Boston — The eyes of a destitute child from a poverty-stricken community gaze straight at you, silently imploring your aid. Only a few dollars per month would make him "your child."
The appeal is emotionally stirring. But it is now a familiar one -- appearing in scores of newspapers and magazines across the nation. The youngster is so small, so young, so in need of everything -- food, clothing, schooling, loving care. And he is looking directly to you for brighter future, a way to break out of the grinding poverty of a third-world country, an urban slum, an American Indian reservation, or Appalachia.
The words, too, are gripping: "Want to help save the world? You do it one child at a time"; "When you reach out to a child, you'll know the joy of being needed"; "let us introduce you to a child you can love and help"; "Send your love around the world"; "Fill our this check and save the children."
It's hard to turn the page and forget that face.
These ads have proved immensely persuasive. They have won over hundreds of thousands of readers in America and other nations who right now are sponsoring such needy youngsters and developing personal one-to-one relations with them through correspondence, gifts on special occasions, and even visits to meet "their children" far away.
For those who are still anticipating joining such a child sponsorship program , questions naturally spring to mind. Among them: Is this child's need as great as it is depicted? Is the sponsoring agency that is running the ad legitimate? If I sign on as a sponsor, will the money actually benefit "my" child? Should I contribute to this agency, or to another whose ad I have also seen? What distinguishes one from the rest?
Make no mistake. The needs of children in developing countries and in some parts of the United States are not exaggerated. A recent World Bank report says there are still some 800 million people, mostly in developing countries, living in "absolute poverty," a condition "beneath any reasonable definition of human decency." And the third world is where 80 percent of the world's children reside. Three-quarters ofthe people on earth do not have clean water to drink. The field director of one child sponsorship agency who worked for 10 years as a rural teacher in Latin America says: "Every place I go we are not even scratching the surface of the world hunger, child starvation, or child abandonment."
It is children who often suffer the most from war. It tears them from their homes and drives them into refugee camps with their parents. Worse still, it orphans many of them, and turns some into vagrants, abandoned on city streets to shift for themselves.
There are about 26 child sponsorship agencies now operating in the U.S. The 10 whose work is briefly summarized below are among the best known. Most were started modestly on the initiative of some compassionate individual who felt compelled to address the plight of children whose lives were shattered by war.
Instead of conducting emergency relief programs to snatch children from disaster, most of these groups today direct their main thrust at combating the poverty and lack of education and opportunities of third-world children.
The needs of these youngsters, their families, and communities are so great and varied that the agencies insist there is no overlapping or duplication of their programs. And each has hundreds of children waiting for sponsors.
"There is plenty of need to go around," one administrator says. Another agrees: "There is so much work to be done all over the world, if we had 100 more agencies, there would be no excess so long as they were properly run."
In many parts of third-world countries, another agency spokesman explains, "Poverty is not just lack of money. It's that people do not have opportunity to change their condition. They are trapped. A hopeless situation. So if we come in and provide a program to get the ball rolling, they have a chance."
Are the agencies that are soliciting your help on the up and up? Despite a push for legislation, Congress has never passed a law regulating private, voluntary child-sponsorship agencies. But as tax-free,nonprofit agencies, they must register with the US Internal Revenue Service. And they are subject to the same statutes regarding fraud and any other illegal activity that govern other organizations.
In addition, many states require charitable groups soliciting public funds within their borders to be licensed to do so and to comply with fairness rules. Some of these rules demand full disclosure -- the publishing by the agencies of an annual report stating how contributed funds have been spent. And they want also prohibit telephone solicitation. In enforcing these laws, a state attorney general can see that an agency is fulfilling its basic trusteeship responsiblity by using sponsors' contributions for children's benefit.
Also protecting the donor are two national rating agencies, the National Information Bureau Inc. (NIB) at 419 Park Avenue South, New York, N.T. 10016, and the Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. (CBBB) at 1515 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Va. 22209. They set standards for philanthropy. But they are not enforcement agencies. They issue advisory reports on national fund-raising organizations. Their reviews, however, are desk audits. They do no field inspections of agency operations.
Both of these nonprofit service organizations regularly publish a "wise giving" guide which includes their up-to-date ratings of groups that meet their standard as well as of those whose practices vary from them. These reports, as well as more detailed information on nonprofit fund-raising agencies, are free on request by the public.
But a prospective donor cannot rely on NIB or CBBB to recommend giving or not giving to any particular organization. They don't do that. Nor do they approve or disapprove of fund-raising agencies. They do not say that one is better than another. Their information is solely to help prospective donors exercise their own judgment wisely.
