Note: I am not entirely sure how to make this question broad enough to matter without making it too subjective. Feel free to edit if you see a better way to phrase this. Also, I just guessed at tags.
There are a handful of organizations that offer you a chance to financially support third-world orphans by sending them a monthly payment. The money is advertised as being used for supplies as varied as:
- English lessons
The premise is that your money will help take this child from utter poverty and give them a fighting chance at breaking into a self-supporting lifestyle. The scope of these children includes any stereotypically poor country and isn't necessarily restricted to orphans.
A typical behavior is to take a picture of a handful of kids from one area and post them up at a church or local market with the intent to acquire sponsors. The pictures are usually glued to something like a construction-paper heart and clothespinned near the entrance. People take a heart home and there is some contact information that gets you started on a monthly payment.
After a few weeks, the sponsor gets a letter in the mail from the child that is neatly handwritten in English thanking them for the support and describing typical daily events and other things you would expect in a letter from a child. This continues as long as you continue support.
The question for Skeptics is such: How legitimate are these businesses? This system would be fairly easy to abuse given that the only contact you get from the child is a picture and handwritten letters sent oversees. I would imagine that some of these organizations are exactly as they seem and their origin is in well-intentioned, helpful people. But... how would one know? Given the subject material and target market, I doubt much skepticism is entertained at the point of sale and any small amount of anecdotal evidence would be enough to assage small doubts. I see enough red flags in the process to make me wonder but I can see it going either way.
The answers I am looking for are any sort of journalistic or skeptical review of the business model or industry with a summary of the entire thing. I have avoided mentioning specific organizations or anecdotes because I am not terribly interested in answers regarding any organization in particular. That being said, if you happen to stumble across a review or investigation regarding a particular organization, please mention it.
To narrow this question down a bit, here are some specific claims to check:
- How much money donated to this type of charity make it to the orphan depicted in the photograph?
- Is there evidence suggesting that these donations make a significant impact?