What World Vision's new campaign is doing right


You’re going to want to watch this.

A coworker emailed me a link to World Vision’s newest fundraising campaign, Chosen.

World Vision is one of the largest international organizations out there. With a budget of over $1 billion dollars, they have a presence in nearly every country in need around the world. (Working for an organization with $5 million revenue to work in eight countries, I can fancy what it would be like to work with those resources!) And they’ve done some really good things with what they have.

The Chosen video started with a group of child sponsors gathered together at a church in Illinois. Nothing too unusual about that, I thought. World Vision became a fundraising powerhouse by recruiting middle class or wealthy Americans to pledge to sponsor a child in need every month.

Typically sponsors read short stories about the kids in need at a church event or fundraiser and then pick one to sponsor.

Then the video suddenly switched. Now it filmed a school in Kenya, where students were approaching a board full of photos. Photos of the sponsors in Illinois. The kids were choosing their own sponsors.

Wow, I thought right away, they fixed a lot of the problems with child sponsorship while keeping what works.

Child sponsorship is a complicated model, but it does one thing really well–

Child sponsorship moves masses of people to donate to international development. 

It’s hard to deny that this is an effective fundraising model. People give more when they can feel a sense of personal connection. Plus, it helps donors feel that they are actually making a difference in a child’s life, even if solving large-scale problems seem out of reach.

That said, operating a child sponsorship program can be really tricky. The amount of nonprofit staff resources required to report on outcomes and build the connection between donors, children, and international partners is intensive. Many organizations add a disclaimer to their sponsorship, noting that contributions actually go more broadly to the community rather than the individual child. This can make reporting and financial management easier in some cases, but this has also upset a few people when they discovered their expectations didn’t match reality

I haven’t even begun to talk about the power dynamics that are part of child sponsorship. There seems to be something off about sifting through photos of kids in rural communities to find the one who appeals to your desire to help the most. American individualism creeping into African and Latin American villages? More opportunities for more bias to affect who we think is most deserving of help? 

More often than not, I advise newer organizations not to use a child sponsorship model. I believe that there are more effective ways out there to build connection and get recurring revenue.


Simply by reversing the model of child sponsorship, it looks like World Vision found a better way

There’s got to be a lesson for other organizations there somewhere, right?

Isn’t there always?

I don’t think every organization is about to follow suit and let children pick their sponsors. I’m curious enough if World Vision will be promoting this as their main sponsorship appeal in two years or if it’s more of a seasonal campaign for the moment. I kinda want them to stick with it.

For other orgs, there are plenty of takeaways to apply:

1) In an industry full of sameness, do something different

In a world where sponsors are asked to pick children, World Vision asks children to pick their sponsors. See how clean and compelling that sounds when you read it out loud?

The nonprofit world is full of cliche. Don’t give me another video with a soft piano playing over a plea for help. Get me Kendrick Lamar. Don’t tell me to donate the equivalent of four cups of coffee. Tell me it’s the equivalent of two unicorn frappuccinos and that I can’t get those anymore anyways.

2) Always consider what your program looks like from the point of view of the people you’re trying to help

Part of the design of this campaign considers how to improve the experience of the kids who are being sponsored.

3) A fundraising campaign involves three parties: the donor, the recipient and the organization. The best campaigns work well for everyone involved.

This campaign fires on all cylinders.

  • Uphold the dignity and identity of the people who will be receiving help from those funds

  • Provide a meaningful experience for the donor

  • Be manageable for the organization to deliver what it promised

4) Sometimes the simplest change can be the most effective

While this campaign is for sure creative, it also didn’t reinvent the wheel. It simply took what was working well enough, and flipped it to work even better. It also did so in a way that prompted more surprise and delight.

  • Uphold the dignity and identity of the people who will be receiving help from those funds

  • Provide a meaningful experience for the donor

  • Be manageable for the organization to deliver what it promised

Designing a fundraising model that is ethical, effective, and engaging is no easy task. Believe me- I spend just about all my working hours trying to do this in some way or another. The Chosen campaign seems to represent a huge step towards empowering children to have more voice and decision making opportunities in their lives.

Philippe Lazaro