As you may have read, the verdict is in—Compassion’s child sponsorship really works!

For some, a follow-up question to whether or not sponsorship is effective is whether or not it’s ethical. One concern people have is if using a child to raise funds is exploitive—are we taking advantage of children by using their images to get donations? Is sponsorship more about making donors feel good than helping children? Is sponsorship really just a slick fundraising model?

Images of hope

First things first: The photos Compassion uses are of individual children who are receiving the benefits of sponsorship. Caregivers of each child grant consent for their child’s photo to be used and understand that the photos may be used for marketing purposes.

What’s more, we don’t just want the caregivers’ consent, we want to know that each mom would be proud to see the photo we use of her child. We believe in the dignity of each individual, so we don’t use photos that would make parents feel ashamed or embarrassed. Instead, we strive to use photos that a dad would look at and proudly say, “That’s my daughter!”

It is important to communicate the dire needs that exist around the world. In order to be compelled to act, we need to know that urgent action is necessary. That’s why we’ve all seen what’s called “the pornography of poverty”—pictures showing the extreme need of children living in poverty.

These needs are real, and many children’s situations are desperate.

But we find that in today’s world, many people realize serious needs exist. What they don’t always realize is that there is hope for change. And there is most certainly hope. According to UNICEF, in twenty-one years, the number of children who die before the age of five has dropped by more than 40 per cent. At Compassion, we witness young people graduate to become self-supporting responsible adults regularly.

That’s why at Compassion, we strive not to shock you with the pornography of poverty but to surprise you with the hope that’s popping up all over the world every day.

Sponsorship through Compassion is about empowering children

Some people argue that sponsorship is more focused on making donors feel good than on helping children—a way of “buying happiness.” Receiving joy from helping a child escape from poverty is not a bad thing. When we respond to the biblical mandate to help those in need, we find fulfillment and even blessing—”whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

But at Compassion, our mission isn’t to give donors a chance to feel good; it is to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. That’s what drives us every day. We are engaged in a serious battle to give children living in unthinkable circumstances a chance. Sponsorship not only gives sponsors a chance to “refresh” others—it allows children to develop their potential and escape poverty.

Sponsorship isn’t just a way to raise funds

There’s no doubt that sponsorship as a funding model motivates donors—when people see one child in need whom they can help, they are compelled to act. While that’s one practical reason for adopting a sponsorship model, there is integrity in our approach to sponsorship because the heart of our ministry is developing individual children.

Compassion’s ministry is deeply personal. We’re uniquely focused on transforming individual children’s lives. We not only give children the opportunity to receive education, health care and other basic necessities, but we also help children grow socially. They learn healthy ways to interact with others. And children develop cognitively as they learn skills they’ll need to become self-supporting adults.

We also help children develop emotionally. What do emotions have to do with getting out of poverty? A lot. A child who doesn’t have hope, who doesn’t think he has worth, who doesn’t believe he has anything good to offer is less likely to escape poverty.

That’s why we take the relationship between a sponsor and a child so seriously at Compassion. The relationship not only helps a sponsor connect with a real-life child in need and learn more about another culture, it helps the child learn and grow. To know there is a sponsor in another country who cares about him, prays for him and writes him words of encouragement makes a huge difference in his life. In fact, independent, academic research conducted by Dr. Bruce Wydick showed that sponsor expectations determined children’s own expectations of themselves more than any other factor, even their own parents’ expectations.

Sponsorship isn’t a way to raise funds—it’s an integral part of helping children become the people God created them to be.

Next: Does sponsorship encourage paternalism and dependency?

Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld

Amber Van Schooneveld is the Managing Editor of Compassion International's blog.