ChildFund International

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Transparency and the ‘Overhead Myth’

Because we recognize that our committed supporters care about the financial responsibility of the organizations they support, we wanted to share a joint statement released this week by the leaders of the three principal organizations that monitor and rate nonprofit effectiveness.

BBBThe open letter to America’s donors signed by the CEOs of GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance marks the beginning of a campaign to correct the common misconception that overhead — the percentage of a charity’s expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs — should be the sole measure of nonprofit performance. Studies from Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, the National Center on Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute and the Bridgespan Group back up this statement.

In response to donor expectations and funder requests, the nonprofit sector, which all three organizations provide information to and about, has often erroneously focused too heavily on overhead over the past few decades, which has prevented some nonprofits from investing in themselves as enterprises and created what the Stanford Social Innovation Review calls “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.”

guidestarAccording to the letter, “Overhead costs include important investments charities make to improve their work: investments in training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems — as well as their efforts to raise money so they can operate their programs. When we focus solely or predominantly on overhead … we starve charities of the freedom they need to best help the people and communities they are trying to serve.”

The message isn’t new, but this is the first time the three nonprofit reporting organizations are working together to make the public aware of all the important factors in charity accountability.

charity navigator“All three of our organizations — BBB Wise Giving Alliance as well as Charity Navigator and GuideStar — have been speaking publicly but separately for some time about the need to shift the conversation from overhead to impact and broad accountability standards,” said Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

“Through this campaign, we want to encourage donors to give with their heads as well as their hearts, and consider the whole picture when determining which charities to support,” added Jacob Harold, president and CEO of GuideStar. “As we wrote in our open letter to donors: ‘The people and communities served by charities don’t need low overhead, they need high performance.’”

Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, noted, “A one-dimensional focus on overhead is not the right way to assess a charity’s performance. We believe that for a donor to correctly assess a charity, the organization must be viewed on three dimensions: its financial health (not just overhead), its governance practices and the results of its work.”

50 Days Campaign Comes to a Close, But Work Continues

 By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Youth Program Officer

The 50 Days of Action for Women and Girls is coming to a close. On ChildFund’s blog, we’ve shared stories about our work with women and girls in several of the countries where ChildFund works.

Kenyan girls

These 12-year-old girls attend school in Kenya. Our aim is to help more girls and young women receive an education. Photo by Jake Lyell.

We’re reminded that women and girls, who make up more than half of the world’s population, are resilient in the face of tough challenges like forced marriages, lack of access to lifesaving health services and medicine, lack of political freedom and limited access to education, among many additional obstacles.

ChildFund is part of a larger effort to support women and girls in the United States and abroad. Networks like the Coalition for Adolescent Girls and Girls Not Brides work tirelessly to assure that women’s and girls’ concerns are elevated to the attention of decision-makers like President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition, many organizations are engaging with the United Nations to ensure that women and girls are recognized in the Post-2015 development agenda.

We encourage ChildFund’s supporters to continue to add their voices to advocacy efforts for girls and women.  For example, if you have a blog, share stories and important data on the well-being of women and girls around the world. On your Facebook and Twitter accounts, share relevant news stories with your friends and followers.

At ChildFund, we know that women and girls’ challenges are global issues and invite you to support us going forward. For now, we reflect on the 50 Days campaign with an apt quotation by poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

Getting Started Writing to a Sponsored Child

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

This is one in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.

stacks of lettersThe first few letters you send to the child you sponsor are probably the most difficult to write because you aren’t sure what to write about. Don’t let that discourage you, though.

Imagine that you live in a place where schools have no books, maps, computers, or electricity. The dirt path leading to your village rarely brings visitors. You have never received a letter. In fact, most people you know cannot read or write. Some speak only a local language – never having learned an international one like Spanish, French, Portuguese or English.

Many of the children you sponsor fit this profile, so the brief notes you send to them – cards, letters and photos describing your family and expressing your interest in their lives, cultures and countries – are miraculous in their eyes.

