Guidelines and Resources for Healthy Sponsorship Programs

You’ve seen the images hanging on the wall in your church sanctuary, smiling out from social media squares, or attached with a brightly-colored magnet to your friend’s refrigerator:  the precious faces of children from around the world receiving support through a child sponsorship program.

Perhaps your own heart was pricked by their sweet faces, and you’ve signed up to make a modest monthly contribution so a child can go to school, eat healthy meals each day, and receive critical medical care. Now a photo shines from your refrigerator, too.

As followers of Jesus, we engage in sponsorship programs because we yearn for the good of children – particularly those who are most vulnerable. However, like any intervention on behalf of our neighbors in need, sponsorship has tremendous potential for both good and harm.

On the one hand, while research on sponsorship programs is limited, studies like those from Dr. Bruce Wydick have suggested that well-run sponsorship programs “may be among the most effective methods for mobilizing resources to benefit children in developing countries.”  On the other, many sponsorship programs are not run nearly so well planned or operated as those researched by Dr. Wydick; and some have been accused of being deceptive, ineffective, or worse.  

Little wonder that thoughtful leaders in the field of child welfare have long grappled with what sponsorship programs at their best ought to look like. Immense financial resources are marshaled by sponsorship programs. According to data provided to CAFO by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, among evangelical organizations alone, sponsorship accounted for more than $944 million in support for child welfare programs worldwide. Yet organizations have often operated without any agreed-upon guidelines or shared principles of good practice.  

Over the past year, CAFO convened a diverse group of practitioners, experts, and organizations from across the field who came together to see if that could be changed.  These leaders — representing a wide spectrum of organization sizes and regions of the world — sought to hammer out consensus principles on some of the most important issues in child sponsorship, from child protection policies and financial integrity to ethics in storytelling. 

It wasn’t easy. But ultimately, they succeeded.  Together, the working group articulated first-of-their-kind principles for wise and effective sponsorship programs. 

The resulting resource created by the CAFO Research Center is titled Guidelines for Healthy Sponsorship Programs.  It outlines areas of critical importance in sponsorship programs and offers guiding principles for each. Every principle is also paired with questions designed to help both sponsorship programs and donors think critically and creatively about how best to meet the needs of the vulnerable. For those who want to dig a bit deeper, the included audit, case studies, and toolkit provide further practical next steps for each topic. 

Whether you are part of leading a sponsorship program or support a child through one – we invite you to consider these questions and engage in these conversations together. It’s only through intentional dialogue that we can refine our approach and spur one another on, seeking together to provide the best for children around the world.

For more information, visit the CAFO Research Center’s Sponsorship resource page.