Charity Detox by Bob Lupton is a book that examines the traditional approach to charity and philanthropy and how it often does more harm than good. The book looks at how charity can be used to perpetuate poverty and how it can be used to create lasting change.
Lupton argues that the framework of a healthy society is based on its economic stability, and that charity should focus on creating self-reliance and building relationships between giver and receiver. He outlines five steps to dependency: Appreciation, Anticipation, Expectation, Entitlement, and Dependency. Traditional charity adds to all five. “Detoxing” means making sure your charity does not contribute to any of those five.
The book also looks at how businesses can use their resources to alleviate poverty, and how nonprofits can borrow business methods to reassess their work and move away from traditional models of charity.
Lupton discusses issues of gentrification in cities, as well as the turn to for-profit missions as a new form of international development. He also looks at how charities and non-profit organizations can start measuring the effectiveness of their mission model, such as self-reliance, relationship, spiritual results, and computerized systems of accountability.
Overall, Charity Detox provides an insightful look into the traditional approach to charity and how it can be used to create lasting change. It offers practical advice on how to measure the effectiveness of charitable giving and how to create self-reliance and build relationships between giver and receiver.
What I Liked
I loved that this book exists. He’s systematic at showing how the traditional charity & nonprofit space is. He’s also done a lot of thinking on how traditional charities can reform themselves.
The book is readable, fast, and engaging.
What I Did Not Like
Ok, I hate to rain on this book’s parade because I think the book is a real winner that should be on everyone’s list. But I really hate that he left out two massive, obvious, key statements. And I hate that he left them out since they are obvious corollaries to his entire book.
First – the nonprofit & traditional charity economy should be much, much smaller.
I hate even writing that statement, because I, like most people, know that there’s massive need in the world that must be solved. And traditional charities are the intuitive candidate to solve that need.
But…he thoroughly shows that just because traditional charities say they can help…doesn’t mean that they do.
The book provides plenty of ideas to reform & change traditional charities. But many of his ideas seem like big Rube Goldberg money machines that just seem complicated ways of, umm, doing business?
And many of the ideas that do work already have organizations in that space and don’t really need more charities. For example, Goodwill is amazing. Local land trusts are amazing. But both of those charitable models only work because they have scale. Neither work if a million little guys chip away at their donation base.
So if the nonprofit and traditional charity economy needs to be much, much smaller…but there’s still massive need out there…what should be bigger?
Taxes, taxes, taxes. Like the economist Rutger Bergman said, it’s like Bob Lupton wrote a whole book about how we’re catching our houses on fire and making the fire worse and worse without ever talking about water. It’s super, super bizarre.
The answer is taxes funding efficient, proven, cheap, equal, by-right income top-ups (whether through a program or the tax code) that allow people of every race, class, background, and skill level to have & hold a dignified job or run a business without worrying about market failures in sectors like health, housing, food, transportation, and the environment.
Bob Lupton shows how so much of the charity space is made up of people giving money to their pet projects…to be administered by highly paid professionals…to solve a problem that should not exist in the first place in a manner to alleviate the the symptoms of the problem without ever solving the problem in the first place.
He has some good ideas – but I wish had spent less time trying to reform the system of traditional charity and more time identifying politically sustainable ways to solve the underlying problems instead of reforming a broken system.
Here are a few pages that I took notes on.