Child Sponsorships – a Wonderful Fundraising Instrument (4/2014)

This blog entry is an English translation of my article on

Plan International has more than three hundred thousand of them, World Vision still half of it, and SOS Children’s Village has become the most successful German charity with their help – child sponsors.

No question, Germans love child sponsorships. No matter whether their sponsoring is funding joint projects or communities – as is the case with most major child sponsorship organizations – or whether the sponsoring really goes to the individual children, e.g. in form of school fees. Through sponsorships people can do what they – as we fundraisers have long known – prefer to do: giving to people – changing personal lives.

What we otherwise are trying to build through storytelling, happens by itself. By communicating with their sponsored children, donors are participating directly in the life of another person. The stories do not have to be told, the donor is part of the story.

And as if by magic something else happens, which makes the donor happy. They feel to belong – being part of the community of children, village, charity and donors, painting a small patch of earth green.

And the charities? They love sponsorships as well. Nowhere is the bond to the donor so strong, nowhere donations pour in so continuously (on average eight to nine years) and predictably. Child sponsors are not only emotional, but also interested donors. They talk about their child and his/her progress – as they would do with their own children. Children sponsors are excellent multipliers!

Remain some serious counter-arguments. There is hardly a more costly fundraising tool. For small organizations sponsorships mean “only” a lot of volunteer work. But in professional organizations often a third of the sponsorship fee is needed for the communication between sponsors and children.

Is this reprehensible? Only if the donor does not know this fact and is suggested that one hundred percent of donations would benefit his/her sponsored child. If the sponsor is aware of the administrative burden everything is fine. In this case, the sponsor is willing to pay exactly the additional amount for the direct communication with the child.

Sponsorships support individual children. Such is the basic idea. That means in reverse: other children – for example from the same village – are not supported. This will lead to social tensions in every community. Therefore, large organizations nowadays use sponsorships to build up and support the whole community which the children belong to.

But even the classic individual help for children – as still realized by many small organizations – is not per se unethical. However, the selection of children must not be done externally, subjectively or by random. If the children are selected by authorities, that have been elected or are recognized by the community (e.g. chiefs) and according to predefined criteria (e.g. need, academic performance), then the help is accepted and welcomed. And by a variety of ways (e.g. by an overall higher income of the village community) everyone is benefiting.

Sponsorships illustrate in a wonderful way that each charity has two clients. On the one hand, the people whom they are serving according to its mission in the best possible way. On the other hand, those who make this help possible. And who – by doing so – want to make themselves as happy as possible, the donors.

Many donors feel happiest as child sponsors. I am delighted they do.