talents, or resources) would benefit from giving this book a read. I further believe that the contents of this book would benefit both those inside and outside the arena of faith based service initiatives.

But if you can’t read the book, there is an incredible oath/commitment he encourages individuals and institutions to take that could reverse systemic problems that exist to date.

Here are the principles as some food for thought.

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served
  • Listen closely to htose you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service
  • Above all, do no harm
And as I said before, if you can grab a copy—do so. And even better, if you happen to be able to hear Lupton speak, take advantage of the opportunity. I have not had had the opportunity myself, but I have friends who have, and they were given much to think about in their philanthropy and service for others.

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