The First Letter
Start by reviewing the narrative of your child and the description of his or her community and local activities that ChildFund provided. The better you understand your child’s background, the easier it will be to correspond.

Culture and religion provide insight into children and family life. Download a PDF file of country information on ChildFund’s website to learn about your child’s regional feasts, holidays and celebrations. You can listen to recordings of traditional music, watch videos of cultural events and even learn a few words in your child’s language.

In your first letter to the child, introduce yourself, explain what led you to sponsor a child and tell why you chose him or her.

If you’ve visited your child’s country, write about when and where you traveled there. If you’re familiar with the culture or religious traditions, reference a recent or upcoming holiday or celebration. Don’t hesitate to include words or phrases in the child’s language if you happen to know any. In my experience, both your child and their family will truly appreciate these signs of your solidarity with them.

Begin by telling your child a little bit about your family, your town and occupation. Ask two or three open-ended questions and let your child know how eager you are to hear from her.

Enclose a photo of yourself, a postcard from your town, or small, flat items that fit easily inside the envelope, like a bookmark, origami paper or stickers. International postage rates change once the weight exceeds one ounce, so limit yourself to a few items each time you write.

Then be patient: ChildFund’s automated system for keeping track of correspondence guarantees your child will respond. If a child is too young to write, you’ll receive letters from a member of the family.

Special Gifts
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children because they’re frequently stolen. Even if they do arrive, customs often charges a prohibitive duty tax.

If you would like to give a gift to honor the child’s birthday, Christmas or other occasions, we recommend sending a monetary gift through ChildFund. Amounts between $20 and $50 can purchase locally made products, which benefits not only your child, but also the entrepreneurs in their community.

ChildFund requests a voluntary $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 800-776-6767. Our Sponsor Care team will be happy to assist you.

Next: Sample letters for children ages 5 and younger.

Celebrating 50 Years of African Unity and Remembering Children

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

logo commemorating 50th anniversary of African UnionThe 50th anniversary of the Organization of Africa Unity is being celebrated this week in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.

The official anniversary on May 25 marks a significant milestone in the journey of Africans since the OAU charter was signed in 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. The aim was to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and achieve a better life for Africa’s people. South Africa became the 53rd member in 1994, and in 2002, the OAU’s successor, the African Union, was formed.

Anniversary celebrations will draw on African narratives of the past and present, while looking to the future. The anniversary is expected to motivate and energize denizens across the African continent to accelerate a forward-looking Pan-African agenda and a 21st-century renaissance.

Against this historical backdrop, ChildFund International’s Africa regional office, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children are staging a one-day conference to shine the spotlight on Africa’s children.

Today’s event, “Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the OAU/AU” reflects on challenges and progress during the past five decades, while seeking even greater protection and promotion of children’s rights by leaders across Africa in the future.

Let’s Keep Women and Girls at Forefront of Global Development Agenda

By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer

What is it like to be a woman or a girl in today’s world? You might be surprised to know that in in Rwanda, women hold more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2013). Women live and work on agricultural land across the globe, yet in developing countries women possess less than one quarter of agricultural land holdings (FAO, 2013). In Africa, enrollment in lower secondary school (equivalent to our middle school) has increased from 28 to 43 percent, yet the enrollment of girls is only 39 percent compared to 48 percent for boys (UNESCO, 2011).

Globally, the statistics on women’s health, access to secondary education and realization of justice (among other subjects) are alarming. However, they also hold promise for what the world could be when girls and women are empowered to realize their rights and make the best decisions for themselves, their children, their partners and the community.

There is no shortage of data on the well-being of women and girls globally. The Women’s Stats Project is a comprehensive database on the status of the world’s women. The project’s maps provide a visual depiction of topics as diverse as women’s physical security and discrepancy in secondary education.

map showing countries where education access is difficult for girls

Credit: Women’s Stats Project

Additionally, the United Nations publishes a report every five years on the status of the world’s women and girls, along with biennial publication on the progress of women and girls on a particular theme. The most recent edition of the Progress of the World’s Women looks at access to justice.