All child-sponsorship agencies are basically doing the same thing -- helping needy children. But because they have sprung up at different times and different places to meet the special needs of different groups of children, they offer the donor a wide range of choices, with some modes of operation diametrically opposed to others. Philosophies and methods of philanthropy vary widely from one agency to another. Some, for example, are openly evangelical, tying their charitable work closely to church activities. Others are strictly nonsectarian. Some help children in institutional settings such as orphanages and schools. Others help children in their home settings.
As agencies have gained experience, maturity, and expertise, some have begun shifting their emphasis from the traditional sponsorship formula -- the monthly cast gift from a specific donor to a specific child -- to community development programs.
These self-help uplift projects -- such as well digging, sewer building, and introducing new farming techniques -- are designed to produce long-lasting improvements. They are aimed at promoting self-reliance among adults in a village, raising living standards for the whole community, and in this way indirectly benefiting not just one or some but all its children.
Other agencies feel that the children they are aiding are best helped continuing the one-to-one sponsorship method, which makes it possible for donors and recipients to develop close personal ties. These agencies feel that this style of contributions proves to a child that somewhere is interested in and caring for him. They say this is one of the most important and helpful aspects of sponsorship, raising the hopes of those in virtually hopeless human conditions.
When an agency moves into the arena of community development, yet continues to operate on a sponsorship basis, it is sometimes difficult for the potential donor to understand exactly how his funds will be spent.
What do the agency's advertisements lead the donor to believe?
This is a key issue. And both the National Information Bureau and the Council of Better Business Bureaus urge people to be alert to distinctions.
Nancy DeMarco, director of CBBB's Philanthropic Advisory Service, explains that some groups appealing for "sponsorship" funds use specific children as examples of recipients but they really focus in broad economic development in needy communities. Or sponsorship may be linked to a type of programm in which there is much more direct correlation between the donor's gift nd direct services to an individual child, a specific family, or a particular orphans' home.
"You can think of all sorts of things like sewer construction that are absolutely essential in an underdeveloped community. Sending cash to a child's home may not, in fact, be the most effective way to improve that child's future, " Mrs. DeMarco says. "But if you are building sewers in a community, which indirectly benefits the children's health and welfare, saym you are building sewers. Don't act as if you were virtually an adoption agency, doing everything except delivering a needy child to an American foster parent."
"On the other hand," she continues, "there is the reality of fund raising. If you are raising funds from individual donors in this country, newspaper ads with pictures of sewer construction are not going to generate contributions. Every organization walks the fine line between presenting its most appealing program that will generate support, and honestly saying what they are, in fact, doing."
In selecting an agency through which to reach disadvantaged children, the donor also will want to note carefully how much of his gift dollar goes directly to the child, his family, or both, and how much is used for fund raising and administrative costs. Each agency is run differently. Categories of expenditures vary. It is difficult to compare figures of one agency with those of another. One way to analyze the financial breakdown is to request a copy of an agency's annual report. This is also a good way to find out how much of one's contribution goes to aid the child and how much goes to community projects.
Melvin Van de Workeen, executive director of NIB, suggests that if administrative and fund-raising costs total 30 percent or more of the donor's dollar, "then the child or community is getting what I would consider an unreasonably low amount."
Community development projects are generally less expensive to administer than one-to-one sponsorships, where, for example, request letters, many of which have to be translated, flow back and forth between donor and child. Those who prefer to give on the more personal basis should recognize that some part of their gift must be devoted to operating this type of personalized program.
In understanding how his money is spent, another complication for the sponsor , Mr. Van de Workeen says, is that money may be solicited on a one-to-one basis, but goes to an orphanage. "What they do is count heads," he explains. "'X' number of children are being sponsored, and the orphanage gets 'X' number of dollars per head. The money goes into the orphanage as a total package, and one has to assume that that orphanage is taking care of that group of children on a one-to-one basis."
How candid are agencies about how their religious affiliations affect their programs and recipients?
"One of the problems of all relief and rehabilitation work," Mr. Van de Workeen says, "is that religion gets involved.
"If a religious group says it is soliciting money [for charity] when really it is to educate people about its religion, then if a needy recipient enters that program, he is going to be exposed to a religion. Now that is OK if right up front you tell people that.
"But it is not all right if you say, 'I am going to do relief work in this country, and part of the requirement of that relief' -- which isn't told them, which isn't put in the solicitation -- 'is that you must come to my religion to get food.' That is unethical.
"Nobody objects to a group that say: 'We are going to go into a community and give clothes and feed children and people who come to our religion.' That is up to them. If they want it, they can have it. And some people will support it."
