Book Review: Charity Detox
What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results
By Robert D. Lupton
I handed the homeless man a dollar, and he responded warmly. Still, I walked away feeling uneasy, wondering if I’d helped the man or simply made myself feel good. This insight was gained from reading Robert Lupton’s new book, Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results. Lupton is a Christian community developer who founded FCS Urban Ministries. He has been working for 40 years in inner-city Atlanta, creating a number of successful initiatives, and he’s the author of Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It.
In his latest work, Lupton continues his mission to transform the way charities operate. Most efforts to help relieve poverty are ineffective, he says, and worse, can inadvertently sabotage the very communities they are trying to assist. “One would think that the tons of food, mountains of clothing, incalculable hours of service, and billions of dollars . . . would move the poverty needle. They do not,” he says. Because most charities, Lupton notes, operate in crisis mode—they swoop in and take care of short-term needs. While this is lifesaving work during an emergency, it isn’t a helpful model for sustained aid. Lupton shares several keys to success. One is to ask charity recipients what they need, instead of making assumptions. Two, involve the people we are serving, because “everyone, however dysfunctional or impaired they may be, has something to offer. Dignity comes from feeling useful.” For example, a community food co-op can help its clients develop job skills and a sense of pride, while a food pantry that just hands out food can promote entitlement and hopelessness. Third, he says, provide investment funds and business advice—not a suitcase of old clothes and candy. The road to charity hell has been paved with good intentions, but Lupton provides an inspiring roadmap for an alternate route.