Child sponsorship allows an individual, typically in a developed country, to sponsor, or fund a child in a developing country until the child becomes self-sufficient. This could mean financially supporting the education, health, or security of the sponsored child, or in some cases all of these. This could also mean contributing more widely to the child's community development without directly helping an individual child. One estimate is that over 9 million sponsors give over US $5 billion to child sponsorship programs. Other sources state the amount of child sponsorship funding is closer to US $3 billion per year.
Children International was one of the earlier child sponsorship charities (starting in 1936), Plan USA (started in 1937) and ChildFund (started in 1938) followed suit as the concept grew in popularity. In response to the unmet needs of children during World War II, Save the Children USA launched a sponsorhip program to benefit British war orphans in 1940. 
Child sponsorship process
There are distinct differences in how programs are operated. Some organizations have actual family homes where the children without parental care are housed, clothed, fed, educated, and nurtured, while others distribute funds to parents, and others again sign up all the children in the catchment area of a community development project such as a medical centre to be sponsored children. Some organizations provide a more individualized approach to helping children and their families; others try to build a community more generally and assume the children will benefit.
After choosing a child to sponsor, the charitable organization that manages the sponsorship typically sends information about the child to the sponsor. These organizations direct money to the sponsored child or the child's community centre, and they manage communication between sponsored children and their sponsors, including translating letters, and in some cases ensuring that the communications are appropriate. Some organizations pay school fees and other educational needs for the sponsored children, or they hold a weekly club which includes a supplemental meal, educational and health topics, counseling, and teaching.
How sponsorship funds are used
Some major child sponsorship organizations use the funds given for community development and do not claim any direct benefit to the child. Others use the funds directly for the child and their immediate community or family, others again are somewhere in between, with the child benefiting from a wider community project such as a school or medical centre.
Critics have argued that child sponsorship could alienate the relatively privileged sponsored children from their peers and may perpetuate harmful stereotypes about third-world citizens being helpless. They also claim that child sponsorship causes cultural confusion and unrealistic aspirations on the part of the recipient, and that child sponsorship is expensive to administer. This latter problem has led some charities to offer information about a "typical" child to sponsors rather than one specifically supported by the sponsor.
Many organizations run child sponsorship programs all over the world in developing countries, including 30  based in the UK alone. Some of the more notable ones are:
- Ambassadors to the Nations
- Baptist World Aid
- Child In Need Institute (CINI)
- ChildFund International
- Children International
- Christian Children's Fund of Canada
- Compassion International
- Distressed Children & Infants International
- Every Child Ministries
- Food for the Hungry
- Human Concern International
- Islamic Relief
- Island Impact Ministries
- International Childcare Trust
- Out of Afrika
- Partners in Aid
- Partnership for Poverty Action
- Save the Children
- Save the Children USA
- SOS Children
- Thai Children's Trust
- Unbound (formerly Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA))
- World Vision
- Maya Education Initiatives
- Children International Website "About Us" accessed February 2, 2011
- Plan USA , accessed February 2, 2011
- Child Fund "About Us", accessed February 2, 2011
- Save the Children history 
- Simply...Why you should not sponsor a child, New Internationalist, April 1989.
- Peter Stalker, Please do not sponsor this child, New Internationalist, May 1982
- List of UK Child Sponsorship Charities .
- The Rough Guide to a Better World a publication which was partly UK government funded, reviewing some types of sponsorship, including arguments for and against (pp83f).