Before You Sign up for a Child Sponsorship, Read This...
Have non-profits duped us into thinking we are heroes of charity?
"Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”
― Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help
It is a familiar feeling…that of guilt.
When you are scrolling social media and a gut-wrenching story is being told by a non-profit organization, it feels like you should stay and engage. From sex trafficking in Malaysia to child soldiers in DRC to forced labor on coffee plantations in Brazil, there is constantly a global crisis to follow.
Add natural disasters and social disparities to a long list of honorable humanitarian causes, and donor fatigue sets in quickly.
Non-profit organizations (NPOs) have become incredibly skilled in telling their stories. They know that humans are moved by story, and that in positioning donors as the heroes of the story mobilizes financial support.
I don’t at all wish to discount the important role humanitarian organizations have in providing immediate relief to crisis situations around the globe. However, with the NPO sector contributing over $1 Trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016 alone, and with around 1.54 million nonprofits registered to the United States Internal Revenue Service, one has to wonder if our charitable dollars are actually being used responsibly (Source: National Center for Charitable Statistics).
We have felt a burden to lower our administrative costs and be as transparent with our fundraising as possible since the day Kindred Exchange received its tax-exempt status. It is with an honest heart I tell you that managing financial resources, monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of programs, and communicating the backend of nonprofit management is not an easy task.
It is necessary, however, to try. And at Kindred Exchange, we are committed to evidence-based practices and responsible donor relationships before we are committed to our payroll.
Now that we have the awkward money talk behind us, let’s shift to a more fun topic of donor relations: DESIGN.
There are many ways that global organizations have tried to connect patrons and beneficiaries. Sponsorship programs are popular, and organizations like Compassion International have had huge success in sharing updates from children in under-resourced communities with sponsors in the West.
Under the critique of paternalistic relationships, however, World Vision shifted its sponsorship model to offer a way sponsored children could exercise their agency in choosing their own sponsor. You can watch the promotional video here.
As an organization, Kindred Exchange has attempted both of these models. For the Uganda cohort we’re currently training, we offered campaigns highlighting each of our entrepreneurs (with permission) and invited sponsors to support their education. The paternalism still unfortunately exists with this model.
Before we physically traveled to Uganda in July 2022, we also invited the entrepreneurs to choose their own partner for our week together. We were hopeful this would position our work more humbly in the eyes of our cohort, but there was a significant hesitancy asking for such direct personal advocacy from a group whose culture is so highly relational.
All in all, we’ve designed a third way to connect across cultures: a match system called Kindred Companions.
But first, our WHY: Social Support
Philosophers have long studied the impact of social support as a means of mitigating risks for poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, physical abuse, and sexual exploitation.
Studies have shown that low social support and lack of access to strong social networks are more frequently experienced by those in socio-economically disadvantaged groups
While I was in graduate school studying the relationship between social support constructs and community development, I was also a 4th grade public school teacher. I’ll never forget Damien’s* mother, who put warm flesh on the cold data analysis of my brutal statistics class.
Miranda* came to parent teacher conference and was visibly anxious about what she would hear from me about her son’s classroom performance.
As I bragged on her child and told her how impressed I was with his work, the tears welled up in her eyes. I reached my arm across the table and invited her to share what was going through her mind.
“I just want to help get my sons out of government housing,” she said, “but I can’t find the way.”
The next few months were a major learning curve for me as I saw just how challenging it was to find an employer with solid benefits. I pulled some connections at our local hospital to get her an interview in the food service arm, and we had to navigate...
•no internet (we used the public library to access the hospital HR page),
•no vehicle (we used my car for transportation), and
•no email address or previous references (we created a Gmail account and put mine and my husband’s different emails down for the 5 required references)
…just to be able to complete the job application.
The school year ended and I wasn’t sure what happened to Damien’s mom. We lost touch as I became pregnant and took a new job.
The next fall, however, as I welcomed my first child in that same hospital, it was Miranda* who delivered the hot meal to my recovery room.
Our faces both brightened with excitement to be in the same room together again, and I continue to cherish the memory of her voice in my ear.
“I got out, Mrs. Pinkston! I got my boys out. I found a house on a good street and my boys are doing so well. No more loud screaming from our neighbors or drugs around the corner…we’re in a good place because of this job.”
I’m no savior. Miranda’s work ethic, determination, and commitment to her children are the champions of this story.
I learned, however, that social bridges are powerful in scaffolding resources to those with poor networks and support.
Enter: Kindred Companions
I’ve spent the last 15 years asking the question, How can cross-cultural relationships be equitable, ethical, and meaningful?
Well, some version of that question at least. And there have been so many other questions that rubbed up against this theme.
Why does poverty still have a grip on our global society?
Why are our donor dollars not making a dent in global change?
Where are the innovative tactics to community development?
Is there any hope in making a difference in the world?
Who are the people we should be focusing on for social interventions?
The answer always boils down to a Miranda. It’s a person in front of us and his or her story.
Massive change is driven by loads of tiny touches. Just like you, I have been made into who I am today because of the people who nurtured me as an infant to the teachers who poured into me as a teenager to the individuals who have challenged me as an adult.
It wasn’t some magic program or some monumental class. Personal development is absolutely impacted by knowledge. But heart change and lifestyle impact? That has come through trusted individuals carrying me to my own next level of my best self.
With Kindred Companions, we seek to bridge the social, emotional, economic, and spiritual gaps needed to develop someone to be the change agent they wish to be in their community abroad.
And we believe that, through true companionship and kindred relationship, our own communities back home will be better served, as well. The mutual sharing of lives lived in different contexts promotes empathy, growth, and a stronger network of Christ’s love.
Join us as we embark on a social experiment — a purposeful conspiracy to connect our resources and our faith in a first-century kind of modern missions movement.