Child sponsorship is a type of fundraising in which a charitable organization associates a donor sponsor with a particular child beneficiary. The sponsor receives updates from the child, typically including photos and translated letters, which helps create the illusion of a personal relationship with the child. The donated funds are generally not spent specifically on the sponsored child but rather pooled with other contributions to fund a variety of education, health, security, infrastructure, or other projects in the child's community or country. 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.
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. In some cases charities have been caught sending forged updates from deceased children.
Illusion: through an organization such as Save the Children, your money supports a specific child.
Reality: as Save the Children now discloses, “Your sponsorship contributions are not given directly to a child. Instead, your contributions are pooled with those of other sponsors to provide community-based programming for all eligible children in the area.”
David Roodman says that child sponsorship creates "a tension between creating the psychological experience of connection that raised money and the realities of fighting poverty".
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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).