Toxic Charity

How the Church and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It

Our local police chief has been taking some heat since he and other city officials began to use the term “toxic charity.” The term toxic charity was coined by Robert Lupton in his book Toxic Charity: How the Church and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It.

Robert Lupton is an Altanta Christian community developer and an entrepreneur who brings together communities of resource with communities of need. He is the founder of Focused Community Strategies.

The notion behind toxic charity is that giving something without receiving value in return leads to dependency. Why this should be at all controversial is beyond me.

There is, however, a difference between providing aid in the event of an emergency and providing aid for chronic problems. While hunger is a chronic problem, it is not usually an emergency situation and when it is, it’s easy to recognize and handle.

Food in our society is a chronic poverty need, not a life-threatening one. And when we respond to a chronic need as though it were a crisis, we can predict toxic results; dependency, deception, disempowerment.

Noble motives do not always translate into effective outcomes.

Charity creates dependency. Thus, charity disempowers its recipients and does not lead to lasting improvement.

The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise. But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.

Creating responsibility and self-sufficiency are hallmarks of a more desirable outcome.

The issue, of course, is that no one wants to question the motives of someone intent on helping someone else. However, it’s not motives that anyone questions, it’s the results.

From a policing perspective, it must be frustrating to, on one hand, being asked to keep the homeless from becoming a public nuisance while simultaneously watching as local charity services support homelessness by creating dependency.

The argument is partially over the homeless have the “capacity” to help themselves due to their circumstances. Lupton’s response is “the poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.”

Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.

So what to do? Here’s a short news report from WOOD TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan that shows some of the concepts Lupton has proposed in action.

Toxic charity: How giving can be more hurtful than helpful

Doing something for someone else may make the giver feel good, but it could actually hurt the other person. (Feb. 23, 2017)

Mr. Lupton is quite a prolific speaker and there are numerous videos on YouTube that you might find interesting.


  • I will never do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves.
  • I will limit one-way giving to crises and seek always to find ways for legitimate exchange.
  • I will seek ways to empower by hiring, lending, and investing and offer gifts as incentives to celebrate achievements.
  • I will put the interests of those experiencing poverty above my own even when it means setting aside my own agenda or the agenda of my organization.
  • I will listen carefully, even to not what is being said knowing that unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to healthy engagement.
  • And, above all, to the best of my ability,  I WILL DO NO HARM.
Dr. Ben Carson is trying to do a similar thing on the national level with his EnVision Centers. You can read more in my previous article Dr. Carson Tells Poor People ‘Fix Your Own Toilet!’
Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

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