Assumptions, Asking, and Child Sponsorships: Fundraising for Orphan Care or Vulnerable Children Organizations

By Sherry Quam Taylor

“It’s easier for nonprofits who serve ‘cute kids’ to secure donations.”

Have you ever heard this statement?

It’s an interesting comment I hear from nonprofit leaders who don’t work in the orphan care/vulnerable children space. I understand their assumptions—we’ve all felt compelled to act when presented with these needs. But I see things a bit differently. Here’s why:

  • There are thousands of nonprofits serving vulnerable kids as the need both domestically and overseas is great. Therefore, individual organizations must do more to stand out and be unique.

  • A lot of the monies are sent overseas. For some donors, overseas giving creates suspicion, some of it valid, some not. There are typically more questions in a donor's mind before they’ll give their best gift.

  • When 100% of your program work is performed overseas, it’s nearly impossible to use masses of volunteers. This also means the majority of your donors will never touch/see/interact with the kids you serve. So, heart ties need to be created in other ways. Not as easy as it seems.

Given all that, I think you can see why fundraising for orphan care and vulnerable children isn’t easy, no matter how many “cute kid” pictures are on their appeal envelopes.

The truth is, there are real fundraising challenges facing nonprofits who serve in this space. So, what’s an organization with a profile like this to do? How do you get fully funded, so you can truly pursue your mission fully? Let’s look at a few areas of consideration:

Sponsorships Are Not Enough

Recently World Vision flipped the script on child sponsorships. It likely passed by your news feed as it was worthy of the attention. This is a big, monumental shift in the world of child sponsorships. In essence, the children World Vision serves now hold the control of selecting who sponsors them. I like this strategy for a big organization like World Vision, but for small nonprofits, is a monthly sponsorship program the right fundraising strategy?

If you’re an organization raising less than $900K annually, with 3 or fewer paid staff members, then I would suggest designing and launching your mid- and major-level gift programs first.

Weigh these concepts before you start a Sponsorship Program:

  • Child sponsorship programs with 1:1 assignments are highly time-consuming. Time is money in this situation - so every hour you spend fundraising must result in the size gifts you can see and feel on the bottom line. And when 75% of your funds should be coming from your top 30 donors, you’re going to want to make sure you have that plan and strategy secure first.

  • These donations are often restricted. And for you to grow your nonprofit, you need the majority of your giving to be unrestricted.

  • Will launching a child sponsorship program leave money on the table? Maybe. Your goal is to secure a donor’s best gift. I find many mid- or major-level donors have been asked to sponsor kids instead of giving their best gift. So, people who can write $10,000 checks are being asked to give $25 per month.

You can’t grow your organization into its founding mission if the programs and admin and fundraising aren’t all funded. And typically, the sponsorship model is focused solely on programs.

So, when you’re small, this model tends to fragment your need - by not presenting the true and full need of your organization in its entirety. The admin and staff time it takes to run your sponsorship program needs to be factored into your need.

This might be hard to hear, I know. There are lots of things I love about this type of fundraising program, too. But I don’t love it as a small organization’s lead strategy. I’m not saying you should drop your sponsorship program - I’m saying you need to have a mid- and major-gifts plan, too. Be cautious when something seems like ‘easy money’ in fundraising – because there’s no such thing.

Maximize Your Fundraising Time

I recently asked a Development Director who was taking my 90-Day Fundraising Accelerator how much time he was spending on one-on-one gift solicitation and cultivation meetings (in essence, his major gift portfolio).

The answer:

“I’m really not doing it at all because my time is taken up by our Monthly Sponsorship Program.”

I loved his honesty – but even more, I loved his openness to change his time allocation!

The truth is, you must start doing the things that generate the size donations that will fund your mission. AND you must stop doing the things that take too much time and have stalled your growth.

This is the only way you will get time back in your schedule – by maximizing every hour you spend fundraising. This means not spending all your fundraising time on the types of quick-fix fundraising schemes don’t lead to the size gifts that will fully fund your programs and mission.

If you are running a small organization, YOU (nonprofit leader) are one of the most important assets to your organization. So, every hour you spend fundraising MUST result in larger sized gifts.

How do you know if you’re spending time on the wrong types of fundraising activities? Here’s a quick checklist:

  • If you are spending more time on events/appeals than on 1-on-1 meetings

  • If you have lots of small donors vs. a wide range of gift amounts (or any large gifts)

  • If you’ve done more grant submittals than individual 1-on-1 solicitations this year

  • If your Top 10 donors don’t add up to at least 25-40% of your revenue

Then you might need a time shift. What can you do instead? Focus on building investment-level relationships with 20-50 donors who can give you investment-level gifts. Don’t know who those people are? Then start meeting with the most connected people you know – they can lead you to your mid- and major-level donors. When you learn how to do that, you’ll move toward FULLY FUNDED.

My passion and methodology is to empower leaders see the things they need to stop doing so that they can repurpose that time and energy to the fundraising activities that will help them grow. Because if you can do this, you have the funds to serve more people.

‘Ask For’ & ‘Raise To’ Your True Need

Lastly, if you’re running a nonprofit where the programs happen overseas, sometimes it can be even harder to fully fund your organization. I hear comments all the time like, “Our programs are funded, but nobody wants to fund our admin or staff.”

If you have this problem, you have to ask yourself: Are you fundraising to your budget, or to your need?

Because raising to your need is the only way to move into the next level of existence and fully fund your entire nonprofit.

So that means not just establishing the cost of an overseas project solely based on the cost overseas. You must factor in your staff time and the resources it will take to accomplish the project stateside.

That is the only way you’ll fund your programs, admin, and fundraising. It’s a simple and practical approach – but I work with so many groups who aren’t doing this and they are struggling with funding.

To do this, every year organizations must formulate and present the budget to stakeholders to enhance the development strategy. Your donors will grow accustomed to hearing about current needs today and your needs next year—this also helps them see their giving as an annual commitment to the organization. And this is the key to donor retention.

Success in this area requires the entire team in a forward-pushing mindset of growth. Your passion to grow your organization is contagious; donors would rather invest in a forward-moving mission instead of helping a nonprofit out of a challenging or stuck situation.

Have you truly established your organization’s financial need—one that would actually propel growth? Do your top donors know your true need and their crucial role in your organization year after year? Push into these activities and conversations, and you’ll find donors ready and willing to help.


Sherry Quam Taylor teaches nonprofit leaders how to pivot from small-dollar donations to securing larger, investment-level donations so they can finally fund their missions. The leaders she works with are experts in their field, but when it comes to individual donor fundraising, they’ve simply never been trained on how to do it, so it feels uncomfortable and frustrating. She helps them learn the exact steps to launch a mid- and major-level gift program that feels comfortable, involves less dread, and fully funds their mission for the long-haul. She does this nationally through her private coaching and her 90-day LET’S GROW fundraising accelerator.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.