Information about the obstacles facing adolescent girls, and their potential, can be found on Girl Effect. Ultimately, the information available about the state of the world’s women and girls is vast and deep, thanks to the efforts of researchers and non-governmental organizations like ChildFund who recognize the value of this investment.

The 50 Days Campaign for Women and Girls reminds us that the time is now to encourage the U.S. government to continue to direct financial and human resources to women and girls issues globally. Former Secretary of State Clinton made huge investments to these ends, creating national actions plans around women, peace and security, mobilizing to prevent and respond to violence against women, and developing a Vision for Action to end child marriage.

Now we want to assure that Secretary of State Kerry continues down this same path. Please continue to follow us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter to learn how ChildFund is supporting this global campaign and more about our work with women and girls.

National Peace Corps Week: ChildFund Employees Reflect on Experiences

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This week, we recognize Peace Corps volunteers, many of whom leave the United States to live thousands of miles away from family, friends and familiar cultural landmarks. In exchange, volunteers gain global perspective and unforgettable experiences.

To celebrate Peace Corps Week (Feb. 24-March 2), we spoke with a few of ChildFund’s Peace Corps alumni, who shared their stories of living in the field.

Bethany Tebbe, who joined ChildFund in January as a grants management officer, was posted in Togo, a western Africa country, from 2003 to 2007, where she worked in girls’ education and empowerment. “I was 22,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any preconceived expectations.”

dirt road in African village

Bethany Tebbe, who now works for ChildFund, was posted in Badou, Togo, as a Peace Corps volunteer.

At first, she lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof, no electricity and no running water — a home she recalls fondly. It was Bethany’s first time outside of the U.S., but she says that she adjusted fairly well to village life and especially street food. She bicycled constantly.

After a mishap on a mountain hike that caused a serious knee injury, Bethany was posted in a Togolese city with greater ease of mobility. During her time in Togo, she traveled to many African countries, including Niger and Morocco.

When Craig Stein, senior grants and contracts manager at ChildFund, landed in North Yemen in 1982, it also was his first experience overseas. Craig had decided to apply to the Peace Corps after taking a college history class taught by a former diplomat who had piqued his interest in Middle Eastern history and culture. “I wanted to do something different,” he says, and he hoped to work in a Middle Eastern, Islamic society. A posting for an English as a Second Language teacher opened in Hodeidah, Yemen, and Craig was accepted. He lived in a three-bedroom home with three other volunteers, and he later moved to a mountain village as an office administrator of a water project.

group of men and boys in Yemen

Then a Peace Corps volunteer, Craig Stein (wearing buttoned shirt and jeans) was visited by his father (wearing fez and buttoned shirt) in Yemen in 1983.

Upon his arrival, Craig experienced a great sense of welcome. He and a friend were traveling in the mountains north of the capital city of Sanaa, and they stumbled into a wedding ceremony. They were immediately invited to be guests — for three days, the typical length of a Yemeni wedding. “The Yemenis were a lot more open to Americans or Westerners than I anticipated,” he says. “I’d expected some hostility or at least suspicion, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

Although volunteers cannot choose the country where they are stationed, they do have some control over the type of work they do and sometimes can pick the environment where they’ll live — such as city versus village.

Elizabeth Frank, a program assistant for global programs in ChildFund’s Washington, D.C., office, was posted in Ukraine from 2006 to 2008. Surprisingly, Ukraine has the most Peace Corps volunteers in the world. Elizabeth lived in the western half of the country, which identifies strongly with its Ukrainian heritage; the eastern half has a stronger Russian identity.