What the NIB watches for, Mr. Van de Workeen explains, is to make sure an agency makes this distinction clear to those it is soliciting so that the donor is fully aware of the kind of program he is supporting. "Then," he says, "I think contributors have a right to give or not to give. If they want to support it, fine. If they don't, fine. But they should not be misled."
Like Caesar's wife, voluntary charitable agencies that solicit funds are expected to be above suspicion. But, considering the millions of donated dollars handled each year by child-sponsorship agencies, it is perhaps not surprising that from time to time even some well-known agencies come under fire for the way they operate. Some of the criticism even comes from their own staff.
Are there donors that are being taken in by out-and-out phony appeals that are not at all what they purport to be?
"Yes, there are," Mr. Van de Workeen says. "Because of the emotionalism of the appeal, you've got some promoters out there that take advantage of this situation to raise money for activities that are really never fully conducted. The money goes to the promoters and not to the program. It's an attractive area for a promoter to get into."
Donors, he cautions , should be alert to this happening occasionally. Mrs. DeMarco of the CBBB confirms that this problem exists.
But such operators constitute a small minority, Mr. Van de Workeen says. "If there are 20 to 30 agencies, you may have two or three that are really abusing solicitors at any one time." He refuses to identify them. But he suggests that "some of the agencies that would raise caution in this direction would be those that do not meet our standards."
"Although anything is possible," he adds, "I would be surprised if any agency that over a period of time met our standards could be involved in such an activity."
A flagrant example of contributor's funds being misused came to light six years ago. An independent audit revealed that the Pallottine Fathers, a small Roman Catholic missionary order in Baltimore, Md., had raised $20.4 million through a massive direct-mail fund-raising campaign in 1974-75. Of that, the audit disclosed, only about $516,000 was used to aid the poor, needy, and sick at missions overseas. More than $16.4 million was consumed by fund-raising costs. The rest went into Florida real-estate ventures and other investments. The case came under the attention of the Maryland attorney aeneral.
The Archbishop of Baltimore removed the head of the order and instituted guidelines to prevent a repetition of what he called an "immoral" deception of the order's donors.
Responsible organizations are naturally sensitive to any scandal or unfavorable press reports that might hurt their vital fund-raising efforts.
Even before the Pallottine incident, the Subcommittee on Children and Youth of the US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare held hearings on child-welfare agencies. Chaired by Walter F. Mondale when he was a Minnesota senator, the subcommittee investigated the kind of services children receive through charity, how charities get funds from the public, and how much they spend on fund raising, management, and program services.
A field study by the General Accounting Office followed. Its report pinpointed numerous management shorcomings and inefficiencies of various child-sponsorship agencies, mainly in connection with distribution of funds to recipients.
Following the hearings and the GAO report, a group of child-sponsorship agencies, led by the Christian Children's Fund and Save the Children, met and drew up a "code of minimum fund-raising ethics for voluntary agencies in child service." The Christian Children's Fund prints this code in its annual report. The first of 12 points in the code states:
"We are truthful in our broadcast, print, and direct-mail advertising using actual, current case histories and photogrpahy with honest statements of purpose. . . ."
Agencies that are evangelical in their approach, such as World Vision and Compassion International, have formed their own "code of standards," which was drawn up in collaboration with the Billy Graham Association. The new watchdog organization set up to oversee this code is the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, in Pasadena, Calif.
Last year the Holy Land Christian Mission, which for decades has focused its welfare activities in the Mideast through direct-mail appeals, introduced a new child-care program in Latin America and the Philippines, using the sponsorship method of raising funds. Before doing so, it carefully surveyed the sponsorship agencies for models to follow.
Martin Hazlett, vice-president of operations, says his agency's experience is that "there are crooks in the direct- mail area, some of them almost blatant. But the people we run into in the sponsorship field seem to be a more concerned group. That doesn't mean they don't make mistakes. Some are almost ridiculous mistakes. But they seem to be more conscientious about their spending. I think it's because the donor that helps them sponsor the program is more intelligent, more selective, and is not as loose with his money."
Mr. Van de Workeen urges sponsors to make sure agencies issue annual reports that give a full accounting of how they handle funds. They should ask specific questions as to how their money is benefiting their particular child or community. Also, they should be sure that what they consider to be a satisfactory percentage of their contribution is actually spent on the program, as opposed to administration and fund- raising. If a sponsor does not get answers or suspects wrong- doing, he encourages the sponsor to contact NIB or CBBB, or even his district attorney or state attorney general.
