Toxic Charity

In Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton presented a different way of looking at the many charities that exist today. Toxic Charity really opens one’s eyes to what is going on behind the scenes.  Charities are a big part of western civilization today.  It seems that just about everyone is involved with some sort of charity; the question that needs to be examined closer is: do they really help?

Lupton shows that charities can be a very toxic thing to the communities in which they are trying to help.  Charities are, at their core, great things because it engulfs a person’s desire to help and to give to those in need and shows that people do care for one another.  But, often times, the people in need are not the primary focus.

When it comes to charitable giving, people become consumed with the idea of giving that they don’t do anything to actually help the people in need.  It inadvertently becomes about the volunteers feelings of fulfillment in that they have helped someone less fortunate than themselves. Lupton explains this by using the example of a church mission trip.  He shows how people everywhere spend millions of dollars on mission trips each year; the resources they use could be put to better use.  The money used to cover the costs of travel and other expenses could be given to different organizations that could impact the community as a whole instead of supplying teenagers with a “feel good” trip that isn’t very effective in the long run. Also, the work done by a volunteer group is almost ten times more expensive than it would be for locals to engage in the work themselves.  By letting the locals do the specific jobs, it would build up the peoples pride and show them that they were capable of working through hard times; they would see that they did not need to lean on someone else and it would spark the economy in those areas.  The problem with giving is that, after a while, the recipients of the gifts begin to expect the help; they begin to feel as though they do not need to provide for themselves because others will satisfy all of their needs.  It becomes a feeling of entitlement.  They are, at first, greatly appreciative; then their gratitude turns to expectation and then to entitlement.

Another major aspect that Toxic Charity addresses is the emotional toll that “charity” has on the recipients.  In Lupton’s commentary of the Christmas day story, we see the type of effect that “harmless” giving has on the parents of young children.  People think that it is a wonderful thing to give to children who’s parents cannot afford to buy gifts for the holidays and it is, but how many people stop to think about what this does to the parents.  It causes extreme embarrassment because they cannot give their children the best; they have to rely on someone else to make their child happy and that is a powerful thing.  It is greatly demoralizing.  In this instance charity almost becomes a “perversion” of giving because it brings about a certain power that givers have over the recipients; it is a sense of superiority.  The givers often overlook this feeling, but it makes a lot of sense once one stops to think.  People who receive gifts, often seem to loose parts of themselves and cannot make eye contact or hold their heads high because they have that knowledge that they are living off of another’s good graces and cannot make it on their own.

Toxic Charity really portrayed a new way of looking at charities that never crossed my mind.  I have always thought that giving to others was the right thing to do because I have been blessed with so much.   But, Lupton really made me dive more into the situation.  It is amazing to step back and think about all of the factors that go on during charitable work.  Yes, it is good to give, but when is it too much.  Immediate help after a catastrophic event is a good and powerful thing, but when that outpouring of sympathy continues for years to come, it cripples communities because they never begin to actually rebuild and overcome what has happened to them.   Whether it is a charity on the home front of the US or in foreign countries, they need to examine more of what is best for the population that needs help.  They have to find that happy medium of giving, supporting, and building because too much of one can cause the whole infrastructure to crumble and all of the efforts will be in vain.

The main focus that charities must share in the future is not to just give to those in need, but to empower and develop communities that can take over the reins and become self-sufficient.  If people just do for others, then the no one will ever be any better off; it will just end in a short-term fix.  The key to long-term success is development of the people in need and strong strategic plans to ensure growth.


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