“It’s a very divided country,” Elizabeth says. She lived in a small village with a population of 3,000 or so and taught English and HIV prevention. She came away feeling strong respect for Ukraine’s “resilient people.”

woman holding sunflower

Elizabeth Frank and one of her Ukrainian village’s main crops, the sunflower.

“Overall, it was fabulous,” she says, and she remains very close to some of her former students. Two of them came to the United States for high school because educational standards remain very poor in Ukraine; now, they’re attending university in Western Europe.

Elizabeth, Craig and Bethany remain attached to the places where they lived and served, and concur that their perspectives on global issues are strongly influenced by their time in the field.

Since finishing their stints as volunteers a few years ago, both Bethany and Elizabeth have maintained ties to the Peace Corps and the people they met on their tours. Bethany also spent a year in Malawi working for the Peace Corps Response, a short-term assignment that is focused on a particular area of expertise; Bethany’s focus was on HIV and AIDS.

Craig eventually married an English nurse he met while working in that mountain village in Yemen. The couple went on to work in international development in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Senegal and the United Kingdom before settling in the United States.

“My Peace Corps experience had a profound effect on my life,” Craig notes.

Timor-Leste: Bringing Lessons Home

 By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Novito, a 5-year-old boy from Timor-Leste, describes “scribbling and drawing a house” as his favorite activity in his Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Manatuto district.

five-year-old boy

Five-year-old Novito.

This district in central Timor-Leste has a population of about 42,000, and the economy is based on agriculture, fisheries, small handcraft industries and minerals. Many in Aiteas, the village where the ECD center is located, are involved in farm production activities, such as planting coffee, coconut, vegetables, cassava, corn and rice.

Novito rides his bicycle back and forth to the center, and he also likes to play soccer. He hopes one day to be a professional soccer player.

One of 60 students who attend ECD Aiteas six days a week, Novito is taught by Manuela, Divia and Joana. With ChildFund’s support, the teachers received training in teaching methodology, curriculum design and the Portuguese language.

three boys and two female teachers

Novito, his classmates and teachers at the ECD center in Aiteas, Timor-Leste.

Two years ago, ChildFund helped renovate the ECD center, expanding the building to house three classrooms. ChildFund Timor-Leste supports this center by providing school materials and furniture, school uniforms, snacks and supplementary food. The center also receives a subsidy from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education every four months to help maintain the facility and update educational materials.

Maria, an ECD coordinator, notes that the center provides learning materials, a proper playground and qualified teachers who work well with the children. Novito often brings home lessons he’s learned at the center and has shown his siblings how to draw a house. He says he is looking forward to moving to the next level of education: primary school.

A Letter Brings Joy

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

As a child, I loved receiving mail – yes, the kind with stamps. I had several international pen pals, and my friends sent postcards when they took vacations, even if it was simply to the shore. I also subscribed to magazines and book clubs, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the mail carrier.

Today, most people communicate by text and email. Those who sponsor a child, though, know the wonderful feeling when a letter arrives with an international postmark and stamp. It means a letter has arrived from their sponsored child.
What happens when you send your letter to your child? It’s not as simple as putting the letter in the mail and it being delivered by a mail carrier on the other end. The letters arrive at a central point — usually the ChildFund office in the child’s country. The letters then need to be delivered to communities, which can be miles apart.

girl with letter

Catarina with a letter.

On a recent trip to Ecuador, my coworkers and I met with several youth who help deliver the sponsor letters within their communities. Catarina, who is 15, says she delivers between 10 and 12 letters each week within her community.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I like delivering the letters and making others smile.” She says the letters come from around the world, and she enjoys seeing all of postmarks from the different countries.

two girls with letter

Catarina delivers mail to a sponsored child, Lisbeth.

After the letters are delivered, Catarina says the child who receives it will write a reply. Depending on the age of the child, Catarina and others will help guide the child. They’ll suggest topics to cover, such as writing about their favorite school subjects or talking about their siblings.

