Child Sponsorship - what you need to know

Child Sponsorship - what you need to know

In a 2017 report of Canadian donors, 26% of people who donated to charity in the last year had given to some form of sponsorship (1). Some estimate that nine million children worldwide are sponsored. Meaning each year billions of donations are spent on charity sponsorship programs.

Yet many people don't fully understand how child sponsorship works. Charity websites suggest you pick a child with the same birthday or a child with similar interests. But donors need to dig deeper into charity sponsorship information. Fuzzy charity marketing can create a false impression that your donations sponsors a child, when in reality your donation is pooled to sponsor an entire community. Unfortunately, this lack of clarity leads to donors feeling misled. This can undermine trust in the charity sector.

So we did our homework, resulting in Ci’s 5 steps for child sponsorship. We hope this helps better explain how child sponsorship works and you pick the child sponsorship model that best matches your giving intent.

Step 1: Direct or indirect

Child sponsoring itself has two different methods. Most charities use the funds to improve the entire community the child lives in rather than targeting an individual child. Charity Intelligence estimates that over 80% of child sponsorship dollars donated in Canada go towards community-related programs rather than being directed to an individual child. With these charities, the sponsorship concept is more of a fundraising approach for a broader development initiative. However, some charities do give your donations directly towards a child. Often these direct sponsorship programs involve more of a donor commitment, as the child can become dependent on the sponsorship.

The first step is to choose what type of child sponsorship is right for you. If you are choosing a direct sponsorship, make sure you are ready to commit to the monthly cost. 

Step 2: Pick a country with low corruption and low development

Most child sponsorship programs offer the choice of which country you would like to sponsor a child in. In Ci's view, the ideal country for maximizing the potential impact of donor dollars would have low development (high need) and low corruption (higher chance that donated funds reach their intended purpose), what we call the “low-low” countries. We examined countries from around the world and found 14 countries that fall in the chosen low-low target area. These are all in sub-Saharan Africa. The second step is to choose one of these countries.

Step 3: Pick a charity, one with a high star rating and good or high impact

As with all giving, we recommend choosing a high Charity Intelligence rated charity. The third step is to pick a 5-star charity with high or good impact. Picking a great charity ensures that your donation is doing the most good.

Step 4: Choose your price

Although price may be something you immediately want to consider, only take cost into consideration on step four. Most charities have a monthly cost of around $30-$50.

Step 5: Finally pick a child

Ci has not found any research suggesting that sponsoring a specific type of child is more beneficial to the community. So now you are even allowed to pick a child with the same birthday as you.

And to make these even easier this giving season, we have included Ci’s top picks. For community or indirect child sponsorship, we recommend World Vision in any of the 7 “low-low” countries it operates. For direct sponsorship, we recommend choosing Chalice child sponsorship in Zambia.


Ci's recommendations for child sponsorship

The link takes you to Charity Intelligence report on the charity. To become a child sponsor, the link to the charity's website is listed at the bottom of this article.

Indirect child sponsorship:

World Vision Canada  child sponsorships in Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierre Leone

Direct child sponsorship:

Chalice Canada in Zambia

Compassion Canada in Burkina Faso and Rwanda

ERDO in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia

Analyst comment: There is scant research on child sponsorship. The research that does exist was written by charities that offered child sponsorships. No external and independent research was found in contrast to promotional information. Charity Intelligence cannot emphasize enough how important it is to read the fine print. Some of the biggest child sponsorship programs advertise with pictures of children, allowing donors to even pick a child's gender and age, despite having an indirect sponsorship model. This definitely causes donor confusion and is potentially misleading marketing. Donors deserve full and frank information to make giving decisions.


Charity Intelligence posted this article on Facebook April 20, 2022. We appreciate the public comments. Here's Andrew MacDonald's comment that we would love to see more research on:

I find it interesting as Ci you didn't comment on the first step more. The potential harm and short sightedness development wise for sponsoring a child directly.

With millions of dollars each year going to child sponsorship, we need to learn more about the good and the harm of the direct and indirect sponsorship models. A deeper conversation is needed about child sponsorship. If you know of high-quality, independent research on child sponsorship, please share with us.  


To be a child sponsorship, here are the website pages of the charities we recommend:

World Vision Child Sponsorship
Chalice Child Sponsorship
Compassion Child Sponsorship
ERDO Child Sponsorship

Statistics Canada Charitable giving by Canadians

Charities Aid Foundation, Canada Giving 2017 


2019 Melbourne Australia 2019 RMIT research team Impact Case Study, Changing Lives: An analysis of PLAN International's child sponsorship intensive study found a lack of quantitative data on how PLAN International's child sponsorship improved poverty, education, and health outcomes. This study found that PLAN International's programs did not appear to influence poverty significantly.  The key outcome is 90% of sponsored children have their birth registered benchmarked to an average 60%. Birth registrations help protect girls from child marriage and trafficking, and give children better access to education, health services, and legal protection. This shows PLAN International's program "difference" is birth registrations for 350,000 children. Relative to the US$436 million raised annually from donors for child sponsorship programs, a cost benefit analysis needs to be weighed. In addition, RMIT emphasized survey data was found to have large response bias and the findings are not causal.

2013 Wydick, Glewwy, Rutledge "Does child sponsorship work? A six-country study of impacts on adult life outcomes", Journal of Political Economy


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Legal disclaimer: The information in this report was prepared by Charity Intelligence Canada and its independent analysts from publicly available information. Charity Intelligence and its analysts have made endeavours to ensure that the data in this report is accurate and complete, but accept no liability.

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Charity Intelligence researches Canadian charities for donors to be informed and give intelligently. Our website posts free reports on more than 800 Canadian charities, as well as in-depth primers on philanthropic sectors like Canada’s environment, cancer, and homelessness. Today over 500,000 Canadians use our website as a go-to source for information on Canadian charities reading over 1.6 million charity reports. Through rigorous and independent research, Charity Intelligence aims to assist Canada’s dynamic charitable sector in being more transparent, accountable and focused on results.


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