How donors perceive child sponsorship is a mixed bag. Most feel it’s credible and legitimate, but also have concerns and don’t fully grasp how it works.

A new national study of 1,000 American charitable donors shows that 87% are aware of child sponsorship, but only 24% feel very familiar with it.

Child sponsorship is a primary means of fundraising used by large organizations such as World Vision, Save the Children, Compassion International, and Children International, but the model is also employed by scores of other organizations large and small, ranging from The Salvation Army to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

The Donor Mindset Study, conducted jointly by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, AZ) and Opinions 4 Good (Op4G, Portsmouth, NH), also asked donors their perceptions of sponsorship. What emerges is a mixed bag of truth and fiction; approval and concern.

Overall, 74% of all donors believe child sponsorship is a legitimate, credible way of helping children in need, although only 26% believe this strongly. Among people who are currently sponsoring a child, 98% believe it is legitimate and credible, but only 68% feel strongly about this – the other 30% harbor at least some doubts.

Most donors also accept that sponsors truly do get to have real, one-to-one contact with their sponsored child (22% believe this strongly; 42% somewhat). Ninety-five percent of current sponsors believe this.

The major child sponsorship organizations all offer a mechanism for donors to be able to visit their sponsored child. Although few will actually take advantage of this, it appears to serve as a sort of warranty for many donors – 81% say the ability to visit their sponsored child makes sponsorship more legitimate and believable.

Although these findings paint a picture of a fundraising model that most donors believe is credible and genuine, that picture would be incomplete without addressing concerns and misperceptions many donors hold about sponsorship.

For one thing, 64% of all donors say they have heard of problems or scandals related to sponsorship charities that make them question how genuine sponsorship is (although only 24% feel strongly about this). Even six out of ten current sponsors have these questions.

For another thing, although three out of four donors find sponsorship to be legitimate and credible, a majority (55%) still see it as mostly a gimmick to get support. Again, only 21% feel strongly about this, with 34% only somewhat believing this.

There is also significant confusion about how sponsorship actually works. Three out of four donors believe that despite what sponsorship organizations claim, the money given doesn’t really help one child – instead, it is used for the charity’s overall programs. While the major sponsorship organizations all pool sponsor funds to assist a larger project or community in a way that also helps the individual sponsored child, there are varying levels of transparency about this. Some organizations openly promote this, while others barely mention it. This appears to be causing confusion for many donors.

Seventy-seven percent of American donors wrongly believe that sponsored children have more than one sponsor (the major sponsorship organizations all state that each child has one sponsor). Even most current sponsors mistakenly believe this.

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, notes that this research portrays a charitable sector which needs to go beyond high levels of awareness and do more to build familiarity and comfort. “Most donors are aware of sponsorship and are generally positive toward it, but there is not a lot of real familiarity with how it works,” Sellers explained. “It’s notable that most donors don’t hold any of their positive or negative perceptions about sponsorship strongly, but only somewhat. That shows a lot of donors aren’t entirely sure of their position on child sponsorship.”

Sellers pointed out that there is significant interest in sponsorship, but also some obstacles. “We learned that among donors who have never experienced child sponsorship, one-third have considered sponsoring a child. That’s huge. Yet something is holding them back from taking that step. The interest is there, but so are doubts or concerns. It would be wise for sponsorship organizations to explore deeply what these obstacles are and how they can more effectively overcome them.”

The full report examines these donors perceptions more in-depth, especially according to donors’ personal experience with sponsorship. Please e-mail for a free copy of the full report.

About Grey Matter Research:
Grey Matter Research is a marketing research and consumer insights company located in Phoenix, Arizona. Grey Matter has extensive experience with research related to non-profit organizations, with numerous donor-supported organizations as clients. Grey Matter works directly with donor-supported organizations and in partnership with the fundraising, branding, and marketing services agencies that support them.

About Op4G:
Philanthropic online market research panel Op4G invites its panel members to participate in paid online research surveys, and then requires they donate a portion of their incentives – at least 25% and up to 100% – back to one of its 400-plus member non-profit organizations. Op4G’s unique approach to recruiting yields a highly engaged group of quality people who, as respondents, are dedicated to helping market research clients fulfill information needs. Since beginning client delivery in June 2011, panel members have donated over $425,000 to Op4G’s growing number of non-profit partners. Op4G is headquartered in Portsmouth, NH and operates globally.


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