Humanitarian organizations would like nothing more than to put ourselves out of business. If we could permanently wipe all poverty, injustice and human suffering from the face of the earth, we would celebrate that achievement and proudly close up shop.
What’s more likely to happen is our supporter base will fail to grow, our donors will give less, or they will abandon us altogether. Now more than ever, this is a concern. We are in a moment of national cynicism, with suspicion of the media and the government also extending to charities. When images of people in pain around the world flood our devices, it fuels a sense of futility that nothing can really make a difference.
To develop sustainable funding for humanitarian causes, ministries have to constantly work to break through cynicism and apathy. We need to change the conversation about global poverty itself. Easier said than done.
At World Vision, we decided to innovate.
At World Vision, we decided to innovate. The result is Chosen, a new way of inviting people into child sponsorship. Though new, it’s a continuation of our history of innovation. Nearly 70 years ago, our founder, Bob Pierce, was the first ministry leader to use film and radio to engage the American church with humanitarian needs in post-war Korea. We are still that organization, eager to use available technology to bring global needs close.
But innovation isn’t just about technology. From my time in the business world, including at Procter & Gamble, I found that the best innovation taps into human desires and deeply held beliefs – touching people’s hearts, changing their minds.
For nonprofits and ministries looking to innovate, these steps are critical:
1. Pay attention to prospective donors.
Look not just at the donors you have, but to the future donors you hope to engage. Recently Barna and World Vision undertook one of the most ambitious studies of millennials ever done. It surveyed 15,000 young people around the world. Human suffering and global conflict were among the top issues that raise spiritual doubts for 18- to 35-year-olds. But the flip side is that millennials want to get involved. They want their churches to do more. More than three-quarters (77%) say events around the world matter to them.
This confirmed what we were already feeling at World Vision – a prompting from the Holy Spirit to be bold and seek new ways to engage people who care about poverty but desire a stronger connection.
2. Go to your core.
Game-changing innovation grows from the core of who you are as an organization. At our core, World Vision has always believed in empowering children. Whether it’s in Zambia where children are clean water ambassadors leading their communities in healthy habits, or Honduras where children join hands each week as prayer warriors in a gang-plagued neighborhood – children are the catalysts, the key to lifting people out of poverty.
Also at our core is a belief in mutual transformation – that helping people in poverty is kingdom work that changes the lives and deepens the faith of not only the person being helped, but the donor as well.
3. Don’t be afraid to flip your own script.
With Chosen, we challenged ourselves to innovate child sponsorship, our most tried-and-true giving model. God led us to the idea of reversing the formula: Instead of the sponsor choosing the child, the power to choose is the child’s hands. This simple but profound switch recognizes the dignity, value and honor of everyone involved – acknowledging that kids in extreme poverty have the power to change their own lives, and our lives, too.
Pastors who have introduced Chosen at their churches have found it to be a valuable way to illustrate surrendering to God’s providence. Sponsors have experienced God’s love through being chosen by a child – a beautiful reminder that God chose us before the foundation of the world. And yes, sponsorship response rates have been dramatically higher with Chosen – a promising sign of long-term sustainable growth.
Although Jesus said “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7); ministries serving the poor in his name must never stop battling apathy. As donor trends and demographics shift, we must innovate. If it means flipping the script on a longstanding giving model, so be it. The return on investment is unbeatable: transformation not just for the world’s most vulnerable people but for the givers, too.
Edgar Sandoval Sr., president of World Vision U.S., has an unstoppable passion to see every vulnerable child experience Christ’s promise of life in all its fullness. Before joining World Vision in 2015, Edgar held various leadership positions over two decades at Procter & Gamble. Follow Edgar at twitter.com/EdgarSandovalSr.