The following list of voluntary child-sponsorship agencies that solicit public funds is by no means complete. These 10 are among the largest and best-known of the 26 or so such organizations in the US. All meet standards of CBBB or NIB or both. They illustrate the broad choices open to the door:m
* Foster PArents Plan Inc., Warwick, R.I. An international, nonsectarian, nonpolitical, voluntary child-sponsorship agency founded in 1938 by the late John Langdon-Davis, a cthe Spanish Civil War. He was moved to help children in that war-torn land and later young victims of World War II.
Today, FPP's 36,000 sponsors in the US, plus 134,000 in Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands, are helping 190,000 children in impoverished communities in 18 third-world countries. FFP does not work with children in institutions. its goal is to help children and their families become self-reliant by stimulating them to help themselves. Children must attend school. Education, the agency insists, is the path to progress. It stresses the value of its one-to-one sponsor program and the quality of its professional social services. Every month, each sponsored child and family is visited by a social worker or other representative. "When poor people know that they are not forgotten and rejected , then they feel they can do something for themselves," Reinhart B. Gutmann, national executive director, says. A $22 monthly sponsor's fee provides a cash supplement to help families pay for school fees and books, and to improve the quality of their food, clothing, and housing.
FPP encourages parents of children to learn carpentry through forming carpenters cooperatives. If a school is needed, the agency may provide the raw materials and an experienced construction worker. This helps parents develop a marketable skill. "Our purpose is to get out of a country, not stay there forever," Mr. Gutmann explains. "When a child, a family, or community has reached a level of well- being where they don't need us anymore, we don't stick around. it is not good for them. If you talk about self-reliance, don't make people dependent."
* The Pearl S. Buck Foundation Inc., Perkasie, Pa. Founded in 1964 by the late Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who lived in China and wrote about Asian culture, this nonsectarian foundation is dedicated to the education and welfare of the thousands of children fathered and left by American GIs in Asia. These Amerasian children face a particularly bleak future. Having no legal fathers, they lack legal status. In pure-race Asian socities, they suffer extreme discrimination, generally being deprived even of schooling.
This one-to-one sponsorship program is aiding more than 4,700 children. With a sponsor fee of $21 per month, the foundation provides direct, monthly cash allotments under a social worker's supervision which make it possible for these children to receive an education, the key that can open the door to self-support and a better life.With funding assistance from AID, the US Agency for International Development, the foundation is reaching an additional 7,200 Amerasian children with vocational projects and other benefits.
* Save the Children Federation Inc., Westport, Conn. Established in 1932 during the depression to help children of southern Appalachia, this nonsectarian agency is phasing out the last of its cash benefits to individual children. Its new philosophy is that the child is best helped by uplifting its family and community.
Its method is to support community development projects designed to improve the health, education, and productivity of all the families in a village or district. This could include building an access road and sanitary facilities or teaching nutrition. SCF works in 88 areas in 19 countries affecting some 250, 000 people. In the US it is active in 400 communities, assisting Chicanos in the Southwest, Indian tribes in 14 states, and the poor of Appalachia, as well as blacks in New York City and the South.
Despite its new community-development approach to aiding poor people, Save the Children is sticking to the old tried- and-true method of soliciting funds on a sponsorship basis, as it has always done. Its ads feature photos of appealing, needy children. Its advertising copy asks: "Would you like a picture of your sponsored child? But sponsors should understand that their $16 monthly fee is pooled with those of other donors to support programs that only indirectly will help all children of a community rather than an individual child. SCF's explanatory literature explains this. David L. Guyer, president, says that "the child in a sense represent his environment and is the ambassador from his community to the outside world."
In addition to contributions from private sponsors, SCF receives about one quarter of its income from AID, plus funds from foundations and about 100 corporations.
* Futures for Children, Albuquerque, N.M. American Indian children on reservations are the constituency of this nonsectarian child-sponsorship agency, founded in 1961 by Dr. Richard P. Saunders, a sociologist and educator who is now its president emeritus. Its purpose is to provide children with enough money to buy shoes, clothes, and other necessities and extras to enable them to attend the 110 schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico operated either by Indians themselves or the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. To be eligible, children must needy, must attend school, and must write to their sponsors at least three times a year. Many write once a month. Futures feels that correspondence with sponsors help develop children's writing and language skills. "When you become a sponsor with Futures," says MAry Alice Winchell, assistant director of the Indian program, "it's with the understanding that you are going to have a little friend that you will correspond."
Futures is sponsoring 2,262 children and has 300 on its waiting list. While 80 percent of its children are Navajos, it also assists children of the Hopi, Zuni, and Rio Grande Pueblo tribes. The agency operates its sponsorship program exclusively on monthly sponsorship fees of $20.
