Data even donors can love

Previously I referenced research that claims donors aren’t much impressed by outcomes data. It’s heart-warming stories givers want, we’re told, not bone-dry facts.

But not all data points are tedious. Some are as interesting and as encouraging to the folks writing checks as the best told tale. Consider, for example, findings from a recent study of Compassion International’s child-sponsorship program.


A team of three academics followed up with more than 10,000 adults who had benefited as children from Compassion’s sponsorship program.* What the researchers discovered is music to the ears of child sponsors – if they’re willing to listen.

They report that:

  • Former Compassion sponsored children stay in school longer than their non-sponsored peers.
  • Former Compassion sponsored children were more likely to have salaried/white-collar jobs than their non-sponsored peers.
  • Former Compassion sponsored children were more likely to be leaders in their communities and churches.

And not just by small margins, but by impressive positive percentages in all three areas. You don’t have to be the savviest of investors to appreciate the lifetime return on gifts of just $38 per month per child.


As Compassion’s skillful use of the research study demonstrates, outcomes data provide donors with another chapter to the story that first captured their attention and gifts. Sponsors come to Compassion with a heart to help. Outcomes data assure them that they are helping — and not just during “their” child’s growing up years.

In a news release about the study, one of the researchers is quoted as saying, “I believe our research contributes to a new and growing body of investigation that seeks to examine the importance of ‘internal constraints’ to economic development — the importance of aspirations, self-esteem, goals, and reference points related to behaviors that are propitious to helping the poor escape poverty.”

Or in the more layperson-friendly language of the organization’s website, “When you sponsor a child with Compassion, you help shatter the cycle of poverty. You change the world — one child at a time.”

That Compassion International has integrated research findings with the organization’s narrative doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it’s what I expect of the organization.

Back in the late 1990s, as Thom Jeavons and I asked around about organizations that approached fundraising as ministry, Compassion International received numerous mentions. When the dust settled, Compassion was among the organizations we selected for site visits and later for inclusion in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry.

Compassion staffers told us that “it’s not enough that something feels good. We want to know that it works.” All these years later, the Wydick study provides assurance that the Compassion model of child-sponsorship does just that.

The proof is in the data. And that, my friends, is something even donors can (and should) love.

*You can find “Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes”  in the April (2013) issue of the Journal of Political Economy. 



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