Catarina also is sponsored and she loves receiving letters from her sponsor, too.

It’s good to know that a simple letter can bring so much joy.

Charitable Tax Deductions Crucial in Meeting Needs of Poor

Guest post by Samuel A. Worthington, InterAction President and CEO

This blog was first published Dec. 20 as a news release by InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based nongovernmental international organizations, of which ChildFund International is a member.

As Congress debates the upcoming fiscal cliff, charitable tax deductions are at risk.

Yet, during these difficult economic times, we must remain focused on helping our world’s poorest and most vulnerable. I am deeply concerned that eliminating or limiting the charitable tax deduction would harm the very people who need the most help.

two children at well

Baraka and Kaingi draw clean water from a ChildFund-installed well in Migwani, Kenya. Photo: Jake Lyell

The more than 200 organizations that make up InterAction are out in the world every day – feeding the poor and helping them to build better futures for themselves and their families. However, these organizations cannot do this work without the generosity of the American people. By harming the organizations designed to help those in need, people will suffer.

While the charitable deduction does reduce government income, it does so in a way that actually triples its effectiveness: For every dollar that does not go to the U.S. government because of the charitable deduction, nearly $3 goes to a charity that helps the poor and the vulnerable. By continuing the deduction in its current form, the U.S. government gets a three-to-one investment in poverty-reduction.

The tradition of charitable giving is American to its core. We should not deter this custom.

BØRNEfonden Marks 20 Years in Togo

By Christa Nedergaard Rasmussen, National Director BØRNEfonden Togo

chldren in classroom

Schools have improved for Togolese children.

Last month, BØRNEfonden — ChildFund’s Alliance partner in Denmark — celebrated its 20th anniversary in Togo. Government representatives thanked BØRNEfonden for its work in the east African nation, and two former sponsored children spoke about their experiences.

As in the other program countries where BØRNEfonden and ChildFund work, development activities in Togo are aimed at creating a better future for children and youth. The focus is on health, education, income-generating activities and early childhood development.

Approximately 12,000 children in Togo are supported by a sponsor, including many from the United States.

The anniversary was celebrated in the Togolese capital of Lome with 170 guests, including representatives from the federal government, Danish companies, international and national NGOs. BØRNEfonden’s CEO, Bolette Christensen, was also present.

“It’s great to see how collaboration between BØRNEfonden and local authorities, national and international NGOs give positive results,” Christensen said.

During the past 20 years, local partners working with BØRNEfonden have built 256 schools, 80 kindergartens and 18 libraries in 28 rural communities.

toddler drinks from pitcher

Fresh water to drink.

But particularly in the health sector, where the focus has been to give more people access to clean drinking water, the results are remarkable. Within just the past five years, 75,000 Togolese people gained access to potable water. Working with local partners, BØRNEfonden, with the support of sponsors, helped drill 40 wells, repair 110 existing wells and supported 238 local water committees to maintain the pumps and manage consumers’ fees.

Minister of Development Djossou Semodji, speaking on behalf of the federal government, thanked BØRNEfonden for its work and many achievements. He emphasized that he looks forward to many years of future cooperation.

Also, formerly sponsored children who have become successful adults spoke about what BØRNEfonden had meant to them. “After I left school, I came to a technical school and became a carpenter,” said Abdoulaye Issaka. “Today I have my own carpenter’s shop and trains apprentices.”

“I come from a poor family from the country,” said Adjoa Adjimon, “but at one of BØRNEfonden’s summer camps, it dawned on me that all men are worth something. I got enough confidence to get an education. I have a B.A. in economics and am now employed by the Togo Post Office.”

A group of youth from impoverished rural areas who advocate for young people’s rights came to the celebration to speak about their goals, including establishing the right to go to school, protection from violence and better hygienic conditions at school.

Christenson noted about the youth’s presentation: “It is an important task they have undertaken to fight for their own and other children’s rights.”

Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Togo.

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