This year, Futures introduced a separate community-development program aimed at helping Indians improve life for their children. It is modeled on a program Futures has operated in Colombia, South America, for 20 years. The agency funds no projects. Its counselors help Indians identify projects their children need and then show parents how to seek outside funding for them from foundations and corporations. "We do not tell them what to do, we help them find the answers for themselves, "Ms. Winchell says.
* Christian Children's Fund, Richmond, Va. This mainline Protestant agency was founded in 1938 by a Presbyterian minister, the late Rev. Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, to aid Chinese children during the Sino-Japanese war. Today CCF is the largest protestant organization in the world devoted exclusively to child welfare. Its 236,000 sponsors are helping 251,000 needy children of all races and creeds in 26 countries through its strictly one-to-one sponsor-child program. No religious requirement is imposed or inducement offered. It still supports some orphanages, but most of its work is now done through its family-helper and educational programs. Funded entirely through private donations, its sponsors pay $15 monthly.
* Children Inc., Richmond, Va. When Dr. Clarke and his wife retired from Christian Children's Fund in 1964, their daughter, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, founded Children Inc. to continue her parent's work by setting up another sponsorship agency. Her 17-room home is headquarters for this interdenominational organization, which assists 12,000 children of all races and creeds in affiliated orphanages, schools, and mission in 26 countries. It also helps American Indian and Appalachian children. The $15 monthly sponsor fee may be used by the institutions to provide children with food, cloth ing, medical attention, school fees, and supplies, etc. Although children are in institutions, sponsors may correspond with them. All children being aided by Children Inc. are receiving schooling, Mrs. Clarke says.
* Holy Land Christian Mission International, Kansas City, Mo. A religious but nondenominational one-to-one sponsorship agency, it was founded in 1936 to provide institutional care for orphaned and crippled children and to help war widows of the Mideast. The agency operates one hospital in Israel for crippled children and is building a new children's free hospital in the West Bank. It favors religious formation of the child in the setting of its own culture.
Recently it broadened its scope by launching a child-sponsorship program for children in Latin America and the Philippines. In those countries it works through Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and private organizations to assist the very neediest children, many of whom are in areas where there are no schools. For that reason, the agency does not require children receiving its aid to go to school, nor does it restrict its aid to children who attend Sunday school.
Some of its projects involve community development to improve housing and farming. This agency is sponsoring 6,500 children. Its $10 monthly donor fee is aimed at lower- income givers.
* World Vision International, Monrovia, Calif. A Christian interdenominational evangelical organization supported by hundreds of churches ranging from mainline Protestant to evangelical, World Vision is one of the largest child-sponsorship agencies in the world. Its 1980 budget million assisted 290,000 children in 50 nations through 1,800 projects. Coupled with its other types of relief work, it estimates that its 1 million donors aided 4 million children and adults last year, including Cambodian refugees.
Also working through churches, it supports orphanages and homes run by churches and missions. WV also believes that a child's spiritual needs are important. It teaches the Bible. But it says it does not proselytize or restrict its aid to those who will become members of its faith. A sponsor's $18 monthly fee goes to its one-to-one program, with letters exchanged between sponsor and child. But its child-care program is moving toward community development, helping children less within institutions and more within the context of their families and community.
* Compassion, Colorado Spring, Colo. A Christian biblical organization assisting 69,000 children in 32 countries, Compassion is straightforward in its ads about the strictly evangelical approach of its one-to-one child-sponsorship program. Its emphasis is not so much on the starving child as the one who is too poor even to go to school. Compassion's position is that "a child needs to know about God's love for him as much as he needs food and clothing." So to qualify for aid, a child must attend both school and Sunday school. The agency works exclusively through Bible-based evangelical churches of various denominations, distributing sponsors' contributions under supervision of the church's pastor to the neediest children in his church. Compassion's monthly fee for sponsors in $18.
* Holt International Children's Services, Eugene Ore. This agency offers orphans for legal adoption, many of whom are placed in the US. Founded in 1956 by Harry and Bertha Holt to help homeless American-Korean children, it has expanded to include orphans of full Korean parentage and is now also placing and assisting Vietnamese children. Its sponsorship fee of $25 a month is higher than some agencies, because, until adopted, children in its care are totally dependent upon it.Some of the agency's activities include maintaining a foster-care program for young children, group homes for teen-agers, a hospital, and services for retarded and disabled children. Last year it placed 2,859 children in adoptive homes. In addition, 12,035 children are under its care. It has nearly 900 sponsors. It is seeking 600 more.