Giving Compass' Take:
- Christen Brandt and Tammy Tibbetts explain why donors should move away from child sponsorship models for supporting students.
- How can we spread awareness surrounding the pitfalls of child sponsorship models? What can we do to find more equitable, effective alternatives?
- Read more about priorities and issue areas in education philanthropy.
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Among nonprofits that serve children in impoverished areas, “child sponsorship” is a tried-and-true fundraising and communications model: The donor receives the name, photo, and biographical details of the individual student they’re supporting, and in most cases, the student writes letters to the sponsor, thanking them and sending updates about their life and studies.
In 2009, when we co-founded She’s the First (STF), we relied on this model to fund scholarships for girls. The model seemed logical: Donors wanted to support an individual girl, and organizations worldwide needed the money. From an economic perspective, this has always been a little murky. Clearly, organizations need more than 70 cents a day to put a dent in poverty! In the case of STF, we actually did restrict the cash to girls’ scholarships, which created an enormous challenge to raise our own operating funds.
That was our first concern with the sponsorship model we had built: It limited our ability to fundraise for operations, or even for programs outside of the sponsorship program itself. At first, we brushed this aside, assuming that the model was the easiest and best way to raise money overall, even if it was inconvenient.
The exchange of a girl’s profile for a donation also raised ethical questions. We met girls who didn’t ever hear from their sponsors, and we squirmed uncomfortably on the many occasions a donor would refer to a student as “my girl.” We were working against a system that viewed girls as objects, and yet this model subtly reinforced that very idea.
In the end, human dignity is the most important consideration. If you are committed to eradicating systems of inequity, a sponsorship model actually undermines the ground you stand on. Sponsorship models are based on the very power dynamics we wanted to change.
Read the full article about child sponsorship models by Christen Brandt and Tammy Tibbetts at Stanford Social Innovation Review.